What is permaculture?

Carla D McAuley carlamcauley at juno.com
Sun Dec 16 18:59:47 EST 2001

Speaking of questions, what would happen if someone held a colloquium to
which were invited: experts in permaculture(an approach created by Bill
Mollison, based on the indigenous agriculture of Australia), holistic
resource management (a approach created by Alan Savory, based on the
indigenous agriculture of Africa) and biodynamic farming (an approach
created by Rudolf Steiner based on his clairvoyant ability to see the
auras of life in the soil)?  Permaculture is the darling of the organic
gardening crowd, holistic resource mgmt has made significant inroads in
academia and biodynamic farming is popular in Europe.  Is a "discipline"
evolving whether we like or not, and is our inability to define it simply
a function of it being too soon to say?
Carla McAuley

On Sun, 16 Dec 2001 15:00:29 -0800 (PST) John Schinnerer
<eco_living at yahoo.com> writes:
> Aloha,
> Oh, no!  Not *that* question again!! ;-)
> --- Toby Hemenway <hemenway at jeffnet.org> wrote:
> > The "philosophical" threads here have gotten me thinking about why
> > permaculture doesn¹t fit neatly into categories of knowledge. So
> > maybe all this philosophizin¹ is actually relevant to the topic of 
> > this list.
> I agree wholeheartedly...
> > David Holmgren has argued that permaculture is not a discipline in
> > the way medicine is (or biology, or physics).
> And I add, "'deity-of-your-choice-or-none-at-all' forbid it becomes
> one!"
> > He said he doesn¹t want to be churning
> > out permaculturists so much as he wants, for example, architects 
> with
> > a permacultural perspective.
> Very well put.  And butchers, and bakers, and candlestick and shoe
> makers, and so on.  Then it becomes culturally rooted - then it *is*
> "mainstream."
> > ... Karl Popper raise a similar issue.
> > He says the question "what is philosophy?" is insignificant; that 
> it 
> > is much more useful to be solving the problems of philosophy...
> To me this is like my revelation from Joseph Campbell - "what is the
> meaning of life?" is insignificant (or perhaps more importantly, is 
> a
> distraction) and it is much more worthwhile to "experience living!"  
> If there is a "meaning of life" for any given individual or group, 
> it
> is more likely to arise through experiencing than through trying to
> figure it out as an abstraction.
> > This got me thinking about permaculture, since
> > many of us would rather be solving the problems of permaculture 
> than
> > worrying about what permaculture "is."
> These days when people ask me what permaculture "is," I ask them 
> "what
> do you want?" and go from there to relate PC to what they want.  
> It's a
> most fundamental design question, and it engages them in a way that 
> the
> dozen or more common working definitions seem unlikely to do.  
> If they really want definitions, I tell 'em to check out a few PC 
> books
> and that web site that has the compendium of definitions from a 
> whole
> bunch of different people.
> If they don't know what they want, I tell 'em what I'm up to, or 
> what
> people I know are up to - stories.
> > So this brings me to my question:  Why is permaculture so hard to
> > classify?  Where does it fit into our system of knowledge? 
> And why do we (not me, personally) want to "fit it in" so badly to
> "what is" when most of us recognize the inherent pathologies in the
> "what is" of fragmented, separated "knowledges"?
> >...so how can we ever say that
> > something lies outside permaculture?
> And why do we want to?  Maybe better questions, which some have been
> asking and addressing lately, is "how is this relevant to PC?" or 
> "how
> is PC relevant to this?"  That is, how do they interrelate...
> > To ask the question another way, is permaculture an attempt to 
> solve
> > a set of problems? 
> I would say (philosophically speaking) that it's (hopefully) broader
> than that - that it's a system for designing what we want.  This 
> avoids
> some of the traps of "problem solving" as our culture often 
> practices
> it.
> > Are these problems of the same nature as those of, say,
> > biology...of those of the less tractable, less
> > scientifically testable, social sciences...
> All of the above and then some, IMO.  And they're opportunities, not
> problems... ;-)
> >...is it a system of moral beliefs?
> Danger, Will Robinson!!  ;-)  And seriously, the potential is there 
> for
> it to domatize and ossify and become one.
> > Permaculture is called a design system. Does that set it in a
> > different category from disciplines like architecture or biology?
> From my whole systems design degree perspective, yes; I'd say that
> they're different manners of doing.  
> In my early attempts to describe my degree program, I often resorted 
> to
> the idea "inter-disciplinary," partly because more people could 
> latch
> onto that idea.  Eventually I understood that it was not
> "inter-disciplinary," because it was not "discipline-based" at all 
> but
> rather design-based.  So if PC is design-based (that's my
> understanding), it is "done differently" than what we call
> "disciplines."
> > I¹ve argued elsewhere that permaculture is a "meta-discipline" 
> that 
> > organizes other disciplines,...But doesn¹t geology or evolutionary 
> > biology do the same thing...
> We can and do do that under the rubric "PC," and I also feel that
> there's more than that.  Again, it's a different manner of doing 
> (but
> only when it is...;-).
> > I¹m puzzled as to where permaculture fits into our system of
> > knowledge. It doesn¹t seem to fit very neatly, and that may be why 
> it
> > makes such few inroads into the mainstream. 
> How about we just let it lie there and flop around vigorously, not
> fitting in.  That can draw quite a crowd sometimes...
> How much of wanting "fitting in" is our own personal baggage (fear)?
> What does "fitting in" really mean, anyhow?
> I figure any little bit of change someone makes towards looking at
> relations and patterns more than "things," treating each other as 
> human
> beings instead of production units/tools/objects, thinking and 
> looking
> and understanding for themselves, etc. etc. just may be PC 
> happening. 
> PC fits in anywhere, when I ask people "what do you want?"  
> > Well, I didn¹t intend to raise quite so many questions when I 
> started
> > this.
> Hey, three cheers for questions!
> "Computers!?  What good are computers?  They only give answers."
> - Pablo Picasso
> =====
> John Schinnerer, MA
> --------------------
> - Eco-Living -
> Cultural & Ecological Designing
> Food - Shelter - Community
> john at eco-living.net
> http://eco-living.net
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