Social ecology needs development, dissent, dynamism

If you’re reading this post on the ISE blog then chances are I don’t need to spend much time reviewing the seriousness of the contemporary situation. Suffice to say, we are experiencing numerous social and ecological crises and the ongoing consequences of climate change foretell a bleak future. And if you are familiar with social ecology, as a body of ideas developed by Murray Bookchin, then a detailed description of his influential vision of a non-hierarchical, ecological , decentralized, and directly-democratic alternative is unnecessary.

Unfortunately, while Bookchin’s social ecology is recognized to have played a significant role in the ongoing worldwide resurgence of anarchist social movements and social theory in addition to having had major influence on the emergence of the “Green” movement in Germany and, later, the US, Bookchin’s social ecology is not currently widely consulted in radical circles.

There are many complex reasons for this and the contemporary status of Bookchin’s social ecology is a topic that demands a fuller discussion than appropriate for a blog post.

While I know there are some who are understandably concerned about the “watering-down” or otherwise distorting of Bookchin’s ideas, I feel it necessary to call for a critical evaluation of Bookchin’s social ecology by those who identify with social ecology.

My interest in doing so is certainly partially selfish; over the past several years I’ve learned a great deal from studying Bookchin’s work alongside that of other social ecologists such as Ben Grosscup, Brian Tokar, Chaia Heller, Dan Chodorkoff, Eirik Eiglad, Grace Gershuny, Janet Biehl, Matt Hern, and Peter Staudenmaier, while being inspired by the activism of Hilary Moore, and Samantha Gorelick, among others. In short, I value the community of people associated with Bookchin’s social ecology and the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE) and I want to see both the ISE and the social ecology tradition grow.

But my reasons are not solely selfish. I do believe there is much in the social ecology tradition that has vital insights to contribute to our efforts at overcoming the crises we face.

(In referring to the social ecology tradition, I mean not only Bookchin’s work and those clearly identified with it, but the many historical lineages and contemporary endeavors of theory and action which are complementary to a social-ecological perspective, including but not limited to the anarchist, anti-colonial, anti-racist, feminist, indigenous, libertarian socialist, queer, and radical ecology milieus.)

However, with Bookchin’s passing in July 2006  and the only tangentially-related scaling back of the ISE’s educational programming, there is a definite need for those of us associated with social ecology to be reflexive about where the social ecology tradition has been and where it might go:

Which aspects of Bookchin’s social ecology are essential and what elements might, at least for some self-identifying social ecologists, deserve critique and revision?

I believe this question demands robust and respectful public discussion.

Can there be social ecologies—that is, varying interpretations, philosophies, and modes of praxis that differ in some ways but remain in solidarity with one another and identified with the social ecology tradition?

I believe this answer definitive “yes” not as a cynical strategy for over-extending the relevance of the social ecology tradition, nor as a means for avoiding critical, direct disagreement, but as means of renewing an important community of activists and thinkers who can do the crucial work of developing social-ecological theory and putting it into practice. Dissent is not only inevitable, it is healthy and necessary and we who draw support and energy from the social ecology tradition should not shrink from disagreeing anymore than we ought be quick to alienate those with dissenting opinions.

For its part, the ISE has had literally thousands of students participate in its educational programs over the course of its more than 35 years.  The Institute remains a vehicle for radical education and action notwithstanding the relatively modest level of activity over the past few years. For the ISE to be revitalized the social ecology tradition must be revitalized. And the ISE faces the challenges of evolving and developing new educational programming and strategies in a context that is rapidly developing distance-learning tools while the economic and ecological costs of face-to-face meeting increase.

But these are not insurmountable obstacles—not even remotely. The only question is how they will be overcome. The several thousand ISE alumni and countless others who’ve been influenced by the social ecology tradition are already at work right now, developing ideas and staging actions, building movements, and agitating for a sustainable social-ecological future.

50 Replies to “Social ecology needs development, dissent, dynamism”

  1. It is worth recognising that ‘social ecology’, the interdependence of people and organisms in nature, is a significant construct in natural sciences,[physics, genetics, biology,botany]; and social sciences [philosophy,psychology,sociology,education,politics,economics] as well as among the groups involved with the ISE, and SEEDS, and Communalism, and Inclusive Democracy. A review of the web sites across the world reveals that there are many allies and supporters of the movement in all these other disciplines. For example, recently I was searching sources on anarchism, individualism, self, and free will, and came across a set of sites exploring ‘eco-psychology’, environmental psychology; as well as some recent articles presenting evidence and conclusions concerning self and free will as a biological construct linked to human behaviours of survival and adjustment.
    I want to declare that I and a number of colleagues [2000-2004] at Nottingham Trent University UK, developed a version of ‘social ecology’ that arose from a critical discourse of concepts of individual and society. Our analyses, and my current website, owed nothing directly to the writings of Bookchin, nor Fotopoulos nor Eiglad nor Tokar. It was generated from disputations concerning our notions of ‘individual and self’. Having acted for years on the assumption that ‘hell is other people’, the penny finally dropped that, from conception to death, we are all totally dependent upon other humans,and upon a multitude of complex organic communities.
    Once one accepts social dependence and interdependence, it is clear that ‘I’ is only relevant as part of ‘we’; and that ‘we’ survive within a natural environment. ‘I’ cannot be without ‘others’, and without ‘nature’. The exploration of these constructs and the development of the web site has led me to wider reading and the realisation that there are many communities [academic and municipal] across the world who are concerned about these issues – though not always expressed in ‘social’ terms.

    J.Kelvyn Richards

    http://www.kelvynrichards.com [Discourse: Social Ecology…a new morality? alternative choices?]

  2. So social ecology stiffles dissent when it doesn’t make alliances with liberals, anarchists, postmodernists, eco-Marxists, critical theorists, et al? Can we at least try to build our own movement before we say we need to form a new popular front with genuine conflicting (and rightly so!) groups of calcified activists instead of reaching out to open minded newly politicized people?

  3. I am trying to suggest that there are a lot of supporters of the objectives of social ecology across the world: in Russia, in Australia, in Indonesia, in Malaysia, in Japan, in Sweden, in Netherlands, in South Africa, in Argentina, in Bolivia, in Brazil, in Quatar, Dubai, in the USA, in China. It would be good for ISE to devise more ways of making contact with them, and to form alliances,and projects and take action to promote community democracy, corporate responsibility, conservation, alleviation of poverty: or in other words, social change.
    I am not sure whether I am being labelled a’calcified’ activist or ‘newly politicised’!

    J.Kelvyn Richards

  4. Although Karl has stated: “And if you are familiar with social ecology, as a body of ideas developed by Murray Bookchin, then a detailed description of his influential vision of a non-hierarchical, ecological, decentralized, and directly-democratic alternative is unnecessary.” – I believe that the resynthesis and display of the constituent ideas, and their precise implications, is exactly the process which would unite the features and embodiments of social ecology into a more coherent and organic whole, consistent with the dialogue and comprehension of the global population.

  5. Thanks for your comments, J. Kelvyn, Michael, and Jesse.

    J. Kelyvn, I’m curious to know how you would explain the political praxis of the social-ecological perspective that you (and colleagues) developed.

