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Towards Integrative Ecosocial Design

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
29th January 2013


Republished from Oyvind Holmstad:

Aranya, my PDC-teacher, explaining the five zones of permaculture

On my PDC-Course in Sweden I learned about the therm Integrative Ecosocial Design, and I fell in love with it. Here follow the history and description for this therm, from Gaia University:

This descriptive name, Integrative Ecososial Design, arose from observations and understandings gleaned from years of work and action in the permaculture and ecovillage fields, and from around leading-edge developments appearing elsewhere. Through the work experience we understood that permaculture folk, for example, see most problems of human society stemming from destructive land use practices, such as industrial agriculture, and that switching to sustainable and regenerative horticulture, repairing ecosystems and living lifestyles based primarily on resources derived from biological processes would enable us to reconfigure human societies to function within the carrying capacity of Earth.

Ecovillage-focused people often describe the primary problem as a lack of spiritual awareness, hierarchical decision making systems, poor housing and physical community design and tend to respond by establishing consensus-based, experimental intentional communities wherever they can find land and permission.

While there is substantial value in both of these approaches neither of these views seemed complete, and each group, for quite a while, was actively antagonistic towards the other – the one considering the other flimsy and “new agey”, the other seeing itself as spiritually superior to the grunts planting trees and digging swales.

From our explorations of the dazzling array of leading-edge design developments, we considered Integral Theory, Social Ecology, Human Ecology and more. There’s much to commend in each of these ways of thinking, yet none manages to combine the practical, pragmatic, action-oriented, purposeful, leaderful, clear approach we’re seeking to engender through Gaia University. Here are some brief sketches…

Integral Theory has some powerful conceptual models, but tends towards extreme abstract conceptualization, attracts esoteric thinkers and seems to be liable to that tiresome academic dynamic of seeking to value and create elegant/obscure philosophically dense theory above grounded action.

Social Ecology has great social analysis roots and capacities and a fine vision, and meanwhile generates impenetrable and lengthy arguments for change seemingly typical of the intellectual left-wing that places it beyond the patience of anyone without a good deal of time and a background in unpicking convoluted, verbose scholarly masterpieces.

Human Ecology, which unlike the two above, has been generated from within the conventional academy, has a thorough academic pedigree and long history. Part of its problem, for our purposes, is that it is still embedded in the establishment, which curtails its ability to act for deep social change lest it bite the hand that feeds it.

Thus at Gaia University we birthed the field of Integrative Ecosocial Design, which draws on the most practical elements of the above, but has its own character as an approachable, action-focused, practical/thoughtful practice of praxis.

What’s In a Name?

  • Integrative to emphasize a process and direction (rather than “integrated”, a claim too bold, or “integral” which is rather like a branding).
  • Ecosocial to indicate a balance between ecology, land-use and all social and economic aspects of human society.
  • Design to underline our primary goal of bringing as many people as possible to a place of empowerment from which they can notice that the behavior, structures and institutions of societies and the people within them are products of human thinking and efforts. Thus all these aspects of culture are amenable to deconstruction and redesign. 
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