Val Plumwood

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Val Plumwood (right), 2007

Val Plumwood (11 August 1939 – 29 February 2008) was an Australian ecofeminist philosopher and activist. She became prominent in the development of radical ecosophy from the early 1970s through the remainder of the 20th century.[1] At the time of her death, she was Australian Research Council Fellow at the Australian National University.

Plumwood was the author of several books, including Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1993) and Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (2002).


Plumwood was born Val Morell to a family of poor poultry farmers near Sydney. In the 1960s she studied philosophy at the University of Sydney.[2]

From the 1960s on, Plumwood was active in movements to preserve biodiversity and halt deforestation, and helped establish the trans-discipline known as ecological humanities. She held positions at North Carolina State University, the University of Montana, and the University of Sydney. At the time of her death, she was Australian Research Council Fellow at the Australian National University.

She married twice. She divorced her second husband, philosopher Richard Routley, in 1981. Routley, who died in 1996, changed his name to Richard Sylvan in 1983, and Plumwood changed hers to Plumwood after Plumwood Mountain where her home was. A son and daughter from her first marriage both predeceased her.[3]

Plumwood was found dead on 1 March 2008 and is thought to have died on 29 February. The cause of death was originally thought to be a snakebite or spider bite, but was confirmed to be the result of a stroke.[2][4]


Plumwood's major theoretical works are her 1993 Feminism and the Mastery of Nature and her 2002 Environmental Culture: the Ecological Crisis of Reason. She has elaborated her views in four books and over one hundred papers.[5]

Plumwood critiques what she describes as "the standpoint of mastery," a set of views of the self and its relationship to the other associated with sexism, racism, capitalism, colonialism, and the domination of nature. She draws on feminist theory to analyze this standpoint, which she argues involves "seeing the other as radically separate and inferior, the background to the self as foreground, as one whose existence is secondary, derivative or peripheral to that of the self or center, and whose agency is denied or minimized."[6]

She identifies the human/nature dualism as part of a series of problematic, gendered dualisms, including "human/animal, mind/body... male/female, reason/emotion, [and] civilized/primitive."[6] She argues for abandoning these dualisms, and correspondingly the traditional Western notion of a rational, unitary, Cartesian self, in favor of an ecological ethic based on empathy for the other. In doing so, she rejects not only the "hyperseparation" between the self and the other, and between humanity and nature, involved in the hegemonic view, but also postmodern alternatives based on a respect for absolute difference and deep ecological alternatives based on a merging of the self and the world, in favor of a view that recognizes and grounds ethical responsibility in both the continuities and the divisions between the subject and the object, and between people and the environment.[6]

Plumwood was a vegetarian, her affirmation of the ecological significance of predation notwithstanding, on account of her objection to factory farming.[7] She advocated a "semi-vegetarian" position she labelled Ecological Animalism, in opposition to the animal rights platform of Carol J. Adams, which Plumwood called ontological veganism. She criticised this position on the grounds of its endorsement of human/nature dualism.[8]

Near-death experience[edit]

During a visit to Kakadu National Park in 1985, Plumwood camped at the East Alligator ranger station.[9] While exploring the East Alligator Lagoon and its backwaters in a canoe borrowed from the park service, Plumwood was attacked by a saltwater crocodile.[10]

In her 1996 essay "Being Prey", Plumwood described her near-death experience during the crocodile attack. She was alone on the river and saw what appeared to be a "floating stick" that she soon realized was a crocodile. Before she could get ashore the crocodile attacked her canoe and in her attempt to leap ashore to avoid being capsized, Val was seized by the crocodile. The essay describes the three "death rolls" the crocodile put her through before her escape up a steep mud bank to safety. Despite her severe injuries Plumwood managed to start walking towards the ranger station - when she began to black out she continued on by crawling. When she had not returned to the ranger station by nightfall, one of the rangers went looking for her and heard her shouting for help. Plumwood then had a 13-hour trip to Darwin hospital where she spent a month in intensive care followed by extensive skin grafts.[11]

From this experience, Plumwood gained a perspective that humans are part of the food chain as well, and that our culture's human-centric view is disconnected from the reality that we also are food for animals.[12]

Selected works[edit]

  • Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. Routledge, 1993.
  • Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. Routledge, 2002.
  • Val Plumwood (Routley) and Richard Routley, The Fight for the Forests: The Takeover of Australian Forests for Pines, Wood Chips and Intensive Forestry, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, 1973.
  • Richard Routley and Val Plumwood, "The 'Fight for the Forests' affair," in Brian Martin, C. M. Ann Baker, Clyde Manwell and Cedric Pugh (eds.), Intellectual Suppression: Australian Case Histories, Analysis and Responses (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1986), pp. 70–73.
  • Plumwood V, 2004, " `The fight for the forests' revisited", The William Main Forestry Lecture Series, University of California, Berkeley, CA
  • Plumwood, Val, The Fight for the Forests Revisited, paper delivered to Win, Lose or Draw: the Fight for the Forests? A Symposium, Old Canberra House, Australian National University, 14 October 2003. [1]
  • Plumwood, Val, "The Eye of the Crocodile", edited by Lorraine Shannon. ANU E Press, Canberra, Australia, 2012. [2]


  1. ^ Mathews, Freya (1999). "Ecophilosophy in Oz". Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Nature 3 (2). 
  2. ^ a b Val Plumwood (11 August 1939 to 29 February 2008): International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE)
  3. ^ Freya Matthews, "Val Plumwood", The Guardian, 26 March 2008.
  4. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 6 March 2008
  5. ^ Australian National University faculty bio
  6. ^ a b c Palmer, Joyce (2001). 50 Key Thinkers on the Environment. Routledge. pp. 283–8. ISBN 0-415-14699-2. 
  7. ^ “Being Prey” (p. 7): “I was a vegetarian at the time of my encounter with the crocodile, and remain one today. This is not because I think predation itself is demonic and impure, but because I object to the reduction of animal lives in factory farming systems that treat them as living meat.”
  8. ^ Plumwood, Val (2012). The Eye of the Crocodile. ANU E Press. p. 78. ISBN 9781922144171. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  9. ^ Val Plumwood canoe: National Museum of Australia collection highlight
  10. ^ "Surviving a Crocodile Attack", by Val Plumwood from the book The Ultimate Journey, UTNE Reader, July-August 2000
  11. ^ "Taken by a crocodile", as told to Michelle Hamer, The Age, 12 January 2004
  12. ^ "Being Prey"

Further reading[edit]

  • An essay on Plumwood’s work can be found in 50 Key Thinkers on the Environment (ed. Joy A. Palmer, Routledge 2001, 283-290). Plumwood’s environmental theory and activism also features in Martin Mulligan and Stuart Hill Ecological Pioneers (Cambridge University Press 2001, 274-300). Plumwood contributed some strategic thinking to the Environmental Politics’ 10th year anniversary issue, "Green Thinking? from Australia" Environmental Politics 10(4) 2001, pp 85–102.
  • Prest, James (1997) "Protecting Plumwood Mountain" 41(6)National Parks Journal 17. (National Parks Association NSW). Discusses voluntary conservation agreement made under National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and Wilderness Act 1987 over land in NSW.
  • Hyde, Dominic (2009), "Two In the Bush: The Environmental Philosophy of Val Routley/Plumwood and Richard Routley/Sylvan", Southerly 69: 57-78.
  • Hyde, Dominic (2014), "Eco-Logical Lives: the philosophical lives of Richard Routley/Sylvan and Val Routley/Plumwood", The White Horse Press, UK.

External links[edit]