    Michael, I’m not sure where your question “So social ecology stiffles dissent when it doesn’t make alliances with liberals, anarchists, postmodernists, eco-Marxists, critical theorists, et al?” comes from. What exactly is social ecology? Is it a body of complete, finished ideas, developed by Murray Bookchin that can only be extrapolated from rather than a wider tradition that is continuously being reinterpreted, critiqued, and, in some aspects, transcended? Who decides this? Who are the authentic social ecologists? Who decides that?

    You ask about “building our own movement” – again, what exactly would an authentically ‘social-ecologist’ movement look like? Is it necessarily a libertarian municipalist or communalist movement? Are those the only forms of political praxis that a social-ecological perspective can inspire? Who decides?

    Jesse, I would appreciate it if you could explain further what you mean by a “more coherent and organic whole, consistent with the dialogue and comprehension of the global population.”

  6. If I believe that ‘hell is other people’, I am rooted in existentialism and individualism. I am asserting that ‘I’ am more important than others; that others are unbearable; and that it is OK to exploit them for my own purposes…..to punish them for being so unbearable! Such individualism leads to exploitation; which enables the capitalist approach, whereby others are exploited for my aggrandisement.
    However, to accept that ‘we’ are interdependent, and that ‘we’ care and share for each other leads us to develop skills and attitudes that enable us to live in cooperation and in community. So for example, a successful enterprise is one that benefits all participants. Such communities are concerned with the maintenance of a future, and the conservation of environments.

    These ideas are presented here briefly; and will have been dealt with in greater detail in ISE articles, as well as my own website.
    http://www.kelvynrichards.com[Discourse: Social Ecology….a new morality? …alternative choices?]

  7. Kelvyn, my criticism was not directed at you in any way, I happen to find your comments illuminating.

    Karl, unless a new political praxis has developed that could actually empower people in this period the way libertarian municipalism can then I say yes, our political movement should be communalist and independent. You ask what is social ecology? I couldn’t agree more when you say that social ecology is NOT a finished body of ideas-noone has claimed it is, but you seem absolutely obsessed with forming as many alliances with any tendency even slightly left of center that I have not idea how you define social ecology. Have you done anything to build a libertarian municipalist movement where you are? Have you ever?

    It is a tragedy to see the ISE come to this–Chuck Morse’s post says it all.

  8. Michael, I’m not sure what you mean when you write that my eight-word post “says it all,” but your comments have a dismissive, antagonistic quality that is is corrosive of dialogue. I am interested in your views, but it’s hard to get beyond your contemptuousness.

    Karl, in my earlier comment, I meant to say that I think you’re right to link the revitalization of the networks around the ISE with a criticism of Murray’s work. People associated with the ISE have always differed with Murray in big and small ways, but these disagreements were never really addressed in any systematic, open way. I think that was/is a mistake and that the ISE would have benefited (or would benefit) from a broader discussion.

  9. First, let me clarify that I may have misinterpreted Karl’s suggestion that we, being informed of the foundations of social ecology, could now get beyond or stand independently of the preliminary work of Murray Bookchin (et al) specifically – which, according to the logic itself, is an inevitable necessity of the dialectic process.

    And also, if we intend to transform social ecology into an inclusive list of principles, then, perhaps, we should first enumerate, in a publically viable context, the basic concepts and objectives from which we are adapting and towards which we intend to consolvantly emerge.

  10. Karl,
    Many thanks to you for raising these important questions and for establishing this forum on the website. It looks like you’re already begun to bring old friends of Social Ecology back into the discussion, like Chuck Morse! Bravo.
    Eric

  11. …Ben Grosscup, Brian Tokar, Chaia Heller, Dan Chodorkoff, Eirik Eiglad, Grace Gershuny, Janet Biehl, Matt Hern, Peter Staudenmaier, Brooke Lehman, Hilary Moore, Samantha Gorelick…Karl Hardy, J.Kelvn Richards, Michael Speitel, Chuck Morse, Eric Jacobson…

  12. Karl, thanks for writing this blog post.

    social ecology and the writings of Murray Bookchin have been central to my own political development. while i’ve found this tradition to be very groundbreaking and illuminating concerning social and ecological issues, i’ve been asking myself for sometime, “how do these ideas get put into practice?”

    Marx, i believe, had great insights on the nature of capitalism, but even if you read Capital, you could still easily be left with the same unanswered question: how does this get put into practice?

    so, my first question is what has been the history of the organizing projects at the ISE? what are they now?

    i’m not sure if we can stop at just a political critique of Bookchin’s thought and work. i think there needs to be an organizational critique as well.

    how exactly does the ISE see itself building a movement? what becomes of the organizers who have visited and graduated from the ISE? what’s its organizing method, and what’s the ISE’s long-term vision for itself as an organization considering the (low) level of organizing activity in the U.S.?

    i realize those are a lot of big questions, so i’ll leave it there.

    in solidarity.

  13. A further question, perhaps: out of a network so vast, how and for whom are these groupings of names best determined?

  14. Khalil, Jesse, et al-

    The movement work that has been inspired by the ISE is broad and diverse. You might check out a couple of articles:

    “Education & Community Action: A History of the Institute for Social Ecology’s Programs”
    http://social-ecology.org/wp/2002/09/harbinger-vol-3-no-1-education-community-action-a-history-of-the-institute-for-social-ecology%E2%80%99s-programs/

    “Social Ecology and Social Movements: From the 1960s to the Present”
    http://social-ecology.org/wp/2002/09/harbinger-vol-3-no-1-social-ecology-and-social-movements-from-the-1960s-to-the-present/

    Unfortunately, they are both a bit dated but they do provide some historical background.

    I think it’s important to bear in mind that the people around the ISE (those who have taught courses or workshops or attended as students as well as those who’ve contributed in various other ways) don’t all share the same ideas nor does their political work look the same. As Chuck mentioned above, there has always been disagreements with Bookchin’s work–both small and larger disagreements.

    So the question of how the ISE builds a movement, what that movement looks like, etc. is obviously going to be at least somewhat contested (as it has always been). Personally, I see the ISE more as a radical educational institute that provides space and resources for people to develop their own ideas and projects. Obviously, there are underlying ideologies–as there are in any educational setting–but my point is that it’s not monolithic nor should it be.

    That said, the ISE itself has definitely participated in social movements in various ways as an organization. My own experience has been that the ISE board decides on whether/how to affiliate the ISE’s name, resources, etc. with movement work; but it’s not as though there’s an exclusive club–it’s really more of a question of who is motivated and engaged enough to participate in making such determinations.

    In terms of a larger question of how to categorize or characterize the networks of people who’ve been around the ISE at one time or another… I don’t see the need to make definitive boundaries or characterizations of what is or is not worthy of being considered “social ecologist.”

    That is, I think that libertarian municipalism is a worthwhile political strategy/project–but I think there are numerous other political strategies and projects that ought be working in solidarity with libertarian municipalists/communalists–while certainly not foregoing constructive critique–all recognizing the need for situated, contextualized theoretical frameworks and forms of political praxis.

  15. to steer this a bit back towards the other issue that was raised: why don’t the works of Murray Bookchin and, more broadly, the ideas of social ecology have more popular currency in radical circles.

    i think this is related to my question on organization. how could these ideas have any currency without organizers to wield them?

    Karl, i understand the ISE to function in the same way you described it, as an educational institute. but are an educational institute and the current practices of the ISE as you describe them the organizational form necessary to accomplish the tasks of 1) cohering a theory and method of organizing, 2) training a organizers to both implement this method, as well as 3) contributing to the building of the organization that can amplify the work of the individual organizers?

    my reading of Bookchin places him nowhere else than in the revolutionary tradition, and so i’m thinking about the issue of the relevancy of the ideas through the question of revolutionary organization.

    perhaps the ISE is not that type of organization; it does not wish to be that type of organization; and may never become a revolutionary organization.

    but, the question still stands, is this the type of project that is necessary?

  16. Abstractly: From the original precepts of an institution, to the extent these are proportionately and properly applied and understood, the formal and informal networks and alliances which result may either fracture into divergent organizations, remain in contact to adapt the institution, or otherwise contingently respond to its adaptation of itself.

    In particular: In my experience, the ISE has indeed, through the efforts of the individuals Karl has named, among others, served to anchor and further the true and rational basis of the revolutionary cause, while there is doubtlessly work yet for us – Khalil, etc. – to accomplish of ourselves, for the institutions of the future, with and for our own communities, and according to the remaining requirements and propensities of the existing levels of world social organization and activity.

    Karl, and others, of course, have, and will have, already factored these considerations differently – in this context and elsewhere. I include this adjunct merely for the sake of persevering and reconciling the individual commitment to and prior involvement in this discussion, from this most recent point and place of its resurgence, manifestation, and contrivance.


  17. Khalil wrote:
    But are an educational institute and the current practices of the ISE as you describe them the organizational form necessary to accomplish the tasks of 1) cohering a theory and method of organizing, 2) training a organizers to both implement this method, as well as 3) contributing to the building of the organization that can amplify the work of the individual organizers?

    but, the question still stands, is this the type of project that is necessary?

    I think that if you asked the people currently involved with the ISE the above questions you would get several different answers. As, in my opinion, the ISE is primarily an educational institute, it is at least partially a matter of pedagogy. There’s a perhaps unavoidable tension between encouraging and supporting unfettered, critical inquiry and seeking to promote a particular ideology or set of ideologies that are commensurate with building a movement organization(s).

    The ISE has and continues to actively support movement activity (such as the Biotechnology Project or Climate Justice work) – just a reminder that it would be a mistake to think of the ISE as politically disengaged.

    Whether Bookchin was a revolutionist or not is tangential to what those of us involved with the ISE choose to make of the organization in the present and future tense; personally, I have a lot of questions about what a contemporary “revolutionary organization” would look like, how it would organize and operate, and so forth. I can’t say that I would or would not support working to (re?)establish the ISE as a “revolutionary organization” as that that means is unclear — and I would guess that it is likely a notion that would be at least somewhat contested by those of us currently active with the ISE.

    Jesse,
    I’m finding it a bit difficult to understand exactly what you were trying to convey–could you please re-state your last comment?

    In particular, I’m curious as to what exactly you meant by:
    “…the ISE has indeed, through the efforts of the individuals Karl has named, among others, served to anchor and further the true and rational basis of the revolutionary cause…”

    Thank you all for continuing this discussion.

  18. The revolution is the means through which to implement the practical mechanism of a non-hierarchical, humane, and ecological society, towards the purpose of which there needs to be awareness, involvement, and general consensus among the population, including the possible use of force for the establishment and protection of human, economic, and environmental rights in furthest conjunction with diplomatic efforts and alternatives, for which the revolution must gather the necessary support from all formerly opposing groups and power structures, while securing, on a regional and interregional basis, the scientific and technical cooperation and participatory planning of sustainable and equitable agricultural, industrial, and developmental practices and the harmonization of social and cultural institutions and relations towards the future of our one collective and planetary life.

    The ISE, by legitimizing anti-capitalism, social and environmental activism, community ownership, and confederal municipal democracy, enabled the prospect and practice of an utopian society to influence a vast array of people who were in contact with it through the years, and for many of whom a comparable admixture of practical ideals was and remains absent from contemporary educational and cultural terminologies.

    Whether, in which manner, and to what extent, the ISE, or any group of persons, chooses to acknowledge or represent any variation of this revolutionary praxis will therefore determine the compatibility and coherence among itself and with those who strive towards similar or differentiated priorities of social growth, logistic relations, and organizational correspondence.

  19. This will be my last post, I really do owe everyone an apology actually as I should have resisted writing anything to add to this debate.

    Honestly, the past 5 months have been highly transformative for me personally–I can no longer wait to start reaching out to the many, many, newly politicized and opened minded people I am meeting all the time who are frightened and digusted by the Rightwing in the U.S. and tired of the treachery of liberalism. There is a palpable hunger I am seeing for a new politics in this country and the time to start reaching out to people in our localities, as well as nationally and internationally, is now. I don’t have any desire any longer to continue a discussion that has moved no further than 1987 (tone discussed instead of ideas, argument and polemics slandered as “logocentric” or “authoritarian”, et al).

    I’m also exhausted weary of people always saying its time to broaden social ecology rather than actually broadening it by trying to reach out where they live and develop movements and perspectives to enrich our ideas with practice. I believe the best way to broaden and develop social ecology is to actually start building movements were we live here and now and not just writing articles saying we need to and not saying specifically what should actually be done.

    I work with several local progressive political groups I have big differences with where I live but the difference is that I am not content to only do that. Alliances and united fronts are fine by me as a necessary and important tool, but the incessant cry for them as end in itself leaves me confused. There are (usually younger but not exclusively) people right now, progressive minded and increasingly disillusioned with the status quo and are seeing the fatal limitations of liberalism, these are the people I want to reach out. I really think that Bookchin and many other social ecologists’ biggest mistake–understandable within the context–was staying too long within movements and groups that were not worth trying to convince. I have no issues engaging in discussions with liberals, Marxists, anarchists, or debates with Rightwingers or anti-rationalists but I don’t want to spend too much of my time debating on and on within the radical ghetto, and it is a ghetto because it makes viritually no real effort to reach out to large swaths of the population. So I do apologize for getting into the fray when I just don think its worth it. I’d rather spend my energy doing real local, intellectual, and constructive work than continuing antiquated debates with activists I have no desire to revive.

  20. Michael, it’s strange that you premise your participation in this discussion by declaring the discussion not worthwhile. If it’s not worth your time, and you feel the need to apologize for participating, then, um, why are you participating? In my experience, people who do this sort of thing are looking for an escape route that they can access if the dialogue becomes too challenging for them. After all, you don’t have to respond if someone contests your ideas because you have already indicted the discussion itself.

    Well, I will respond by saying that I think you are mistaken to counterpose building a movement to critical dialogues about radical ideas. They are not mutually exclusive but are, in fact, mutually constitutive. If you want to build a movement and introduce new people to your radical ideas, then you HAVE to have discussions about those ideas, their boundaries and their limitations. There is no way to avoid this, whether you’re dealing with newly politicized people or those with long standing commitments. Critical but respectful discussions about our all of our respective views is an elemental part of creating a common political/theoretical vocabulary. It should be celebrated.

    With respect to social ecology and the ISE, it is not altogether clear what “social ecology” is. Murray’s ideas changed pretty radically over the years and various people at the ISE differed with him as well. Given that, is “social ecology” what Murray advocated in 1985 or 2005? Or, if it’s not tied exclusively to Murray, is it something else? And why?. . . Any attempt to talk about “broadening” or “limiting” social ecology will have to address these questions.

    I really wish some of the old timers would participate in these dialogues (people like Dan, Chaia, and Brian, etc). They have so much to offer although recent history suggests (sadly) to me that they will abstain. This leaves the dialogue up to relative newcomers to an extent, people like Karl who are valiantly trying to get the ball rolling.

    We should acknowledge that the ISE is only a shadow of its former self and less people are reading Murray’s work than at any time in recent decades. This is a reality, whether we like it or not. I personally worry, if this trajectory continues, that the excitement and utopianism and radicalism connected to the ISE and Murray will be forgotten or devolve into a sort of nostalgia. That would be very sad. I think the only possible way to counteract this is to start having difficult discussions about Murray’s work and the ISE, about what they were and could become. Otherwise, in the absence of critical dialogues, sharper minds will gravitate to greener pastures.

  21. @ Jess: i’m having a hard time following your points.

    @ Karl: forgive me. i wasn’t trying to imply that the ISE has been “politically disengaged” as you put it. i was just trying to raise the concrete organizing history and practice of the ISE as a topic for investigation because, like i said, i’ve only had the chance to observe the ISE and its history over the internet.

    i’ve raised the question of organization, and no less revolutionary organization, because to me the purpose of those types of organization is to facilitate and augment the fighting capacity of organizers and oppressed peoples, AND to develop a method and theory for struggle, the latter of which is how i would also describe the life and works Bookchin.

    but i think you are right: i was not clear about what exactly a revolutionary organization is, and truth be told, there’s already a lot of disagreement about this. i’m not sure if it would be helpful to dive into those debates at this point in the conversation and apologize for raising it in the way that i did.

    so i’ll just stick to my other main line of questions: are there limitations to what an educational institute can accomplish? what are other organizational forms that could work in concert with the ISE?

    something else that you raised in your original post that has not been addressed yet: what are political and theoretical disagreements & critiques of Bookchin’s work that may have been obstacles to the growth of the social ecology tradition?

    i hope others will chime on either of these questions.

    all the best.

  22. Corresponding with Chuck Morses’s statement “..I think you are mistaken to counterpose building a movement to critical dialogues about radical ideas. They are not mutually exclusive but are, in fact, mutually constitutive. If you want to build a movement and introduce new people to your radical ideas, then you HAVE to have discussions about these ideas, their boundaries and their limitations.”, which was in reference to Michael Speitel’s somewhat over-isolationist approach, I contend, and this goes towards the comprehensive nature of Social Ecology in problem-solving the human-environmental world dynamic, that : while we should speak with those who are around us, and attempt to live accordingly, there is no reason why we would not also unify and make known these ideas and practices among larger reaches of society, for the benefit of others, and in order that the general validity of the movement may permeate and reflect back into the immediate community from and withof the culturally and ideologically transflective milieu and cumulative totality of biospheric and ecological influences which occur outside itself.

    Khalil: I do not think that there should be any difficulty in understanding the purpose of the concepts which anyone here has thusfar introduced into this discussion. Perhaps we should presume the best of one another, being of this majorly pre-selective ideological persuasion, until we have further reconciled the basic differences in our patterns of expression.

  23. Hi all

    Unfortunately, I have been unable to take the considerable time required to wade through this long (and lovely)set of comments in the depth that I would have liked to before writing the following. But after reading a bit, I think I catch a bit of the drift, so to speak.

    I guess what I find intriguing and slightly cloying is the decades-long reproduction of a discourse that portrays SE as being ‘under-criticized’, too focused on Murray’s ideas and so on. Many posit such concerns as if they are rarely addressed, strikingly urgent and novel.

    The truth, as I see is is the following: While it is relatively easy to unravel a sweater, gleefully and artfully rippping out loops of yarn, its a bit harder to knit a sweater from scratch. Like knitting, writing politically excoriating work that is both critical and reconstructive, requiring an enormous amount of time, commitment, and creativity. Murray had a lot of those things. Most of his critics have taken endless amounts of time to meticulously critique his work. Yet I have found few able to actually use their own creativity to engender new reconstructive ideas about political reconstruction (or eco-philosophical inquiry) worth reading or debating.

    Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve seen so many people inside and outside the ISE voice criticism of SE–ranging from productively nuanced to mean-spirited and reductive. Again, each time, this ‘need to critique SE’ is posited as an estounding problem few have considered.

    Yet within SE forums, there are lively dialogues about the meaning and problems associated with dialectical naturalism (dianat), libertarian municaipalism (LM) and so on. Dianat questions regarding whether or how to ground an ‘objective-like’ ethics, or LM-related questions regarding how to forge a pathway toward establishing a dual-power situation are still quite alive in the remaining SE circles. And those questions just mentioned represent but a few of the exciting question that still beg to be further explored.

    The problem is that few folks engaged in SE take the time, energy, and creativity necessary to write about these important and persistent questions. Many like to point to these questions as problems without even mentioning the fact that they’ve hung beaming in the cloudy air like streetlights for decades. I say now, to be self-consciously redundant, these critiques are indeed, nothing new.

    So I’m asking, I suppose, for folks to get up off their ‘critical couches’ and sit down and write something reconstructive. I did this when I published The Ecology of Everyday Life more than ten years ago. It took me seven years to write that odd tome (in the end 2/3rds were cut out). Strangely, while that book is cited widely by those in environmental studies and feminist theory, few SE readers have taken the time to read the book to see, for instance, how I dealt with dianat or LM. I’m not saying that I did it well. I’m just saying that I gave it a try. And so might some others writing so prolifically on this site.

    So this is a call for folks (so many men! come on, women!) to start creative writing and stop relying on criticism for the primary mode of dialogue about SE.

    Also. This business of who ‘owns’ the term ‘social ecology’ and whether SE is Bookchin’s SE or not–is silly. This website and discussion, I think I can assume, is focused on the SE that began with Bookchin and is continued by those interested in building on that body of work. The fact that people around the world use the term social ecology to refer to anything related to the relationship between society and nature is irrelevant to this website. There are so many other eco-friendly sites where folks may write about various other interpolations of social ecology. Let’s agree to use this one to discuss Bookchin-derived SE and call it a day.

    I pass the sparkling baton of reconstruction. Not because it is mine, but because it is ours. Reconstruct away!

    Chaia Heller

  24. Hi Chaia,

    I’m so glad to see your name pop up in this discussion and I hope that other old timers (in addition to you and me) will participate as well! I really enjoyed your post and think that it added a lot to the dialogue .

    Many of your comments ring true to me and resonated with my experience with the ISE and Murray, although I frame things slightly differently in a few ways, which I will spell out here.

    First, as I see it, your comments set up an opposition between criticizing Murray’s work and developing an alternative: that is, “people should stop focusing on criticizing his ideas and instead say what they want.” OK, while I am very sympathetic to your desire for positive alternatives, I don’t think this needs to be an either/or situation. That is, I think that criticizing Murray’s work, if done right, *IS* a way to explore and develop alternatives to it. Indeed, think of how much time and energy Murray put into criticizing other thinkers and tendencies: I believe that was integral to his efforts to develop the positive content of his ideas. I think we should—and are obliged to—apply the same critical energies to his ideas.

