Feminism - Material feminism

RELATED TERMS: Everyday; New Materialism; Cultural Studies; Postmodernism; Narrative environment design; Method and methodology; Feminist avant-garde art practice; Historical materialism - Marxism; Critical thinking; Phenomenology

Spatial practices, and not only in Western countries, are radically gendered. Feminist analyses, particularly those that emphasise the performative character of gender ‘identity’ as processes of identification, which focus on material conditions of living and which bring to attention the significance of practices of the body in the constitution of spatiality, are therefore of great value in narrative environment design.

One line of thinking on such issues, a feminist geographical approach, can be traced through the writings of Doreen Massey (1994).

Writing in 2009, Myra Hird brings to attention another potentially valuable line of thinking. This concerns the emerging field research which she calls ‘material feminism’. Under this heading she includes the work of Vicki Kirby, Elizabeth A. Wilson, Luciana Parisi, Donna Haraway and Karen Barad among others.

Hird further notes that this emerging kind of material feminism is to be distinguished from an older tradition of materialist research within feminism. This older tradition concerns itself with the material living conditions of women understood in terms of labour and work, reproductive practices, access to political institutions, health, education and intimacy, structured through relations of social class, race, ethnicity, age, nationality, ableism, heteronormativity, and so on, analyses which draw attention to the mundane, repetitive and tedious activities of daily life.

It is in this sense that feminism, as Feski (2000) notes, has traditionally conceived itself as a politics of everyday life. This has, in practice, led to divergent feminist approaches, for example, one which deploys a hermeneutics of suspicion examining patriarchal norms and gender hierarchy or another which, rather than treating the everyday as a patriarchal ruse, sees the everyday as a sign of women’s greater grounding in the practical world.

While paying attention to the often overlooked minutiae of women’s lives, such approaches do not, however, engage with affective physicality or human-non-human encounters, which is the domain of the emerging material feminism and its emphasis on engagements with matter. This emerging field of research may also be called new materialism; and it is also marked with an engagement with the tradition of social studies of science or science and technology studies.


Felski, R. (2000). The Invention of everyday life. New Formations, 39, 15–31.

Hird, M.J. (2009). Feminist engagements with matter. Feminist Studies, 35 (2), 329–346. Available from [Accessed 11 May 2015].

Massey, D. (1994). Space, place, and gender. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.