Skip to content

daphne cneorum text



CHAN, Contemporary Art Association, 12th of March – 6th May 2014, with the support of OCA, Office for

Contemporary Arts, Norway

daphne s. f . [ from the Gr . δάφνη ‘ laurel ‘ ]. In botany, a group of small shrubs of the timeleacee family (lat. Scient. Daphne), with no corolla flowers and fruit drupe; includes about fifty species, some of which grow in the Ligurian Apennines; this species also provides a dye used for dyeing wool.

Daphne’s plants are all poisonous.

From large infrastructure planning and the subsequent processes of demolition, the regulation of the territory at the expenses of the natural resources is often applied at the expense of a wide social, cultural, emotional as well as environmental exclusion.
Urban land policies and land use control measure strongly affect the vision of the landscape and its production. In consequence of the approval of a large infrastructure project, this phenomenon currently involves a large part of the Ligurian territory, in northern Italy, the destination of which is deeply connected to deforestation, expropriation and land erosion; the demolition phase of the mountains of Valpolcevera, in Liguria, foreshadows the dissolution of important natural traces in the landscape, the distortion of the ecosystem of the place, the deletion of large areas of vegetation.
The Valpolcevera has undergone over the years the signs of progressive industrialization and the consequent separation of the local community from the natural resources.
As a consequence of the reconversion of vast industrial areas, the deforestation, the decay and distortion of the land, the status of the valley is the result of the different forms of land use control measures and the most prominent positions that the economic and political power has been exerting over time; the commercial interest of the area led to different stages of displacement of the local communities and the1 removal of large areas of vegetation. Due to the characteristic geography of the region, way out towards the sea, the valley has undergone a process of loss of identity of vast proportions, a progressive degradation typical of the industrialized territories.
A ‘naturalized’ landscape has no property or domain.  (1) The case of Valpolcevera is an example of the separation between a ‘naturalized’ landscape – and the consequences of the domineering control over the common natural resources. This potential loss is questioning complex instances, globally and locally: that is the general reaffirmation of the sovereignty of the Governments concerning the communal land resources and the need for recreation of new commons. In the global system, the generic analogy to this phenomenon is ‘land grabbing’: the acquisition of large tracts of land, by national and transnational companies, often finalized at the mechanized agro-food system and the restoration of forests; therefore, the central issue is the ‘custody’ of the natural resources. This process is dominant in developing countries and in the most vulnerable areas of the Earth, such as the rainforests.
Between 2000 and 2013, the global resource of forests has been reduced by more than 400,000 square kilometres. Geopolitical and economic interests, the progressive mapping of territories and the observation of the climate change – including some of the main reasons – is attributable to deforestation and has triggered a mechanism of protection of the natural heritage and favoured the acquisition of initiatives toward the restoration of forests. Early environmental considerations rose in the 1980s, as a result of the observations of climate change and the creation of international organizations for the protection of the ecosystems; one is aware that, among the different interests at stake, the developing countries can be easily induced to solve the foreign debt with the granting of forests.
At the beginning of the nineties, the World Bank and the United Nations have increased fundings for the demarcation of different natural reserves, in favour of the privatization and the preservation of biodiversity – resolutions which have provided international agencies with the opportunity to expropriate rainforests. The intent was to act for these coal reserves and oxygen generators and give the way to the transformation of forests into ecological reserves. The subdivision of geographical areas subjected to the environmental control systems has obstructed over time access into the ancestral portions of land inhabited only by indigenous people – protectors of the forests and biodiversity for generations. Nevertheless, the issue of the common resources is not only important to those who may face expulsion from their ancestral territories, but also to the whole ecosystem. The disciplines of ‘custody’ of our environmental heritage, from the side of current Governments, agroindustrial management of resources and land-use control measures are still at the expenses of developing countries. Political interests do not only concern rainforests and indigenous peoples, but also the deserts and the exploration of the planet Mars.3 Recently, alongside the operations of privatization of the territory, there has been a commercial practice of protection of the rainforest whose cost has been incurred by two main donors: the World Bank and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) – a project designed to prevent deforestation and reduce emissions of CO2. The project, in the hands of multinational companies, provides for the safekeeping of the forests with the aim of subjecting its native inhabitants to the methods of the agricultural organization on an industrial scale. Further to the agreement between the World Bank and REDD, indigenous peoples in danger of expulsion from the most flourishing ecological reserves in the world are currently involved in a battle for the defence of their ancestral lands. Therefore, the destiny of the indigenous communities close to rainforests is remarkably uncertain; the inhabitants of these areas are as a result bound to become environmental refugees.