    Second, while I think the you’re right to say that people around the ISE have always voiced objections to key elements of his work over the years, the ISE has never really addressed them in a systematic way or explored their implications. For instance, if you reject dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism, then you basically reject the core of Murray’s work. If you strip his work of these things, you’re left not with much beyond a basic commitment to democracy and environmental sustainability. That’s OK—those are good things——but that is nothing unique and certainly does not merit an institute.

    Finally, not only was Murray often hostile to critics of his work, but there was a culture around the ISE that limited the discussions of his ideas. I am thinking specifically of the fact that discussions of social ecology at the ISE were often set up in the following way: “as a social ecologist, do you think that social ecology needs X or Y?” This “as a social ecologist” part here is problematic, because it asks people to agree to a set of ideas as a precondition of discussing them. That excludes critics at the outset.

    I’ll leave it at this for now, but I’m really glad to see people discussing these issues and I want to make it clear that my point is not to put anyone down or castigate anyone, but rather participate in a discussion of how to move forward. So much has been done, and we have so much to build on, but there is so much more to do, so many challenges ahead. It is those challenges that are on my mind.

  25. If we agree that Social Ecology, in its broadest sense, is the process of adapting humanity to itself and its environment, and that dialectical naturalism establishes the historical and ethical necessity of confederal libertarian municipalism, then the scientific and political details of the revolutionary agenda, besides accomplishing themselves, unite us with the practical work shared in common with all humanity.

  26. From Khalil:
    are there limitations to what an educational institute can accomplish? what are other organizational forms that could work in concert with the ISE?

    To the first question, yes and no. An educational institute, in my view, has to balance the tension between allowing for unfettered, critical inquiry while adhering to whatever ideological and pedagogical perspectives the institute operates from.

    In terms of organizational forms that could work with the ISE, I’m not sure I understand what you are asking.


    something else that you raised in your original post that has not been addressed yet: what are political and theoretical disagreements & critiques of Bookchin’s work that may have been obstacles to the growth of the social ecology tradition?

    These are quite numerous. Bookchin was well known as having been a vigorous, unrelenting polemicist who found himself in conflict with marxists, deep ecologists, ecofeminists, anarchists, ‘postmodernists’, primitivists, etc. In my view, his later work (especially) has had the effect of isolating social ecology from much of the wider left and his use of scorched-earth polemic has made respectful, useful dialogue and debate, not to mention solidarity-based cooperative action, very difficult.

    From Chaia:
    The problem is that few folks engaged in SE take the time, energy, and creativity necessary to write about these important and persistent questions. Many like to point to these questions as problems without even mentioning the fact that they’ve hung beaming in the cloudy air like streetlights for decades. I say now, to be self-consciously redundant, these critiques are indeed, nothing new.

    First, thanks for joining in the conversation!

    I can only speak from my experience–not having had the opportunity to attend the ISE summer program and, therefore, coming to Bookchin’s social ecology via reading the literature, asking questions, and hanging around the ISE for the past few years–while I do not doubt for a second that there have been critiques of Bookchin’s work from “within” social ecology circles for many years, as a newcomer familiarizing myself with his work and that of the wider social ecology community associated with the ISE, I was and continue to be struck by the *lack* of public criticism (i.e. published critique) from “within.” So while I can understand that from your point of view and that of others who have been around for a while and perhaps witnessed debates, critical discussions and so forth, I can say that people just becoming exposed to social ecology are presented with an almost entirely “unified” literature. Bookchin certainly self-critiqued and amended his work but, to my knowledge, there is almost no instances of published critique of Bookchin’s work from “within.” To me this is an incredible hinderance to the development of social ecology and has only fed the more extreme negative characterizations of the social ecology/ISE/Bookchin himself.

    Certainly your book offered what could be considered implicit critique and it definitely presented, to my knowledge, the most significant *theoretical* contribution to social ecology outside of Bookchin’s own work.

    And your point about doing the work of creatively (re)constructing our own ideas is well taken. But I have to say, for me, that establishing an open, critical dialogue –even via a blog or a thread of comments– on social ecology is (I agree with Chuck here) part of that work you want to see happen.

    From Chuck:
    if you reject dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism, then you basically reject the core of Murray’s work. If you strip his work of these things, you’re left not with much beyond a basic commitment to democracy and environmental sustainability. That’s OK—those are good things——but that is nothing unique and certainly does not merit an institute.

    I have to disagree with you, both about the “essentialness” of dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism as the core of Bookchin’s work and also with the comment that without DiaNat and LM there’s no basis for an Institute.

    As I recall, DiaNat and LM weren’t even fleshed out (at least in published form) until the Institute had already been functioning for many years… And, personally, I prefer to think of Bookchin’s earlier work and those earlier insights as forming the “core” of his work (i.e. the relationship between social domination/hierarchy to humanity’s relationship with the wider world as well as the need to creatively enact a “third nature”)

    Jesse:
    I simply do not agree that DiaNat and LM necessarily ought be the ethical orientation and political program, respectively, for all humanity.

  27. Hey Karl,

    Thanks for your comments. You make some good points. I think you’re right to note that the institute had been functioning for many years before Murray started talking about dialectical naturalism or libertarian municipalism. Although I believe that his first essay on libertarian municipalism may have preceded the formation of the ISE (I’d have to check), I think your observation is still pertinent.

    I’ll just mention a few things in reply.

    First, when Murray started talking about dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism, I believe he was primarily codifying ideas that have been present in his work all along. That is, I think the ideas preceded the terminology and the formation of the ISE. This is just a minor, historical note and I think you’re still right to suggest that the ISE need necessarily be linked too closely with LM or “DiaNat.”

    Second, and more importantly, I’m quite certain that Murray regarded dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism as integral to his work during the last twenty years of his life (if not longer). Others may disagree about the centrality of those ideas, but I don’t think his position was pluralistic.

    In my view, all of this underscores the need to have a critical discussion of his work. Some of his ideas are worth retaining, some of his ideas are not, and those who are interested in his work need to participate in the discussion about them (which ones we want to retain, which ones we don’t, and why). If I understand you correctly, I think we’d both like to see this happen.

    That would be a very new discussion for people interested in Murray’s work and the institute. Even though, as Chaia pointed out, people have voiced private critiques of Murray’s work here and there, there has never been any systematic, serious, and critical exploration of it undertaken by people who are sympathetic.

    I really think that that discussion is long overdue and, frankly, I’m frustrated with old-timers who seem to have checked out altogether. I wrote my own account of my experience with Murray but, otherwise, the old-timers have written nothing or simply put out celebratory accounts of his life and work. Doubtlessly there is a great deal to celebrate about Murray’s legacy, but I think we would offer a much greater testament to its vitality by continuing to think through radical ideas—abandoning bad ones and generating new ones where possible––while working to build the organizational preconditions necessary for intervention. That requires critique, that requires tough but respectful discussions. It really doesn’t require much celebration or nostalgia.

    In any case, I’m grateful to you for getting these discussions going. The community of people associated with Murray and the institute was/is intensely creative and I think getting it talking again and interacting is an important and wonderful first step toward more extensive activities.

  28. I want to suggest a formal debate between a Communalist social ecologist and a social ecologist who does not support libertarian municipalism as a transformative praxis. This could provide a published critique b/w social ecologists and could be done as a youtube video or as was done b/w P. Staudenmaier and M. Albert (but this time allowing for a comments thread).

