What is permaculture?

permed at nor.com.au permed at nor.com.au
Mon Dec 17 21:12:22 EST 2001

Bill Mollison in one of his poetic flashes once said
"Permaculture wanders in the valleys between the mountains of the disciplines where nobody else is at home"
For me one of the unique factors of Pc is in observing and creating connections, working with the interrelationships between things (systems, disciplines, elements etc).
It's difficult to pigeon-hole holistic thinking and PC being so all-encompassing lies both within and beyond the classic boundaries of the disciplines - and then there's the ethics...

The questions Toby raises brush other big questions I'm struggling with at the moment - here in Australia a group of PC teachers are looking into formal accreditation of a PC course and the accreditation system is 'competency' based - that is we need to define precisely what are the jobs/actions that someone needs to be able to do to 'do permaculture' - the execution of a competency will require it's own skills and underpinning knowledge/science and a means of assessment. 'Design a swale' is simple but then why is the swale there and how does it relate to other elements in the system. 'Build a banana circle' - well to me the permaculture of the banana circle is the though process behind it, the observations that were made which led to the invention of this particular system. How do we develop tangible competencies for thought processes and not reduce permaculture to a simple series of action formulas?

>So this brings me to my question:  Why is permaculture so hard to classify?
>Where does it fit into our system of knowledge? The problem is like the one
>we face on this list: permaculture seems to include about everything from
>gardening to economics to gender ethics, so how can we ever say that
>something lies outside permaculture?
>To ask the question another way, is permaculture an attempt to solve a set
>of problems? Are these problems of the same nature as those of, say, biology
>(like "how can we design a guild?") or of those of the less tractable, less
>scientifically testable, social sciences ("how do we create a sustainable
>culture?")? If the latter, that would make permaculture like, say,
>economics, which contains both mathematically solvable problems and nasty
>problems of politics. But permaculture complicates matters further by
>prescribing certain behaviors and condemning others. So is it a system of
>moral beliefs? I think not; at least I think it tries to be testable, unlike
>Permaculture is called a design system. Does that set it in a different
>category from disciplines like architecture or biology? I¹ve argued
>elsewhere that permaculture is a "meta-discipline" that organizes other
>disciplines, a toolbox that organizes tools such as agroforestry, organic
>gardening, solar technology, etc, and tells us when and how to apply them.
>But doesn¹t geology or evolutionary biology do the same thing, calling upon
>physics or genetics for techniques and theoretical buttressing? We would
>call geology and evolutionary biology "disciplines," so why not
>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. Or are the difficulties more because
>permaculture is badly organized (the way its many principles are a
>hodge-podge of statements of different logical types) and a jumble of
>mismatched theories, principles, assessments, and data? Sorting this out may
>help us explain permaculture better to others, and to locate the problems
>most worth solving.

Djanbung Gardens Permaculture Education Centre
home to: 
Permaculture Education
ERDA Institute Trust
Nimbin Eco-Village Project Office
Robyn Francis - permaculture designer & educator
PO Box 379, Nimbin NSW 2480 Australia
Ph 02-6689 1755 Fax 02-6689 1225
permed at nor.com.au  www.earthwise.org.au

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