From national parks to natural reserves, the progressive ‘custody’ of the land has accentuated the separation from the real common use. In Costa Rica, for example, the Ministry of Environment and Energy has established “conservation areas” on 25 % of the territory: national parks, biological reserves, wildlife; but therefore, hundreds of indigenous families and peasants were expelled from those geographical areas. The wind farm built on sacred land portions of the Way.u Indians indigenous community – the people of the sun, the sand and the wind – in Colombia, constitutes a violent case of granting lands that have caused the death of many indigenous peoples. The internal struggles related to these events are often linked to complex local issues; dispossessed of their lands, at different stages of protest, many activists have suffered from discrimination and violence by the counter-insurgency. In many cases, for the women who are forced to migrate to urban areas, an immediate way of survival remains prostitution. (3) Ancestral land claims, at present, involve the destiny of many local communities and indigenous peoples: Navajo, Pueblos, Mestizos, Chicanos, Kashyap in Brazil, Nahuas in Mexico, Piikani in Canada, are claiming the rights of the communities still inhabiting the territories of their ancestors, against the violent governmental policies concerning forests. In many of these struggles for the re-appropriation of land, the majority of opponents are women, specialized in the knowledge of agricultural practices and natural resources, engaged in the maintenance of the vital regenerative processes. The loss of wilderness has violently interrupted the ritual practices of many communities, causing the denaturalization of ceremonial stones, tombs, ancestral mountains. In Africa, the Philippines, India and throughout Latin America, different women have fought for the defence of the colonized territories, replanting trees in the forests, siding against the privatization of water.
The non-violent protest against the deforestation known as Chipko (the tree huggers), in India, in the ’70s, stood up for the defence of the killing of the sacred trees (Khejri) by hugging them. The ‘communalism’ of women has led, in these examples of counter-power, to the opening of a process of self-enhancement based on the principle of non-violence, autonomy and self-determination, reaffirming the need for reconstruction of new commons, in contrast to the structural power of capital.
During a long stay in Brazil, in 2001, I met for the first time a group of women activists aiming at the reoccupation of the ancestral lands: the Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (landless rural workers) and the community of the favelas du Monte Azul, near the town of Sao Paulo. The movement of the Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra is an autonomous community fighting for the re-appropriation of land exposed to forced urbanization and the strategies of illegal agricultural elites (the same has happened in the Amazon) in precarious rural areas. The claim of the Sem Terra consists in the construction of an economy based on the principle of the commons and a land-use not subjugated by capitalistic relations; the community is constantly attacked by the actions of the Brazilian counterinsurgency militants. During the journey, I took part in one of the occupations of the Sem Terra for the re-appropriation of a vast area destined to a violent infrastructure project, where hundreds of communities were forced to live in precarious conditions, threatened by the military forces and poised between forms of inclusion and exclusion. (4) 2001, after September 11 in New York, was a year marked by further forms of exclusion, marginalization, security schemes; the models of the repressive counterinsurgency was depicted as an accomplice of the renewed war strategies. Under the light of a wider and current perspective, it was seen as the cause of the war against the enemy widely diffused within the borders of the nation-states.
In “Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation” Silvia Federici outline the various stages of social rebellion in the first phase of capitalism, focusing on the role of women in the stage of the primitive process of the accumulation of capital. The analysis of Silvia Federici pinpoints the expulsion of women from their communal lands and in particular the problem of ‘reproduction’ of the labour force. Land expropriation, the enclosures, the slavery in Africa and in the ‘New World’ are not the only reasons related to primitive accumulation of capital. This process is connected with the progressive transformation of the body into a “mechanized entity”, and the resulting segregation of women as a primary source of human reproduction, one with the ”labour force”. The first phase of capitalism is therefore linked with the destruction of the power of women and a sign of a further gender, racial and cultural division, and the creation of a new divided working class. Along with the creation of the ‘rebel subjects’, likely to suffer different forms of discrimination, slavery is, therefore, linked to the industrial labour and the exploitation of natural resources – the result of the main form of capital accumulation and extreme impoverishment of the vital conditions of subsistence.
This is a phenomenon not only associated with the experience of the American colonies. In Italy, in particular, in the XVI and XVII century, around the Mediterranean area, the number of slaves increased progressively after the Battle of Lepanto (1571); new workforces were absorbed not only in the fields but by a system of organized slavery, aimed at the implementation of public works and the employment of manpower in the Vatican-owned large fleets. ⁷
According to Silvia Federici, social rebellion outlines a form of resistance toward the the progressive separation between pure body power and its transformation into the labor force. In the context of a globalized economy, the fundamental connection with the birth of modern capitalism is related to the alienation and scission between the individual and his body. It is furthermore a direct consequence of the deterioration of the social and individual living conditions, the usurpation of rural properties and the faculty of self-determination.
By tracing the genealogy of the relationship between body, power and nature, Silvia Federici extends her research into the analysis of the various phenomena related to the extermination of vast groups of female population accused of witchcraft, starting from the XVI century. The precise social and territorial control are the preconditions for the campaign of terror launched against women accused by the State of witchcraft in the XVI and XVII century in Europe. This phenomenon has in recent years risen again in countries such as Africa, India and Nepal, Papua New Guinea, where the precarious conditions of entire populations are combined with the phenomena related to internal struggles and large impoverishment.
In the early 2000s, in circumstances of extreme oppression of women, different repressive expeditions by the military forces in South Africa led to the expropriation of entire properties and witch-hunts in order to gain land. The political and economic ways related to this form of persecution – often led by armed vigilantes – have a complex internal structure. This form of persecution exerted on the whole female population, owner of farmland, is linked to the cult of the earth, in places where many women still practise a subsistence economy. In this current example, ‘witch-hunting’ coincides with the deep crisis that liberalization has produced in Africa, weakening the local economies, the social position of women and the use of economic resources, starting from the land.
Example of different practices of exclusion/inclusion, Gambaga, Kukuo, Gnani, Bonyase, Nabuli and Kpatinga are ‘witch camps’ distributed in remote areas in northern Ghana, where hundreds of women accused of witchcraft are currently living expelled from their community and from their homes.
The philosopher Luciano Parinetto has devoted an extensive part of his research to the social discrimination and slavery phenomena. Parinetto shows how the witch-hunt model of extermination has been adopted by all forms of repression and how, once social discrimination arises, even at a mere ideological level, this repressive method is used in various forms of social exclusion and persecution. ⁹
Parinetto identifies a line of continuity between the witch and what will later become the working-class man, along with a whole series of different alien ‘beings’: burned at the stake, deported, homeless, indigenous peoples, gipsies, homosexuals. A whole series of diverse social bodies that, with the accumulation of capital and its need for primitive accumulation, not only are of minor concern but are also identified as conflicting elements within the dominant social system.
Starting from the research of Silvia Federici and Luciano Parinetto, my reflection focuses on the relationship between the body, the territory and the threat to the means of subsistence.
Today’s ‘witch-hunt’ essentially reflects the state of opposition to the working class; in the early ‘witch-hunt’, the women accused of witchcraft were victims of the new economy transformation; they were mainly women struggling in defence of their land.
The first Witches’ attack – before the ones perpetrated by the Church- was founded on legal action, performed in various ways of segregation and social exclusion, including the banishment into enclosures of common land, open fields (common wastes) and forests.
The actions of expropriation took place on a large scale, including several classes of society, in rural areas subject to the interest of the governments. The expulsion from the communal land, along with the extermination of a vast group of women accused of witchcraft, has led to the institution of a reign of terror and the intensification of crimes against property, intended to bind the proletariat to work. (11)

