HOTB2020 Panel 1.5: Antipodean Environmental Literary Studies on the Brink



Panel 1.5: Antipodean Environmental Literary Studies on the Brink

“The Future of Housework: Feelings about Domestic Labour in All the Beginnings and Indelible Ink”

Jennifer Hamilton (University of New England (Australia))

“Snaking from Old to New Pathways: A Lyrical Critique”

Susan Hall Pyke (University of Melbourne)

“‘Part of Their Story’: Nonhuman Narratives in Australian Habitat Stories”

Rachel Fetherston (Deakin University)

“Australian Botany on the Brink”

Jessica White (University of Queensland)



Q & A

If you would like to comment in the Q&A, register here

Note that questions and comments can be intended for individual speakers, the entire panel, or anyone who has posted to the Q&A. Respond directly to a particular question/comment by way of the little “reply” below it. The vertical threadlike lines are there to make it easier to see which part of the discussion (i.e. “thread”) you are taking up. 

4 replies
  1. Ashley Cahillane says:

    Fantastic panel, thanks to all speakers. I have a question for Jennifer: do you see the novels you mention as challenging patriarchal capitalist attitudes which fashion housework as something incidental to economics (instead of central to it)?

    • Jennifer Hamilton says:

      Hi Ashley,
      Thanks for the question. Such a great one. Apologies for the embarassing delay.

      I found it almost impossible to engage in this conference as it overlapped with school holidays and teaching term in Australia. It was a good experiment, but not being in place made it hard for me to prioritise!

      I think this question of patriarchal capitalist attitudes ti housework is hard to separate from my interest in feminist critiques of housework. The contempt for housework that underscores certain feminisms is a response to the obligation to do housework as part of patriarchal capitalism, but what we have now after narrow liberal feminist successes in the work place, many women do just tonnes more work. So, I’m interested in trying to change the challenge altogether. I think that the texts both reflect an ambivalence to housework, and it’s in this ambivalence I see possibility – housework in itself is neither necessarily good or bad, but it is one of many things one could do to occupy one’s time – why other things seem preferable (as the Boyer quote suggests, the story is what happens when one isn’t doing the dishes) – is as much a cultural construct as the desire to resist patriarchy and be liberated from housework in the first place.

      In both texts, though, there is gardening – not dishes or laundry – but gardening. The garden is a powerful image in both texts that really points to possibilties of reimagining domestic space.

      Thanks again for the question and apologies for this horrendously slow response.

  2. Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

    Thanks for the great panel! I wanted to see what you think, Jennifer, about how the mundane nature of ecological “housework” might actually be a good thing inasmuch as it cuts impossibly vast problems involved in “saving the Earth” down to manageable, local, daily chores that pretty much anyone (non-scientists, non-politicians, etc.) can learn quickly and turn into durable future-friendly habits. I wonder how many ordinary people would get more invested in caring for the Earth if they were exposed to practices of Earth-care that make a real difference in the quality of their daily lives–practices that go beyond what to consume or not to consume, and instead engage our whole beings in relationships with nonhuman beings. Of course one great difference between caring for a garden (for example) and washing dishes is that so many of our indoor tasks involve fighting and exploiting nature rather than partnering with it. It’s a hopeless project by definition, doomed to begin failing the second we stop sweeping and scrubbing, whereas all the work we do to promote the flourishing of life can set in motion unexpected positive changes that can outlast us indefinitely. (By the way, if you haven’t read Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping, I think you would find it pretty fascinating, particularly the character who quits doing indoor chores altogether and lets nonhuman beings have free rein of the house.)

    For Jessica: Forgive me if you’re already very familiar with the book, but in case you haven’t come across it, Tim Winton’s Island Home has some interesting things to say about SWAFR and Georgiana Molloy. Although it’s disorienting, I like the fact that he refuses to provide a glossary of plant and animal names that people outside Australia (and, I suspect, plenty of people in the country) are bound to find weird. I enjoy his meditations on how settler colonials can come to terms with landscapes like SWAFR rather than constantly try to transform them in the image of their home countries.

    • Jennifer Hamilton says:

      Hi Bart,

      Apologies for the horrifically late response. I found it almost impossible to engage in this conference as exciting as it seemed because it overlapped with school holidays and teaching term in Australia. It was a good experiment for me, but not being in place made it hard for me to prioritise! It shows how next time I try to do this I have to properly schedule it in and not just think it will sit neatly around the sides of other things.

      Thanks for your question! Both these questions are awesome and worth the price of the ticket alone (though I do hope to make it through the archive). YES! I think that I’m really 100% interested in how mundane housework is and thus how mundane solutions to climate change actually could be. This is a tangent, but I was talking to a colleague the other day about university rhetoric around teaching and learning and how wild and complex and technologistic it is and she said – really we just need to both have read something and we need a space in which to talk about it in. Obviously there’s more too it, but ultimately there are aspects of it (climate adaptation, teaching/learning) which are outrageously simple, even boring. There are questions of race and gender justice that relate to housework too: that is part of the problem of housework historically was that it was not optional for women, and in particular working class white women and black women. So the only way housework will work as a solution is if there is an associated powershift, where housework, along with care labour, is centralised in the economy. This, I think, relates to the “making kin” thesis, where the models of life, labour and love look quite different to the current one. I’m definitely going to look up this novel. Thank you for the tip!!

      Also, finally, I think the differences between dish-doing and gardening are something that will become important in this project, however it unfolds.

      Thanks Bart, great to think through the answer to your question. Thanks also for the conference (despite my delayed engagement).

      Warm wishes,

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply