The Concept of Nature in Marx
One of the central contributions of Henri Lefebvre is to emphasize the importance of cultural praxis to Marx’s overall vision of a future society. This chapter begins to excavate aspects of this aesthetic critique by demonstrating the importance of the sensuous to Marx’s overall critique of capitalism, his vision of communism, and, crucially, his concept of nature. Deeply influenced by both Epicurus and Feuerbach, Marx posits sensuous human labor at the center of both his epistemological and ontological framework. This position is crucial to the practical materialism he goes on to develop. Thus, reality is understood as “sensuous human activity, practice.” The chapter begins by demonstrating the ways in which sensuous human activity is crucial to the environment of one particular postapartheid informal settlement in South Africa. The laboring acts of women serve to create an ecosystem on which the life of this settlement depends. Riven with injustices, this environment is exposed to the whims of commercial relationships. One particular moment of crisis invokes a fiercely politicized response on the part of local women. The chapter questions how this can be understood to emerge from the women’s situated understandings of the political ecology of the settlement. These understandings, in turn, are related to their sensuous laboring acts.
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