1 L.Lippard, ‘The lure of the local’, Paperback, 1998
2 Povinelli, Elizabeth, Lecture at the Academy of Fine Arts, Oslo, January 2014
Povinelli, Elizabeth Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011
3 Salleh, Ariel Kay, Deeper than Deep Ecology: The Eco-Feminist Connection Environmental Ethics, Volume 6, Issue 4, Winter 1984
4 Federici, Silvia, Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, The, Issue N.14., 2010
5 Federici, Silvia, Women, Land Struggles, and Globalization: An International Perspective, Journal of Asian and African Studies April 2004 vol. 39
6 Federici, Silvia, Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation New York: Autonomedia, 2004
7-8 Federici, Silvia, Witch-Hunting, Globalization, and Feminist Solidarity in Africa Today, The, New York 2008
9 Parinetto, Luciano, La traversata delle streghe nei nomi e nei luoghi, Quaderni della balena bianca, Pellicani, 1993
10 Parinetto, Luciano, Streghe e politica, IPL, Milano 1984
11 Federici, Silvia, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, 2012
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, James, Selma, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, Falling Wall Press Ltd. 1972
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, The war of subsistence, The, 2001
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, The Native In Us, the Earth We Belong To, The, 2003
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, Riruralizzare il mondo, Terra e Libert./Critical Wine, DeriveApprodi, Roma 2004
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, Sette buone ragioni per dire luogo, Foedus, n.15, 2006
Foucault, Michel, S.curit., territoire, population, Cours au de France (1977-1978), Hautes .tudes, Seuil 2004
Clastres, Pierre, Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology, Zone Books, 1989
CHAN, Contemporary Art Association, 12th of March – 6th May 2014, with the support of OCA, Office for
Contemporary Arts, Norway