Interview with Geneviève Pruvost: Subsistence Feminism Against the Climate Crisis

28 September 2023

As part of the "Women and Environment" awareness campaign conducted in collaboration with Science Po during the European Sustainable Development Week, the students had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Geneviève Pruvost, a research director at CNRS. She is the author of "Quotidien politique. Féminisme, écologie, subsistance" (Paris, la Découverte, 2021) and the article "Changer d’échelle : penser et vivre depuis les maisonnées" (Les terrestres, January 5, 2022).


  • You have worked on and written about subsistence feminism/vernacular ecofeminism. Could you briefly explain what it is?

Subsistence feminism is rooted in the materiality of the world (similar to materialist and material feminism). Subsistence encompasses all activities that ensure vital functions while maintaining a direct connection with the materials of one’s environment, in order to sustain the lives of all human and non-human inhabitants of that environment. This subsistence work cannot be delegated to machines and factories on the other side of the planet.

The characteristic of this feminism is that it emphasizes that women are often at the forefront of this subsistence work in Northern societies where men were the first to be drawn into the consumer-production society. The division of labor in the industrial world is very different from that of peasant societies (more precisely, societies of peasants and artisans) where few people can escape the essential task of providing for basic needs. Today, it is clear that there is an unequal distribution of this work, which is assigned to women through domestic labor in Northern countries, and to workers and peasants in Southern countries.

Subsistence feminism goes beyond the unjust and unequal distribution of domestic work [1] between men and women by introducing a historical approach that includes the history of colonization, rural exodus, and social stratification between white-collar and blue-collar professions. Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen emphasize that there is an unequal distribution of subsistence work on a global scale, between men and women, peasants and non-peasants.


  • What is the goal of this subsistence feminism?

The goal of this feminism is to oppose the “marginalization” of this work and to make it a major lever for equality in the face of environmental injustice, because only the daily work of subsistence allows for a connection and vigilance over an entire ecosystem and regionalized resources.

This feminism highlights that subsistence work provides autonomy, care for loved ones, and ecological care (closeness to matter). Replacing this subsistence work with consumption work is the project of capitalist industry. The consequences are immediate; the living conditions of a large part of the world’s population are directly impacted in terms of autonomy. This essential work needs to be shared, redistributed, and revalued [NB: similar to “care”], including attention to the materiality of world-building; having a relationship with the living world that cannot be intermittent, and more. This implies continuous work, daily exploration, a relationship with the place, and a new way of forming a society.


  • Could you give a concrete example of an action or lifestyle/production/consumption advocated by this ecofeminism?

Subsistence work still exists in our industrialized societies; it is not something that has disappeared from our lives! For example, a homemade meal using garden produce requires attention at all levels. It is so important that it remains a common criterion for well-being in modern times.

Another example is subsistence farming, with community gardens where ecological movements fight against the destruction of gardens. They demand land to revive market gardens and urban gardens close to where people live. This allows for the inclusion of all populations and creates intercultural encounters. It is no coincidence that women are particularly at the forefront of these demands for small plots of land. They are socialized into these modest actions, linked to domestic activity, which is essential for combating land artificialization and land grabbing. The goal is to extend this concern to the entire population and move away from the idea of making more money. This demand has the potential for broad scope because it leads to land reform for the reallocation of land function and usefulness: farmers who advocate subsistence demand decent-sized and accessible fields or workshops to do something substantial – not just greenwashing.

These examples demonstrate actions that follow a daily rhythm and align with the “prefigurative” activism, as it demonstrates, in the course of its ordinary activities, the world as it should be.


  • What can this ecofeminism and its practices teach us in the fight against the global climate and ecological crisis?

This feminism is an ecofeminism that denounces the patriarchal oppression of aligning careers and lifestyles with the capitalist “breadwinner” model and the harm caused by relegating subsistence work to leisure DIY or exploitation of workers, particularly in the Global South.

In this lesser-known feminist current, there is no political action without immediate practice, which aligns with various anarchist modes of action (direct action, civil disobedience, occupation of spaces), adding a feminist approach that rejects hierarchy between small gestures and mobilizations that engage in direct power relations.

Subsistence feminism opposes the specialization of a few who work themselves to exhaustion while others distance themselves from it. Emancipation comes through the sharing of subsistence – an empowering and joyful sharing.


[1] NB: This is often highlighted by different feminist perspectives or when discussing gender inequalities in general.


Thanks to the students of Science Po for this interview [Charlotte Foulon, Meyya-tia Ramandraivonona, Ellen Löfgren, Julia Vidal, and Constance Mousseaux].

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