40th anniversary greetings from Australia!




Photos from ISE’s superb 40th anniversary gathering are coming soon! The following message was received from Emeritus Professor Stuart Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the School of Education, University of Western Sydney, Australia.


And what a journey it has been over those 40 years – with great successes, numerous challenges and some ‘failures’, all of which we can learn from in going forwards.

Bookchin was indeed a pioneer. I remember being inspired by his groundbreaking first book, Our Synthetic Environment 1962, alerting readers to many more issues of concern than Carson’s much more limited critique in Silent Spring; and how disappointed Murray was in the differential recognition that the two books achieved. Subsequently I enjoyed briefly working with him at a Goddard College summer school.

The breadth and depth of Social Ecology has been, and remains, one of its main challenges: because comprehensive, multifaceted and personally confronting concepts are much harder for folks to engage with than single, simple issues that can be blamed on others (rather than particularly involving oneself!).

And what a great team Murray collected around him, so many of you are here today to share in the celebration – well done all of you!

In your celebrations I hope you will give a thought to the many other Social Ecology initiatives (your sister and brother institutes and groups) in other countries, including our group in Australia. Our Social Ecology programs, which had their roots in 1982, were officially recognized by our University of Western Sydney in 1987 (so we are about 30 years old!).

Some of the things I love about Social Ecology that (for me) make it unique and particularly valuable as a framework for comprehensive understanding and meaningful and effective action are the following:

  • Constructive critique, unwillingness to settle for less, reflexivity and a passion to go further, particularly in our understanding and action relating to sustainability and change
  • Integration of the personal, social and environmental, and of using models and experience in each area to inform the others
  • Experiential and whole-person learning, joy of learning, competency-based education, learning communities and leaning as central to liberation and social justice
  • Acknowledgment of importance of imagination and creativity
  • Participatory action research and other action and qualitative methodologies, and systems, systemic and holistic approaches
  • Recognition of the importance of context, and of long- and short-term, near and far, and direct and indirect considerations
  • Acknowledgment of diverse ways of knowing (including women’s and indigenous ways) and thinking (including reframing and lateral and paradoxical thinking
  • Concern for minorities, the borderlands and edges
  • Importance of diversity and of learning to ‘active listen’ and collaborate across difference
  • Working for equity and social justice, particularly in relation to issues of power, gender and race, and inclusion of values issues
  • Learning how to work with and design complex mutualistic, self-maintaining, self-regulating and coevolving systems
  • Recognising chaos as an important precondition for creativity, development and coevolution, and not something to be quickly controlled and simplified.

Social ecology brings together so many poles that rarely meet: the arts and sciences; critical thinking, passion and intuition; rationality and ‘spirituality’; the stories of the ancients, systems theory and chaos theory; plus an extensive list of disciplines.

Social ecology is a transdisciplinary metafield that is informed by: ecology, psychology and health studies, sociology and cultural studies, educational and organisational studies, creative arts and humanities, holistic sciences, appropriate technology, international studies, constructivism, postmodernism, post-structuralism and critical theory, ecofeminism, ecopolitics, ecological economics, peace and futures studies, applied philosophy and ‘spirituality’.

I have attached a list of some of my publications that are explicitly based on Social Ecology concepts [these will be available here soon  –eds.] – and some of the handouts and feedback from students showing how they appreciate what we do – also notes on some of my PPTs, which include many Social Ecology-related visuals.

Beyond this important celebration a main need is to reflect on what are the priorities in our ongoing journey as Social Ecologists.  Some of my own provisional guiding imperatives are to think and act:

  • On love (vs. on fear)
  • From my whole core self (vs. my wounded selves)
  • Collaboratively, as a social species (vs. alone) – collaborating especially across difference
  • Now (vs. postponing), and in a sustained way over a long time frame
  • Where I am (vs. where I am not, and where I can’t act so effectively)
  • Paradoxically, in profoundly simple ways (vs. naively simple), e.g., publicly, so others may learn, yet willing to be anonymous
  • At the edge of the vast borders of the unknown (vs. the safer known) – so, acting with questions, and learning my way forwards

This is probably enough for now!  Some others are listed in the attachment on ‘Deep Leadership’

Go well – and mega celebratory hugs across the oceans from Australia,