  29. I think that’s a great idea, Marcus. The more debate, the better.

    I want to add a correction to my post immediately above:

    “I think you’re still right to suggest that the ISE need necessarily be linked too closely with LM or “DiaNat”” should read: “I think you’re still right to suggest that the ISE need NOT necessarily be linked too closely with LM or “DiaNat.””

    Sorry about the error.

  30. Great stuff Karl. Kudos to all those trying to create a fruitful dialogue. So, in the spirit of creating a vibrant social ecology…

    I’m concerned about LM (as well as anarchist and communalist politics, in general) being a vehicle of neoliberalism in that it seems to welcome the passing down of responsibilities and costs to the local level (which are largely the result of the dismantling of the welfare state). The flip side to this has been that power and wealth are increasingly concentrated in the state, international governance regimes, and amongst a global corporate elite.

    To a large extent, I see many (often celebrated) DIY- and community-initiatives within localist movements (food in particular) that fit nicely within the neoliberal paradigm where people/communities take on the responsibility of their own welfare. Essentially, this requires them to become entrepreneurs and enter into market-based relationships where the deck is already stacked. Basically, they don’t have any access to capital–and resources and profit continue to be extracted from their community and labor–so such initiatives can never cover the needs of all community members. Ultimately, I see this as strengthening the corporate state and maintaining a surplus army of labor, among other things.

    A hypothetical question that I keep returning to:
    Under capitalist relations of production, how would LM combat acts of “defensive localism” and parochialism that pit localities against each other for jobs and industry?

    Surely a place like Chicago’s south side would welcome jobs and might even try to court industries just for the prospect of increased employment. In fact, that’s just what they’re doing now. … Thus, I find all of the answers that I come up with to the above question require much different material conditions than what currently exists… possibly Europe-like… which would require a strengthening of the welfare state… which doesn’t jive with a communalist politics.

    In terms of movement building:
    What are the conditions necessary for a thriving LM movement?
    Are there other avenues for social ecologists to pursue that can create the appropriate political opportunities for the development of a relevant LM movement?
    What might some examples be?

  31. @ Chuck, I think we are in general agreement about the value of open, respectful, critical discussion and also about the need to retain some aspects of Bookchin’s work while critiquing, revising, and transcending others. Though, whether Bookchin (at one point or another) considered this or that to be “essential” to his social ecology is only tangentially important, in my opinion, to a broader critical (and reconstructive) conversation about the future of social ecology. (I think you may agree here too.)

    @ Jesse, that’s a pretty obviously loaded question. I reject your presumptions that “rational” and “non-hierarchical are necessarily linked to DiaNat and LM exclusively. Who exactly defines what is “rational” and under what terms? In my view, approaching non-hierarchy can come through any number of different political/social arrangements, including but not limited to, LM.

    @ Marcus, of course. Though, just as with my reply to Jesse above, I am not comfortable with the way you have framed the ‘opposing’ views. I’d also insist that such a debate be public.

    @ Matt, you raise a lot of questions that I think deserve real consideration… I don’t suppose I could convince you to write a blog post? 🙂

    And that invitation extends to everyone else as well: if you have any desire to contribute to the blog via original articles or suggestions for news items, links, etc. please just email admin @ social-ecology [dot] org

    Again, thanks everyone for continuing the conversation!

  32. Karl wrote: “Though, whether Bookchin (at one point or another) considered this or that to be “essential” to his social ecology is only tangentially important, in my opinion, to a broader critical (and reconstructive) conversation about the future of social ecology. (I think you may agree here too.)”

    I think I see what you’re saying, but I do believe that looking at what Bookchin thought (or didn’t think) is pretty important to any discussion of social ecology or the ISE. I think we both reject the Boochin-said-it-therefore-it’s-true approach, but I don’t think one can really have a “social ecology” without coming to terms, on some level, with Murray’s work. I suspect that would be different if Murray had been an ad hoc, pluralistic thinker, but I believe that he meant to advance a comprehensive, systematic approach to social affairs that, in many respects, needs to be taken as a whole. Not that you’re suggesting this, but, in my view, cherry-picking elements from his work would do violence to his broader intentions and aspirations to coherence.

    I hope my comments don’t seem critical of you–that’s genuinely not my intention–but I do believe that some sort of critical reckoning with Murray’s work has to occur.

    That’s my two cents, and thanks very much for initiating the discussion. I think you’ve tapped an important nerve!

  33. Karl,

    Unfortunately, not wanting something to be true is not enough to make it false, and, though you appear to rebuke me personally without consideration of the context or motive in which these ideas were offered, I shall attempt to maintain or re-establish the comradery and mutual respect we should be capable of manifesting despite any measure of criticism of the actual content of one another’s attemptedly collaborative or heart-felt suggestions of logical directionality or humanitarian resolve.

    This being said, if you deconstruct dialectical naturalism into its core components, it is simply the process of determining what is in the greatest interest of humanity’s survival (i.e. what is “rational”), which we may ascertain from an evaluation of natural order and the selective determination from among the historical unfoldment of humanity’s potential, of which I believe – for the simple fact that it alone allows for the equal status and participation of all members of humanity (i.e. “non-hierarchy” itself in general) – confederal libertarian municipalism (again, in terms of its core components, and not of the superficial construct of its terminological assignation) IS the highest expression yet attained (and perhaps the highest possible expression, in terms of the ultimate foundations of intelligent, conscious, consociative forms of planetary life, at least in respect of the secular and non-biased level of social, political, and economic organization and activity); and, while you are insistent that there MAY BE other preferable or complementary ideological alternatives, (and, of course, I would never argue that we should close our minds to other possibilities) you, yourself, have yet to advocate (in terms of this discussion) what these in fact ARE, or why you actually and honestly think these would improve upon the ideological foundations of Social Ecology, as they are expressed in this particular institution.

    …..

    Beyond having established (and this, of course, if not rejected outright, will and should be subject to further speculation and debate) the theoretical validity and ideal which LM (or any other system, for that matter) represents, which would itself provide the necessary vision and inspiration with which to communicate the directionality and purpose of this movement to society, numerous problems and difficulties of human nature and understanding will first and accordingly need to be resolved, characterizing thus the course and trajectory of our transitional strategy and approach.

    Foremost among these problems (as Matt H. has evidenced) are employment opportunities and the willingness to share, without, I presume, the established system of power differentially regulating and demanding our adherence, and, for this, apart from the sustainability-conscious efforts of regional self-sufficiency, the free consociation of people could – should this prove necessary – certainly find equivalent ways of encouraging compliance with the ethical responsibilities towards surrounding human need and respect for sovereign rights.

    Our work, therefore, should be to promote cooperation and understanding, at all levels of society, towards attaining the critical number of active supporters and like-minded communities necessary to affect the redistribution of wealth and power into the full control of an egalitarian, educated, and ecologically responsible population of humanity.

    …..

    We have here – with respect of our involvement with and awareness of former and existing ISE projects and initiatives – an amazing opportunity and obligation to present society with the political alternative to the causes of its social and ecological imbalance, and I (in basic agreement, I trust, with the primary motives of the author of this discussion) would not wish to see this endlessly wasted or postponed because of our inability or unwillingness, whether from authoritarian inflexibility or suppression of dissent, to resolve the superficial differences which pervade and obstruct our underlying commonality and the proper and appropriate modality (whichever this may be) for the free, harmonious, and sustainable development of diverse civilizations, in accordance with the present and future generations of the inhabitants of Earth.

