Feminist Evolutionisms: Theories of Creativity, Change and Connection

Contemporary feminist philosophy classically tends to reject ideas of historical and biological progress as patriarchal and/or capitalist constructs of temporality. Lately, however, a group of scholars known as the feminist new materialists have decided to ‘recover’ the writings of Charles Darwin and evolutionary science, constructing (what they claim to be) a non-teleological and anti-essentialist feminist theory of mutability, transversality and trans-species connection. My talk will critically analyze the new materialists’ reading of some key elements in evolutionary theory, in an attempt to explore the broader historical bases for their claims, and the theory of ‘life’ that appears as a consequence.

Comparing and contrasting Elizabeth Grosz, Luciana Parisi, Myra Hird and Claire Colebrook’s readings of Charles Darwin and Henri Bergson, the paper will investigate the extent to which feminist new materialism successfully manages to construct a historical background to its claims. I will argue that although there may be some basis for a theory of mutability, it remains decidedly teleological. Despite an effort to construct a monist corporeal philosophy through their historical readings, the new materialist analyses of evolutionary theory also become curiously vitalist and anthropocentric. Feminist new materialism uses evolutionary theory to develop a form of secular devotion, celebrating nature’s creativity, connectivity and changeability.