Solarpunk is an emerging visionary utopian aesthetic that critically engages the reality of capitalist catastrophe while maintaining a radical optimism about humanity’s potential for a communal, ecological future. Solarpunk conjures visions of beauty and harmony in both formal and social senses—scenes of vibrant neighborhood life, biophilic architecture, and liberatory uses of jugaad-style technologies. The worlds depicted within broad currents of the solarpunk milieu are utopian yet realist, post-scarcity but not post-conflict, and uncompromisingly ecological without lapsing into primitivism or misanthropy. In other words, solarpunk worlds appear to be holistically articulated visions of social ecology; or, what Bookchin called “the image of a fecund interaction between humanity’s craft and nature’s potentialities.”
Social ecology is a comparably mature radical political theory that posits the ecological crisis as a social crisis, and visa-versa, in which the domination of nature is inextricably linked to the domination of human beings. Through the oppositional struggle to overcome all forms of hierarchy and domination, the theory envisions a free, caring, and ecological society in which humans have successfully reharmonized the interrelationships between ourselves, technology, and the rest of the living world. Drawing on the best of Marxism, anarchism, and traditional ecological knowledge, social ecology synthesizes a systematic understanding of socialism and critique of capitalism with a commitment to anti-statism, feminism, direct democracy, and confederal strategies of prefiguration. Social ecology, therefore, offers a comprehensive integration of philosophy, politics, ethics, and epistemology. As a living tradition, social ecology continues to develop through theory and practice. A philosophy of art and a theory of beauty—or, the realm of aesthetics—remains one notable opportunity for further inquiry.
This course investigates the potential of solarpunk as an aesthetic complement to social ecology and social ecology as a compelling political-philosophical ground for solarpunk. Students will explore the intersections of art, solarpunk, and social ecology alongside Solarpunk Surf Club through texts, images, objects, discussion, and project-based making. We will begin by evaluating art historical antecedents to solarpunk such as Proletkult and the theories of Aleksandr Bogdanov, William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement, and the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki. Next, we will examine political tensions within solarpunk surrounding greenwashing, recuperation, and the competing tendencies of ecomodernism and cottagecore. In the final weeks, we will share and analyze examples of relevant contemporary art in a variety of forms, culminating in the attempt to elaborate upon social ecological aesthetics through the production of original creative work.
Syllabus available here.