  34. Hey Jesse,

    In my view, your comments underscore an important issue for this discussion: Murray made *enormous claims* for his work. He really did allege that he had not only figured out the essence of natural and human history, but also discovered what humans need to do to launch themselves into a new epoch a natural and social reality. That is heady stuff, indeed.

    However, I think it is a mistake to take these claims at face value and simply say, “given that Murray’s work represents humanity acting on itself for its own interests, what do we do now?” There are a lot of other thinkers and theories that claim to identify what is rational for humanity and how we can create an egalitarian future. We need to make a (strong) argument about *why* we prefer one theory over the other. Also, there are contradictions within Murray’s work—that is, during his decades of reflection and writing, he formulated some major ideas in different and sometimes contradictory ways. We have to give reasons why we like the Murray of one period (say 1980) more than the Murray of another (e.g., 2000). Finally, Murray made some specific assertions that are either incorrect or poorly formulated and we need to wrestle with them.

    Obviously life would be easier if we could all become followers of Murray. Then we would not be obliged to have difficult discussions about complicated ideas and could simply focus on spreading Murray’s good word, which we had the good fortune to happen upon.

    But of course we don’t have that luxury, if we really do want to change society. We have a lot more work to do.

    Having said all that, I’m glad for your participation in this forum and, specifically, to see you highlight the enormity of Murray’s claims about his work. I think that’s an important point of departure for an analysis of his legacy.

  35. @ Chuck “he meant to advance a comprehensive, systematic approach to social affairs that, in many respects, needs to be taken as a whole. Not that you’re suggesting this, but, in my view, cherry-picking elements from his work would do violence to his broader intentions and aspirations to coherence.”

    Actually, I guess I’m in favor of “cherry-picking” from Bookchin’s work 🙂 At least insofar as I think there are a lot of insights and elements to draw from but there are some aspects I’m not comfortable with and a few elements that I outright reject. I totally agree that approaching Bookchin’s work requires recognizing his intentions for a ‘coherent’ body of theory and action– I’m just saying that at the end of the day, if Bookchin said “DiaNat is the singular means to orient ethically and if you disagree then you are not a social ecologist” then I’m fine with rejecting that and yet still standing firm in my identification with the social ecology tradition.

    And absolutely no worries about (whatever level of) criticism/disagreement!

    @ Jesse, I’m a bit confused as to why you wrote that “[Karl] appear[s] to rebuke me personally without consideration of the context or motive in which these ideas were offered, I shall attempt to maintain or re-establish the comradery and mutual respect we should be capable of manifesting…”

    I had no absolutely intention of making any sort of personal criticism and I don’t see where I did so… Could you please explain?

    “… [DiaNat] alone allows for the equal status and participation of all members of humanity (i.e. “non-hierarchy” itself in general) – confederal libertarian municipalism (again, in terms of its core components, and not of the superficial construct of its terminological assignation) IS the highest expression yet attained (and perhaps the highest possible expression, in terms of the ultimate foundations of intelligent, conscious, consociative forms of planetary life, at least in respect of the secular and non-biased level of social, political, and economic organization and activity)…”

    I disagree that DiaNat “alone” allows for equal status and participation of all members of humanity. In fact, I would question what constitutes “equal status and participation” and how that can be “fully” realized given that the criteria for determining those terms is itself a product of a particular time and place.

    I also disagree that LM is the “highest expression yet attained” and find that language (as above with “equal status and participation”) problematic. I think we can agree that LM seeks to approach non-hierarchical, participatory, (generally) egalitarian social/political relationships and that it can be recognized as a worthwhile project. But to suggest that it is the “highest” or “best” or even “perhaps the highest possible” is, in my view, deeply problematic for a number of reasons.

    One of the primary critiques I have is that it presumes that it is possible and, indeed, advisable to seek to determine a singular, one-size-fits-all project for realizing a “liberatory” or “sustainable” human society. I disagree with this. An (admittedly simplified) example: am I, speaking/acting from my position going to tell an indigenous person that he/she is “irrational” because they have a completely different epistemic framework? Am I going to suggest that he/she is participating in a “hierarchical” community that is somehow counter to a “liberatory” or “sustainable” project because, again for example, this person’s indigenous community recognizes elders?

    My personal view is that ethical orientations as well as analytic frameworks and political strategies require much more situated, contextualized, nuanced consideration. That is, I don’t think that it is particularly advisable to seek to construct a The Radical Theory and Political Program. I think we are better served by working in solidarity with those with whom we find common ethical and political ground in those contexts in which it appears useful to do so.

    If we find a lack of common ethical or political ground such that we can’t stand in solidarity, then we have to determine the course of action, again, based upon the particular time and space. Perhaps we need to intervene, perhaps we do not intervene but criticize and work to support those whom we feel are in need of support, perhaps we do not intervene and we simply let others do their own thing.

    In my view there are no shortcuts (via universalizing blueprints of theory/action) to establishing a more “liberatory” and “sustainable” world.

    *I’m putting “liberatory” and “sustainable” in quotes because I want to demonstrate that those ideas are themselves dynamic concepts that don’t have a single, static definition.

  36. As an outsider, it seems to me that there is a lot of ‘sparring’ going on in the above comments which do not drive the debate forward but keep us looking backwards so as not to insult others.
    I have watched a number of videos of Murray Bookchin and clearly he was a charismatic scholar/performer. It seems to me that his conceptual frameworks were formulated within the Communist Party when it represented a viable alternative society. But we live now in a world where capitalism is ‘universal’, and so called ‘communist states’ are dictatorships in which the leaders and their families and friends get rich at the expense of all others.
    It may be more useful for us all to look at my blog comment about a Social Ecology and tear it apart……I wont get upset nor will I shout.
    It is clear that there are many long standing ‘bones of contention’ among the alumni of the ISE. It is time to forget and to get to grips with the formulation of Social Ecology that becomes the framework for the future, reconciling many contradictions, but focussing on action. For example, if ‘municipalism’ of any form does not work; does not make the lives of ordinary people better….then put it in the dust bin!

  37. Hey Karl,

    I see what you’re saying, but I would argue that if you’re going to advance a new type of “social ecology” or a “social ecology tradition,” then I think you’ll have to define exactly what you mean by that. In the absence of such a definition, no one will know what distinguishes “social ecology” from the many other ecological and political tendencies out there.

  38. @ Chuck, sure, I agree… My own interpretation/perspective on what I see ‘social ecology’ to be is an ongoing project. I have every intention of publishing additional ‘proper’ articles articulating my own views on these subjects. Obviously, anyone willing to speak up and criticize Bookchin’s social ecology is, in some ways, beginning to articulate an alternative conception.

    But my concern is that those of us identified with the social ecology tradition or, if one wants, Bookchin’s social ecology, ought avoid positioning themselves (intentionally or not) as some kind of replacement for the sort of status/position that Bookchin occupied. By that I mean I hope we are able to create a broad, diverse community of contributors to social ecology such that there need not be such an intense focus on what any single person articulates as ‘social ecology’– it should always be in development and dynamic and not dependent on the views of a single person (or small group of persons in very close agreement).

