ISE Intensive August 9-17, 2011




August 9th – 17th in The Hudson Valley of New York

The Institute for Social Ecology presents an 8-day intensive introduction to the philosophy and politics of Social Ecology. This 8-day intensive will offer students an introduction to the dialectical philosophy and politics of Social Ecology. Using the lens of Social Ecology, students will also participate in topical seminars and lectures focused on climate justice, alternatives to capitalism, naturalist philosophy, gender politics, radical historical movements, food justice, media justice and designing democratic organizations.

What Is the ISE?

For more than thirty years, the Institute for Social ecology has been offering educational programs focused on a reconstructive social and ecological transformation of society. The ISE views the global penetration of systems of domination into daily life, the centralization of power, the homogenization of culture, and the strengthening of hierarchy and social control as impediments to human freedom and the root causes of the current ecological crisis. It is the ISE’s core belief that humans have the potential to play a creative role in natural and social evolution, and to foster vibrant, self-governing communities free from hierarchy, social inequity, and ecological degradation.

Class Descriptions:

Daniel Chodorkoff — Social Ecology: From Theory to Practice

This class will begin with an overview of the theory of social ecology, and then turn to examination of the role that social ecology has played in a variety of social movements over the past 35 years, ranging from the anti-nuke movement through the movement for climate justice. We will conclude with an exploration of a social ecological approach to community development, using the Lower East Side as a case study.

Chaia Heller – The Philosophy and Politics of Social Ecology

This class explores key philosophical, political, and strategic issues that surface in the theory and practice of social ecology. After re-thinking the idea of nature and human nature, the course examines the creative tensions produced when we bring together questions of left libertarian politics, a utopian perspective, and an ecological vision. In addition, the course addresses social-ecological praxis, exploring various approaches to transforming a revolutionary reconstructive vision into a reality.

Building Healthy Democratic Organizations

This hands-on seminar will walk students through a dynamic and participatory process of designing radically democratic organizations. Students will work individually or in small groups on developing a mission statement, organizational principles, a vision document, and a thorough organizational structure for a real or hypothetical organization. In addition students will develop a holistic analysis, a reconstructive vision, and outreach materials for their project. Students will present their projects to the group for feedback in the final session.

Brian Tokar – From Climate Awareness to Climate Justice: A Social Ecology View

While policymakers and mainstream environmentalists are busy debating parts per million of carbon dioxide, people around the world are already suffering the impacts of worldwide climate chaos, from droughts and wildfires, to unprecedented floods and tornadoes. In response, climate justice activists worldwide are proposing a holistic, human rights-centered approach to the climate crisis. We will address the broad scope of climate justice perspectives, examine false and real solutions, and discuss how social ecology’s views on justice and technology, as well as its long-range, reconstructive can contribute to transforming the current climate debate.

Peter Staudenmaier – Alternatives to Capitalism

As discontent with capitalism grows around the globe, those of us involved in struggles for a better world face challenging questions about just what form of society we’re working toward. Questions of political economy, in particular, present a series of dilemmas for anti-capitalist activists. This intensive course aims to work through several of these core questions collectively and critically. Building on social ecology’s analysis of capitalism as an irrational social system, we will examine several alternative economic visions put forward by a range of radical thinkers on the libertarian left. We will take a utopian yet skeptical approach to these proposed frameworks, evaluate their merits and flaws, consider their practical implications, and compare them with social ecology’s communalist perspective.

Peter Staudenmaier – The Nature of Nature

This seminar will examine a question that lies at the heart of social ecology’s understanding of the world: What do we mean by ‘nature’ and why does it matter? Applying the insights of dialectical naturalism to various contemporary controversies within environmental ethics and the philosophy of nature, we will analyze concepts such as ‘environment’, ‘intervention’, ‘adaptation’, and ‘wilderness’ and consider how to make sense of these terms within the framework of first and second nature. We will draw on readings in biology, history, and social theory in order to deepen our understanding of the relationships between first nature and second nature, and will work toward formulating a distinctively social-ecological perspective on these complex questions of the nature of nature.


The Seminar will be held at a beautiful rural retreat center in the Hudson Valley of New York State. Meals and Board (dorm or camping) included. Classes will run from 10AM to 9PM. We ask that you arrive by 1PM on the 9th, and the closing circle will finish by 5PM on the 17th.

The cost of the seminar is $600, which includes classes, room (camping or dorms) and incredible meals. Limited scholarships will be available based on need. (This Seminar is co-hosted by the Watershed Center)

The closest airport is LaGuardia (JFK second best). Transportation from the Metro North train station in Wassaic will be available on the morning of the 9th. The train leaves Grand Central Station at 9:48AM (or 125th Street at 9:58AM). Transportation back to the Wassaic train will be provided on the evening of the 17th arriving in NYC at 8:32. Please arrange your travel accordingly. A round trip ticket should run you about $35.00 and can be purchased at the station (not on the train). More information to come.