San Francisco Summer Intensive Program and Courses




2017 ISE Summer Intensive Schedule

Sat 6/10

9-10                Introductions and welcoming

10-11:30          Foundations of Social Ecology (Dan Chodorkoff)

11:45-1:15       Philosophy and Politics of Social Ecology (Chaia Heller)


2:30-4:30         Understanding capitalism and the current crisis (Eddie Yuen & Peter Staudenmaier)

4:45- 6             The Rise of the Right: Making Sense of Populism, Authoritarianism, and Fascism

(Peter Staudenmaier)

6-7:30  Dinner

Sun 6/11

9-11                 Social Ecology and the Utopian Tradition (Dan Chodorkoff)

11:15-1:15       Social Ecology and Social Movements (Brian Tokar, Michelle Glowa, Blair Taylor)

1:15- 2:30        Lunch

2:30-4              Anti-Racist Organizing Panel:  Participants from White Noise Collective, Berkeley Graduate Student Workers Union (anti-fascist organizers), Occupy the Farm

4:45- 6             The Rise of the Right: Making Sense of Populism, Authoritarianism, and Fascism

(Peter Staudenmaier)

6-7:30  Dinner

7:30 – 9            Guest speaker (Brooke Anderson – Movement Generation)

Mon 6/12

9 – 11             Panel discussion: Hierarchy and Domination

11-12   lunch

12-3:30            Field trip (Bayview/Hunters Point) – GreenAction

2-4                  Check in & General Discussion

4-6                   Capitalism: Critiques and Alternatives (Eddie Yuen)

7:30 – 9           Student panel part I

Tues 6/13

10 am – 12      The Philosophy of Social Ecology  (Chaia Heller)

12-1     lunch

1 – 3:30            Field trip: Radical history of San Francisco (Chris Carlsson)

4:00- 6             Capitalism: Critiques and Alternatives (Peter Staudenmaier/Michelle Glowa)

7:30 – 9           Workshop: David Solnit

Weds 6/14

9-11                 History of the Left (Blair Taylor)

11-1                 From Radical Ecology to Climate Justice (Brian Tokar)

1-2       lunch

2:00-4              Politics of Social Ecology: Movements for Communalism and Direct Democracy (Eleanor Finley)

4:00- 6             Student panel

7:30-9              Organizing Workshop: David Solnit


Thurs 6/15

9-11                 History of the Left (Blair Taylor)

11-1                 From Radical Ecology to Climate Justice (Brian Tokar)

1-2 lunch

2:00-4:00         Politics of Social Ecology: Movements for Communalism and Direct Democracy (Eleanor Finley)

4:00- 6:00        Closing circle

Course, Lecture, Field Trip Descriptions

The Politics of Social Ecology

Instructor: Chaia Heller

In social justice movements, many of us know what we don’t want in the current system. We seek freedom from injustices such as state tyranny, capitalism, white supremacy, and ecological destruction. Yet we often have less clear ideas about what ‘the good society’ would look like and how to move from this society to a better one. This class outlines the general practical and philosophical features of a socially just and democratic society by providing an overview of the key philosophical, political, and strategic issues that surface in the theory and practice of social ecology.

Instructor Bio: Chaia Heller has taught social ecology and feminist theory at the Institute for Social Ecology for close to thirty years.  She has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and has been teaching food politics and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College for nearly a decade. Heller recently published, Food, Farms, and Solidarity:  French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops with Duke University Press. Her first book, Ecology of Everyday Life: Rethinking the Desire for Nature, was published by Black Rose Books.


The Communalist Project, by Murray Bookchin

What is Social Ecology by Murray Bookchin

Illustrative Opposition, by Chaia Heller


Climate Justice

Instructor: Brian Tokar

Continuing, unprecedented weather extremes and an increasingly visible climate movement have helped revive long-dormant conversations about the depth of the global climate crisis. But mainstream discussions of what to do about it are usually limited to incremental policy measures and improvements in technology. We will discuss how the insights of social ecology can help us develop a holistic and radical climate justice movement that amplifies the voices of marginalized communities and is equal to the task of decarbonizing the economy and transforming society.