    I think this is part of the dilemma specific to Bookchin’s social ecology: he constructed and defended (via harsh polemic, at times) the ‘coherence’ of his ‘social ecology’ such that it’s intended to be recognized as something quite specific as opposed to say the general notions of terms like ‘feminism’ or ‘anarchism’ or ‘libertarian socialism.’ Of course, Bookchin insisted upon that level of specificity or ‘coherence’ and to think of ‘social ecology’ as something more… ecumenical IS a major qualitative break from Bookchin’s social ecology… But I don’t think it means that ‘social ecology’ as a tradition or body of thought then falls to an amorphous “green/sustainablity thought or action” status.

    What do you think? How would you (or anyone else) articulate social ecology apart from Bookchin’s social ecology?

  39. I doubt that this argument can be settled on a theoretical or hypothetical level. I think the only option is for people with criticism to level them and engage in debate with other social ecologists. Clearly, much of this is contextual and dependent upon whether a person can convince enough people that their ideas/critique still fits within the social-ecological tradition.

  40. Hey Karl,

    I think I see what you’re saying and I would just argue that it’s important to recognize that your approach to social ecology is very different from Murray’s. I think that’s worth bringing into the discussion just because it is Murray’s ideas—and really his alone–thatinspired the Institute for Social Ecology and defined “social ecology” as we know it.

    Indeed, I don’t think Murray took a pluralistic approach to social ecology at all. He was very keen to emphasize differences and draw sharp ideological lines. I don’t think that his eagerness in this regard was primarily a temperamental issue (as some people argue), but rather reflected a series of significant theoretical commitments on his part. Of course, we may want to reject some of those commitments, but I think we should frame them as such.

    For my sake, I haven’t found it relevant to describe myself as a social ecologist for a good fifteen years or more. On the one hand, an excessive preoccupation with the labels that we use to describe ourselves seems fairly narcissistic to me. After all, who cares? What really matters is your political practice. I’m also not aware of any definition of social ecology that strikes me as coherent. So, in my case, when the issue comes up, I tend to just describe myself as an anarchist. Of course, “anarchist” is a term that can be used to identify a very broad set of ideas, but that’s fine with me. Such a broad label certainly doesn’t prevent me from advancing very specific views about this or that issue.

    Anyway, that’s my take on things.

  41. Hi from Turkey,
    Its nice to discuss about social ecology with you all..

    During 12 years voluntary-professional work in environmental movement in Turkey, I really feel to disseminate ideas of social ecology and introduce libertarian municipalist movement..

    Nowadays I am writing Sociology-PhD thesis about “the critical analysis of environmentalism in Turkey; transformation of civil movement into environment sector and grassroots movement”. Also working on some articles; not finished yet.. My aim is to criticize environmentalism in Turkey with social ecology which should be questioned, thought by everybody..

    1. Social Ecology(SE) movement seems much popular before 2000s; because the leading figure; Bookchin is involved in ecology movement from the birth, building up a comprehensive theory, is a powerful critical voice attracting attention and using sharp dualities as analytical tools. I feel that the criticizing environmentalism and all forms of ecology including social ecology is necessary as well as improving social ecology itself to increase the affect of social ecology..

    2. Throughout the comments, I saw the questions like “what is social ecology? Who represents it?”. It is crucial to keep asking for dialectical critique of SE. I guess SE is like or should be an ecosystem like a forest ecosystem including individuals of “we”, processes, interrelations, conflicts, discrepancies etc. We should preserve organic evolution approach looking for freedom, subjectivity, diversity etc. SE should be dynamic, should be open for everyone unlike Police of Athens and organic communities. But everyone thinking of SE is SE and represents SE like citizens of Athens police. So you see how I miss Bookchin’s writing style

    3. My question was “what to do”?

    3.1. I feel that we should disseminate the ideas to ordinary people as well as intellectuals. I always am in difficulty of talking about SE; start with environment-nature difference; so domination; and then environmentalism versus libertarian Municipalism. I try making diagrams, tables of dualities etc. What I need is a beginner level-online training module from ISE that is short, free, just includes main issues. So, people interesting about SE may have a chance to understand that they can hardly accomplish with complex writings.
    I am sure that it is not easy to prepare a beginner level trainings module telling about SE which I assumed as dialectical ecosystem. I can contribute it; in fact I also prepared notes of Biehl’s book about Libertarian Municipalism.

    3.2. I want to concentrate on political program of SE; as Libertarian Municipalism Movement (LMM). LMM needs for critical approach about economy, networking, movement building.. I want to introduce LMM to more people to be discussed as main ecological political action..For example, LMM should be an agenda for Egypt, not only for for people at Liberation square but neighborhood activists providing security..

  42. @ cagrideniz…..Are you sure that you will be able, allowed, to set up a political programme based on libertarian municipalism? LMM is much more about direct democracy and local decision making and involves political change. It may be what should happen in Egypt, and Tunisia,[and Turkey], but the Army and weaponry are getting in the way.
    Environmentalism involves maintaining a sustainable economy that does not destroy forests, water sources, farm lands,plants,animals, at a local and national level, fostered and financed by the government, practised by local communities.
    It is easier to persuade government officers and army generals, not to mention religious leaders, of the necessity to keep the environment safe than it is to expect them to let the people in their neighbourhoods to organise their own affairs.

  43. @cagrideniz

    Thank you for commenting– it would be great if you would be willing to write a blog post (or posts) discussing your work, your views on social ecology, and the political projects in Turkey that you are familiar with.

  44. @J.Kelvyn Richards
    tx for reading. I just thought the contuinuation of neighborhood commutties at Cairo as well as Tahrir square. These communities are not just for 19 days while police left; but they shown that they do not need them. They might start with keeping these committees alive; as direct democratic political realm against army, regime..

    @karl hardy
    there are people interesting in social ecology I know them but did not met yet. They are trying to introduce ecology ideas to leftists who mostly stuck in traditional class issues and not questioned hierarchy, all forms of dominations yet. Some leftist groups also uses concepts of social ecology however it seems eclectic. They talk about ecology but still preserves hierarchy.

    I am focusing on field work of my thesis which aims to compare environmental movement with social ecology. I derived above figure from Janet Biehl’s book of Libertarian Municipalism; check and criticize plz. It is draft.
    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=286943&id=586472661&l=564bcbcce9

  45. In the spirit of internet debates everywhere I thought I’d add some meat to the discussion by way of traditional ‘strawman -argument’.

    Since Hardy is unwilling to provide with details about a political praxis, I suggest that this is a debate between platformists (LM) and synthesists (non-LM).

    Synthesists believe in taking part in ‘all’ struggles, refusing to privilege one struggle above an other. Typical modern day anarchist synthesist, goes further and refuses permanent organizations as well, unlike earlier anarchists who built their synthesist organizations (like Italian FAI of today).

    However when you look at history, you see a list of failed/ineffectual anarchists, because they didn’t have agreement on what to do and because they didn’t know WHAT to do. The most successful anarchists are the ones that had an actual praxis, of which the most significant historical example is syndicalism. To suggest that a syndicalist should stop organizing unions and strikes to embrace a campaign of vegetarianism, would have been considered folly. They could support such campaign as vital cultural efforts, but syndicalists knew what their praxis was.

    In LM we have the praxis for modern day as syndicalism does not work anymore. There have been a few alternative praxii suggested, but (since I’m pro-LM) I see many problems with parecon et al, and few benefits. (not that I’ve looked so closely). The thing is, when wanting to change society, you have to know how you will do it and you have to have the will to do it. Synthesists lack both of these.

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