Suggestions for a New Curriculum for the PIL to cover issues raised in Chapter 14 of the Designers’ Manual.
- Permaculture design and the operation of permaculture systems is always carried out in a social context.
- Being sensitive to that context can assist designers’ to make good decisions.
- Permaculture is a system which includes a set of ethical goals as guidelines for human settlement design.
- So permaculture becomes part of a social movement for large scale social change.
- Placing permaculture within debates in the environmental movement is an inevitable consequence.
- We can be aware of these debates without necessarily setting up a dogmatic permaculture position.
This is a list of some of the topics that permaculture design teachers may want to include in their curricula. It is divided into three broad sections.
- the presentation of the social context of permaculture action through a number of case studies.
- the placing of permaculture strategies within debates about social change in the environment movement.
- a list of current issues relevant to permaculture and its social context.
Part One: CASE STUDIES
Approximately 20 case studies of permaculture practice should be collected and summarized — 2 or 3 pages each.
The case studies should aim to show the social context of permaculture as it is practiced in a variety of situations; in other words, who is involved in this, which social groups or institutions, how the project developed, where this all took place, funding, decision making structures, how the food is distributed or marketed, what specific reforms in agriculture or settlement design were created.
These examples should represent a wide variety of social contexts; projects in developing countries; backyards and built spaces in rich countries; organic niche marketing; commercial agriculturists outside the organics market; hobby farms, communes and MOs in rich countries; city farms and community gardens.
Part Two: THE DEBATE ABOUT SOCIAL CHANGE AND PERMACULTURE STRATEGIES
A. Natural Capitalists and Anti-Capitalists: Different Visions
A key debate in the environmental movement today is between different visions of the social context of an environmentally benign future:
- those who favour what has been called "natural capitalism" as a solution to environmental problems — in other words a reform of the capitalist economy.
- those who believe capitalism cannot solve environmental problems in the long term — the wave of environmental activism represented by Seattle, reclaim the streets, No Logo etc.
Permaculture practitioners inevitably take different positions in this debate but need also to create permaculture as a broad umbrella that can foster cooperation on projects by setting these debates to one side. On the other hand, the attempt to set permaculture in its social context and work out a long term permaculture strategy cannot avoid these issues completely. In the context of the design certificate it seems sensible to alert permaculture students to the broad parameters of this debate without demanding that they take sides.
Long term strategies of these two sides of the environmental movement are as follows:
"Natural capitalists" want to reform capitalism:
- through a value shift that would make environmental issues more important to decision makers and the population at large
- through the promotion of environmentally benevolent investment
- through changes to state regulation of the economy — especially taxes, subsidies, tariffs etc.
"Anti-capitalists" want to abolish capitalism and replace it with an economic and political structure more likely to produce environmental harmony, either:
- A democratic socialist state - most ownership is by the state but workers and communities have some local control and free elections determine the government.
- A gift economy - there is no money and no wage labour; instead, people are linked into voluntary organisations which produce goods and services and distribute them as gifts.
- Some mixture of these two anti-capitalist models.
According to these different views, current permaculture practice can be understood in different ways and different permaculture strategies may seem more useful. For example permaculture practice may be seen as:
- "natural capitalism", a pointer to the way the economy as a whole should be organised;
- an island of anti-capitalist practice in a sea of capitalist structures;
- a hybrid of aspects of capitalism with aspects of a gift economy structure;
- mainly useful today in building political support for a more decisive overthrow of capitalism.
It is inevitable that different permaculture practitioners will envisage their practice in terms of a diversity of visions of the long term future, and will emphasize different permaculture strategies at the local level in terms of these visions.
B. Social Strategies of the Environmental Movement
A useful way to sidestep this debate to some extent is to list the kinds of social strategies that the environmental movement has put into practice in the current period.
Most of these are described in chapter 14 of the Designers’ Manual, but teachers should concentrate on current examples that they know about. The case studies should provide a useful resource to give examples of some of these. A central part of the design certificate instruction would normally be a description and explanation of strategies such as the following:
- Ethical Investment
- Community Gardens
- Government funded initiatives — such as Landcare in Australia or IPM in Indonesia.
- Community Banking
- Micro Credit
- Right Livelihood
- NGOs in developing countries
- Fair Trade initiatives
- Niche marketing of sustainable agriculture production
- Alternative lifestyle farms and MOs
C. How These Strategies Fit Different Visions:
One analysis is that these strategies are best seen as hybrids of capitalism and the gift economy. They make use of institutional structures of capitalism such as the state, private property, paid work, money, investment etc. However they use these institutions to move further in the direction of the gift economy than is currently typical of capitalism. For example:
- more community control and participation in decisions about agricultural production, settlement design and the distribution of agricultural products;
- production and distribution as more of a gift expressing care - for other people or for nature;
- work as more of a social connection, an aesthetic and creative expression and an ethical project;
- a similar approach to leisure and consumption.
While this is my perspective, it is easy to see that at least some of these same strategies might be viewed quite differently within the approach of natural capitalism — as embodiments of the natural capitalist vision in practice. In either case what they present are social contexts which are now available for us to realise the ethical goals of permaculture and the environmental technologies of permaculture design.
Part Three: SOME CURRENT ISSUES
This third section is to inform students of some of the issues that tend to come up when the social context of permaculture and sustainable agriculture is being discussed. This is another list of relevant topics which a teacher could draw on without necessarily wanting to cover all of them:
- Different tendencies in "sustainable agriculture" today - permaculture, organics, biodynamics, sustainable agriculture.
- Globalisation and how this affects agriculture and also patterns of employment - the implications for permaculture practice.
- Changes in residential patterns in the rich countries - apartment living, MOs , the quarter acre block?
- The mainstreaming of sustainable agriculture and many permaculture ideas as agricultural science and environmental science.
- Weeds, permaculture and bush regeneration - the argument of "Feral Futures" and the permaculture response.
- Biodiversity, seed saving and plant patenting rights; the global struggle and local actions.
- Genetic engineering; why is it happening and what is the risk for the environment?
- Traditional sustainable subsistence agriculture versus marketized high input agriculture in developing countries - permaculture as a third way - the "Power of Duck".
- Earth Spirituality and Ecofeminism as expressions of a permaculture ethic and as sources of inspiration for permaculturists.
- Bioregionalism - as environmentally sound practice or as an alternative social vision?