Social Ecology and Social Change – Out Now!

Better world poster image for Social Ecology and Social Change book promotion

In September last year New Compass organized a conference together with the University of Oslo called Ecological Challenges. Some of the questions we asked were:  How can we create a society that is ecological as well as egalitarian? How can we develop new forms of activism that are constructive as well as confrontational? How can we work for genuine social change and simultaneously prevent ecological destruction and improve people’s lives in today’s world?

The results of these discussions are now gathered in one book!

Although the title of the publication is Social Ecology and Social Change, it is not meant to be a general introduction to social ecology. Eirik Eiglad’s opening essay, however, remedies this by giving a basic overview of the social ecology perspective. To this end he focuses on how our quest for a genuinely democratic politics is rooted in more comprehensive social analyses and in an understanding of our place in nature. Democracy, he argues, is crucial for the ecology movement and not just for tactical or strategic reasons: it is fundamental to our visions of an ecological society.


Frontpage of Social Ecology and Social Change book

Image: Social Ecology and Social Change can be ordered on Amazon. A Kindle version and hopefully an Epub version will be available soon.

Dan Chodorkoff expands on this and insists that utopian visions should always guide our activism: our struggle for an ecological society is, after all, always fueled by visions of what such a society would be like, not only on possible outcomes but genuinely ethical considerations of what ought to be.

Brian Tokar delivered a keynote address to the conference, and his contribution to this volume outlines the major challenges that climate change poses for our societies. He presents a sobering analysis of contemporary climate predictions and the various environmentalist responses, and points to the prospects for democratic grassroots empowerment.

Video: You can watch Brian Tokar’s keynote lecture at the Ecological Challenges conference here, but the book contains an updated and improved version of his talk.

Sveinung Legard approaches the question from a different angle and asks whether participatory democracy would indeed be better for the climate. He identifies, analyzes and evaluates some of the key arguments for participatory democracy within the ecology movement.

Despite the gravity of the ecological crisis, says Mat Little, we should not ignore the very real conflicts within society that have again burst to the fore. He challenges the notion that society has overcome its internal contradictions in favor of a more fundamental external contradiction between society and the natural world. In many countries and parts of the world, capitalism can no longer promise human well-being and progress.

Adam Krause also approaches the current economic crisis, but more philosophically. He starts from scratch, that is to say, from the very elements of matter, and the essential features of what constitutes life and nature. His succinct evolutionary account sheds light on some of the essential economic questions that confront us today.

Under capitalism and in nation-states, citizenship is a rather hollow concept, but it can become the foundation for new political communities. Marco Rosaire Rossi discusses how classical radicalism— notably Marxism and anarchism—stressed workers and the proletariat as the primary agents of social change. Communalism, by contrast, emphasizes citizenship and a civic form of radicalism, and its role in creating a new political system that assumes responsibility for the world.

John Nightingale’s essay highlights the significance of solidarity for social ecology, namely that it is necessary to achieve a balanced relationship with the natural world. Nightingale explains how Bookchin and social ecologists seek to achieve solidarity in society precisely through a political reconceptualization of citizenship.

Janet Biehl, who has done so much to popularize libertarian municipalism and social ecology, traces the emergence of a cardependent infrastructure the United States, where more than half of the population lives in suburbia. She discusses the ideas of the new urbanists, and lists some central features of an infrastructure that could support citizenship in ecological cities.

Arnošt Novák gives the history of a very different development, that of Czech environmental activism. He suggests that one of the main lessons from the trajectory of Czech environmentalism is that we should try to build a broad popular movement, while also radicalizing our ecological visions, and to expand our repertoire of actions.

Jonathan Korsár returns our focus to the municipality and translates Jeremy Rifkin’s ideas on a “zero marginal cost society” into a municipal setting. The future of production, energy, and community lies in new forms of creating, sharing, and caring. The main challenges for a zero marginal cost society, Korsár argues, are indeed municipal challenges: municipalities should constitute the political framework of a new economy and a new energy system.

The analysis provided by Ersilia Verlinghieri fits well in with the preceding essays. She dissects modern planning practices and asks us to consider alternative, more radical approaches to transport planning which take into account questions of social justice, freedom of movement, and the right to the city, as well as ecology.

Salvatore Paolo De Rosa and Monica Caggiano point to another real challenge for many communities of the world today, namely that they are plagued not only by state encroachment and capitalist development projects, but also by organized crime and violence. The Campania region in southern Italy suffers from pollution and mismanagement, but the communities now organize to fight mafia culture and organized crime. Their analyses are stimulating and they point toward the radical, even revolutionary changes, we need to see.

In the following essay, Metin Güven interprets the concept of revolutionary change based on the historical works Bookchin wrote on popular movements in the early modern era.

Toon Bijnens and Johanna L. Rivera discuss the emergence of an ecology movement in the Middle East, highlighting recent campaigns for water rights in Iraq and the surrounding countries, and Cağri Eryilmaz evaluates a different experience in Anatolia: the movement that arose in the conflicts over Gezi Park in Istanbul. He compares this movement, which in 2013 created hundreds of popular forums all over Turkey, to the politics of social ecology.

Video: Two of the contributors to Social Ecology and Social Change, Johanna L. Rivera and Dan Chodorkoff, appear in this panel on the Ecological Challenges conference. It gives a taste of what their essays are about. 

We should have a closer look at how a dialogue can be initiated between the theory of social ecology and the practice of new urban movements for social change, says Federico Venturini. In Brazilian cities like Rio de Janeiro, new urban movements have managed to mobilize large sectors of society against megalomaniac urban development projects; their experiences are important and valuable.

Camilla Hansen turns our attention to Hannah Arendt, looking at how her political ideas can inspire our activism. She argues that participatory democracy is the only political system that allows us to reflect publicly, as a society, on where we are going. To change our current course such public reflection is crucial.

Last, but not least, Dimitrios I. Roussopoulos ends this collection of essays with an evaluation of the status of environmental policies and the outlines for a new ecological municipalism. Few have done more than Roussopoulos to spread the practical dimensions of social ecology to an urban political setting. He gave a keynote speech that concluded the conference, and I think it is befitting that his experience and advice should also conclude this book.

Buy Social Ecology and Social Change on Amazon.