all theory thread

Judith Hanna jehanna at
Thu Jun 29 19:11:58 EDT 2000

Dan wrote

>>cultures are much bigger than any of us can every hope to manipulate.  just
like a frog or a beech tree can only participate in the ecological system
within which it dwells, so too can we only participate in the cultural
system within which we dwell.  some of us have more/less impact but the
ultimate determiner of system evolution tends to be the relationships
between entities in that system.

thats why its really important for those of us with heaps of energy and
vision for earth care and so on, to maintain some sense of our limits, and
not to expect too much of ourselves (otherwise we burn out), and also not
to expect too much of those we are in contact with.  remembering that we
are only one part of a hugely complex system (called a culture) which is
full of factors influencing how we all think/act/assume... etc<<

Thanks, Dan. This brings the discussion back to a point that resonates for
me: how we integrate 'peoplecare' and 'fair shares' with 'earthcare'. That
is the difference between 'sustainabililty' (meeting people's needs without
inflicting damage on the world we're part of) from green/environmentalism.

I see permaculture theory as fairly coherent:

Three sustainability ethics -- as above

Design principles: observe and learn from nature; least interference for
most yield; multiplicity and diversity of functions/yields/connections;
local resources and uses/close the loops; a use for every resources (no
waste); problem is the solution -- various ways of phrasing these and
dividing them up, and illustrating them with examples. (I teach them by
getting students to draw cards with the catchphrases written on, and they
tell the rest of the class what they think the phrase on their card may
mean -- has worked well, with others getting to add their gloss on the
points. Very participatory, at the early stage where people still a bit shy
of each other.)

Than come the techniques: and here what techniques  are most relevant to
the local ecosystems and social systems, and examples illustrating how they
can be used, will vary. Mollison concentrated on Aussie conditions -- which
are very different from the crowded temperate wet UK. And that means of
course that he left out quite a lot that is central to here -- especially
on the people/fair shares side. And ways of working with established social
systems, as distinct from 'new build' alternative idealistic communities.

Next is 'design skills': the BREDIM or similar methodologies -- project
planning frameworks, which come down to variants of 'Define objective --
Research/observe (revisit objective) -- Plan/design -- DO IT! --
Evaluate/replan' in manageable iterative phases
Thinking in zones/sectors; defining monitorable aims and how to measure
whether you're achieving them; working with clients; costings etc come into
this 'design/project management skills' element -- shared with all sorts of
other management training. 

I don't find that the lack of techniques relevant to here makes
permacultures ethics and design for sustainability principles any less
illuminating and useful. But it does pose a challenge for us to evolve a
good collection of examples of how pc works in this cold climate. 

Lawrence raised the issue of zones: way I see it is that people have a
right to privacy and to not be evangelised about their souls. But we do
need to recognise ourselves as the single most crucial local resource we
have, one that we need to care for, look after and nurture as much as any
other natural resource -- and as Dan said, not over-exploit and exhaust
ourselves. I agree that burn-out is the biggest danger for activist
idealists -- and almost always a self-inflicted injury. 

I agree that teaching techniques for setting and respecting boundaries for
personal commitment -- others' and one's own -- ought to be basic to PDC. I
think it fits under 'project management/design skill' -- but is also about
understanding how people work as resources making up human ecosystems. No
guilt-tripping is a bottom-line -- and some overly idealistic and
evangelical 'niceness' approaches come across as guilt-tripping others. 

We do need a much clearer, more hard-headed and socially realistic toolkit
on peoplecare -- informed by mainstream social sciences, traditional good
manners and well brung upness, and useful selections of the feminist/green
ways of networking/meeting/organisational dynamics -- which increasingly
seem to cross over with mainstream management training gimmicks these days....

Take care of yourselves now,


Judith Hanna
jehanna at
15 Jansons Rd, Tottenham, London N15 4JU

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