Instructor Bio: Brian Tokar (MA Biophysics, Harvard University, 1981) is an activist, author, and a lecturer in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont.  He is the author of The Green Alternative, Earth for Sale, and Toward Climate Justice, now in its second edition. Brian edited two books on the politics of biotechnology, Redesigning Life? and Gene Traders, and co-edited the recent collection, Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance and Renewal. He founded the Institute for Social Ecology’s Biotechnology and Climate Justice projects and has contributed to several recent collections, including the Routledge Handbook of the Climate Change Movement, A Line in the Tar Sands, and Social Ecology and Social Change. He has advised nearly 50 MA and BA students in low residency programs at Goddard College (1991-2001), Burlington College (2000-2003), and Prescott College (2004-present).

Course Readings:

“Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein, from The Nation (November 2001)

“Toward a Movement for Climate Justice,” by Brian Tokar, from Toward Climate Justice: Perspectives on the Climate Crisis and Social Change (2014).

“On Utopian Aspirations in the Climate Movement” by Brian Tokar, from Toward Climate Justice


The Rise of the Right: Making Sense of Populism, Authoritarianism, and Fascism

Instructor: Peter Staudenmaier

Right-wing movements are on the rise around the world, offering populist and authoritarian responses to the fundamental crises of capitalism and the state. These developments can be confusing for activists on the left, and critical reactions to the rise of the right often rely on liberal assumptions rather than radical and emancipatory principles. Lurking in the background are fears of a possible resurgence of fascism. This workshop will explore the history and contemporary significance of right-wing movements in a global context, and provide an opportunity to examine both the commonalities and the differences among populist, authoritarian, and fascist variants of the right.

The Utopian Tradition

Instructor: Dan Chodorkoff

Social ecology is an interdisciplinary philosophical perspective which advocates a reconstructive and transformative outlook on social and environmental issues and promotes a directly democratic, confederal politics. As a body of ideas, social ecology envisions a moral economy that moves beyond scarcity and hierarchy, toward a world that reharmonizes human communities with the natural world, while celebrating diversity, creativity and freedom.

Instructor Bio: Daniel Chodorkoff, Ph.D., anthropology, New School for Social Research, is co-founder and former executive director of the ISE. He is an urban anthropologist and activist with special interests in community development and utopian studies, and has authored numerous articles on both subjects. Dan has been active in the Green movement and was a longtime faculty member at Goddard College. His essays on social ecology and community development have been published under the title, The Anthropology of Utopia, by New Compass Press.

Course Readings:

Libertarian Municipalism, The New Municipal Agenda by Murray Bookchin

The Utopian Impulse by Dan Chodorkoff


Capitalism: Critiques and Alternatives

Eddie Yuen, Michelle Glowa, and Peter Staudenmaier

As discontent with capitalism grows around the globe, we 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. 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.

Historical Perspectives on the U.S. Left

Instructor: Blair Taylor

Rather than present a chronological progression of movements and what they did, this course will focus on several key moments and developments in the history of the U.S. left from the 60s to the present. These will include the rise and fall of the New Left, the experience of the “New Social Movements” that followed in the 70s and 80s, the shift towards an “academic left” characterized by identity politics and poststructuralism during the 1980s and 1990s, then the growing hegemony of anarchism from the alterglobalization and Occupy Wall Street movements. We will explore what constitutes “the left” and how it has changed over time, examining the role various political ideas – participatory democracy, Marxism, feminism, anti-imperialism, nationalism, poststructuralism, anarchism, radical ecology, post-colonialism – played in this process of transformation. How have the successes and failures of left movements changed society, and in turn been changed by it? What role has the failures of the left played in fueling the rise of right wing populism in the U.S.? Finally, what does the history, theory, and praxis of the left have to say about the current moment?

Instructor Bio: Blair Taylor (PhD New School for Social Research, 2017) has been working with the Institute for Social Ecology since 2000, and currently serves as program director. He co-edited the Murray Bookchin anthology The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy (Verso). Active in a variety of movements, he teaches at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY and splits his time New York, Berlin, and the Pacific Northwest.

