Vandana Shiva Essay

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Vandana Shiva was born in 1952 in the Himalayan foothills of northern India. Trained as a nuclear physicist, she has emerged as a philosopher of science and a persistent voice against neoliberal globalization and environmental destruction. Since the early 1980s, she has been engaged in the ecological, social, and economic struggles of subsistence farmers in India, drawing on the ethics of ecology and feminist thought in an effort to promote biodiversity and pluralism in knowledge, action, and culture. Shiva works actively with communities as they struggle against destructive forestry practices, large-scale dams, and multinational-dominated agribusiness. She has shared her knowledge in over 20 books and countless articles, starting with Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (1989) and continuing through her most recent book, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (2005).

In 1982, Shiva established the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in her hometown of Dehradun. Since then Shiva and the foundation have worked on topics such as the protection of smallholder agriculture and local genetic resources, patenting of indigenous knowledge, the role of the World Bank and World Trade Organization in promoting unfair trade rules, and the role of women in maintaining ecological and cultural diversity. In 1991, she founded Navdanya, an Indian movement to protect biodiversity by setting up seed banks, supporting organic agriculture, and establishing direct producer-to-consumer links for food security. Her achievements were recognized in 1993, when she received the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the “alternative” Nobel Peace Prize. Following this honor she launched an international movement called Diverse Women for Diversity, was a founding member of the International Forum on Globalization, and has established Bija Vidyapeeth, a green college in Dehradun based on Gandhian principles.

Internationally recognized as an outspoken critic of the ways in which local knowledge is marginalized and displaced by the dominance of Western knowledge, Shiva has fought against the use of biotechnology in farming. In her book Ecology and the Politics of Survival (1991), she examines the politics of Western scientific knowledge, arguing that it is gradually fragmenting local knowledge of ecological relations, knowledge that includes understanding of the reproduction of natural resources, the erosion of soil, the production of humus, and the regeneration of water.

Her critique of monocultures not only challenges the dominant paradigm of agribusinesses, but also highlights her concern that women bear the brunt of destruction caused by globalization and economic development. In her book Ecofeminism (1993), she and Maria Mies challenge the ecofeminist movement to reject capitalist ideals of “the good life” based on high technology and consumerism. Instead, women’s experiences, which have largely been trammeled in the development process, can provide the knowledge to support locally based, life-affirming, culturally diverse, and self-reliant agriculture production systems.


  1. Nanyna Jhaveri, “Globalization and Graduate Students: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Forum with Vandana Shiva,” Positions (v.12/1, 2004);
  2. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism (Zed Books, 1993);
  3. Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (Zed Books, 1989);
  4. Vandana Shiva, Ecology and the Politics of Survival: Conflicts over Natural Resources in India (SAGE Publications, 1991);
  5. Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (South End Press, 2005).

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