Current Movements for Communalism and Direct Democracy

Instructor: Eleanor Finley

From Rojava to Barcelona, a growing number of political movements are raising the call for confederal, direct democracy. Through these lived struggles, the philosophy and politics of social ecology encounter a range of local histories, cultural traditions, and political contexts — leading to new hybridizations and possibilities. What can we learn from this emerging wealth of knowledge and experience?

This two-part seminar examines two kinds of communalist movements:  Urban-based assembly movements (Spain) and post-national liberation struggles (Kurdistan/Rojava). Together we will look at their major features, goals, and historical origins. Yet furthermore we will also ask why the call for direct democracy has taken root in these places and how communalist movements there generate popular support. The intention of this class is for students to apply what they’ve learned by thinking in a dialectical and synthetic way about real-life social movements.

From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring: A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition

Brooke Anderson

A Just Transition requires us to build a visionary economy for life in a way that is very different than the economy we are in now. Constructing this visionary economy calls for strategies that democratize, decentralize and diversify economic activity while we damper down consumption, and (re)distribute resources and power.  This talk is a humble point of departure for folks interested in building collective vision and action towards Ecological Justice that does not separate humans from nature, or social equity from ecological integrity.


Using Arts Organizing and Narrative Strategy to Win Change and Make Social Revolution?

Instructor: David Solnit

From the shutdown of the WTO in Seattle in 1999 to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers victories in the fields of Florida to today’s movements for climate justice, arts organizing has been a key element of organizing, communicating and winning. “ARTS ORGANIZING” means using arts–visual arts, theater, dance and performance, music and song–as a key part of our strategies. grassroots organizing, mobilizing, education, storytelling and celebration. I’ll show pictures, tell stories, share strategy, arts making, and a theater-making tool and we’ll have a conversation.

Instructor Bio: David Solnit is a puppeteer, arts organizer and editor-author of Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build and Better World.

SF Radical History Walking Tour

Chris Carlsson

We will take a guided walk through the old sand dunes and wetlands of the South of Market to Mission Creek, covering the lost history buried under layers of urban development over 170 years. Sinking buildings, old breweries, former train yards and old tracks will all make an appearance, obscured by modern condominium projects and the burgeoning developments reshaping the area.

Instructor Bio: Chris Carlsson, is a writer, San Francisco historian, “professor,” bicyclist, tour guide, blogger, photographer, book and magazine designer. He’s lived in San Francisco since 1978 and has been self-employed in various capacities since the early 1980s. He has written two books (After the Deluge, Nowtopia) edited six books, (Reclaiming San Francisco, The Political Edge, Bad Attitude, Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration, Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco, 1968-78 and Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20), and co-authored the expanded second edition of Vanished Waters: The History of San Francisco’s Mission Bay. He helped co-found Critical Mass in September, 1992, and has ridden with Critical Mass rides in a dozen cities on three continents since then.

Greenaction’s Environmental and Climate Justice Toxic Tour

This tour of Bayview Hunters Point, San Francisco will visit pollution hot spots that threaten the health and environment of the community. Bayview Hunters Point is a diverse, low-income community of color that has borne the disproportionate burden of industry and pollution in San Francisco historically and currently. California Environmental Protection Agency/Office of Environmental Health Hazardous Assessment’s “CalEnviroScreen 3.0” ranks Bayview Hunters Point in the top 90% of communities in the state most vulnerable to pollution due to environmental, health and socio-economic indicators. According to the US Census 2010 Demographic Profile Data for zip code 94124, BVHP has 33,996 residents; 28% are children under age 9, and over 10% are over 65. About 33% of residents are African American, 30% Asian, and almost 25% Hispanic/Latino. Almost 75% of households are family households, with an even split between owners and renters. The 2007-2011 five-year estimates from the American Community Survey data indicate that 19.3% of residents live under the poverty line; 47.7% of all African American residents and 22.8% of Asian residents are in poverty. Residents suffer high rates of infant mortality, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. According to San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership data, zip code 94124 ranked highest in twenty-two Health Indicators compared to the rest of the County between 2010 and 2013. BVHP also rated highest in hospitalization and emergency room visits for asthma and heart problems. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District identified BVHP as a CARE community area vulnerable to “Cumulative Impacts from Air Pollution” including 24-hour PM 2.5 exceedance.

Course readings can be found here: