[permaculture] Permaculture as a Social Movement

michael at naturalinvesting.com michael at naturalinvesting.com
Thu Jul 17 17:36:10 EDT 2003

Robyn, John, and Russ make some very interesting comments (excerpted below).
 Building a social movement is a generational phenomenon, and permaculture is
only one generation old so it should not be surprising that it is still in its
childhood.  There are so many ways to imagine building the movement, it is difficult
to know where to begin.  

One thing to keep in mind is that, by design, the pioneer species of permaculture
needed to take root and survive as weeds in barren soil, as the sociopolitical
climate was hardly receptive. Today, there is greater receptivity to permaculture
than ever before, which is why new edges of institutionalizing permaculture
are emerging.  In my view these should be welcomed, as this is how succession
functions.  People are learning how to add value to the initial permacultural
concepts, modifying curricula, developing strategies for teaching it effectively,
putting it into existing institutions, and more.

Permaculture can't survive on its own; it needs the web of relationships to
survive, as it is part of a guild of other disciplines. If people are attached
to permaculture standing entirely on its own, the movement will expand at a
snail's pace; the movement has already demonstrated an inability to grow quickly
because it is still in the self-definition stage, and its language - the hook
- remains too abstract for the mainstream to embrace. 

So we need all the help we can get - from school teachers, farmers, landscapers
and architects, builders, planners - as well as financial planners, lawyers,
academics, and political party activists - to integrate permaculture into those
spheres of influence.  We need permaculture people to run for the local school
Board, city council and governor. We need permaculturists to run dairies and
restaurants, manage pension plans, develop subdivisions, run state agriculture
agencies or extension services, and operate radio talkshows. Permaculturists
are needed in policy and public interest research organizations, philanthropic
foundations, and publicly-held corporations. More ecological battles are being
won now through shareholder activism than boycotts, lawsuits, and acts of protest.

As much as these are contrary to some of our individual personalities, such
strategies are ways in which social movements evolve. This doesn't mean that
permaculture has to lose any of its grass roots; this is just zonation. The
permaculture movement has been in its own Zone 1 for a long long time, and it
is time to branch out and develop strategic leverage points within the existing
society through which permaculture design can take hold. Permaculture design
should continue to be taught in the community, but a school teacher who has
a two-week unit on permaculture as part of a science, civics, or economics course
is also helping the cause, as is a city planner who suggests a scaled-down version
of sector analysis on some civil engineering endeavor.  

Social change takes time and often small baby steps;  we need to be simultaneously
persistent and patient, and perhaps most importantly, not attached to outcomes,
for ideas that are ahead of their time may not be embraced to our satisfaction
in our lifetime. 

In the US we could learn a lot from our Australian colleagues; we have work
to do to institutionalize permaculture here.  Our most experienced permaculturists
are largely entrepreneurs who prefer to do their own education and work outside
of "the system". There's nothing wrong with that, it's just mostly Zone 1 activity.

A few years ago when Regenesis did a permaculture site assessment for the new
national park (astronomy) planned for New Mexico, I remember thinking that this
was exactly the type of high-profile leverage point permaculture needed. We
are a professional culture, so we need to professionalize permaculture, even
though it makes so many pc radicals uneasy. We desperately need articulate and
intelligent torch-bearers in all our professions to build on the foundation
the visionary conceptualists have laid so well.  

Permaculture influences a few hundred citizens annually in this country, and
that's not much of a social movement.  It's time to take it to the next level.
We need help, or we ourselves need to work within the system we find so dysfunctional
and distasteful. Both of these are difficult for men to do, and this movement,
at least in America, is very male at the moment. 

Michael Kramer

>Robyn Francis wrote:
 Even though it may be
>delivered in mainstream institutions like TAFE and high schools it is driven

>by permaculture grassroots through PIL membership and participation. That in

>my mind represents a quantum leap in permaculturing the mainstream.
 John Schinnerer wrote:

>> Sounds like you've answered the question for Sydney.  Is TAFE planning to

>> "share the surplus?"  What happens for those former PDC providers?  "Sorry

>> mate, that's how 'the system' (e.g. 'the mainstream') works, you're not
>> competitive any more?"
>> I'd rather permaculture 'the mainstream' (which IMO is a dangerously
>> mythical over-generalization anyhow) than mainstream permaculture.
>> That's how I take Holmgren's comments on planners, architects, doctors,
>> managers, etc. etc. who think permaculturally.
Russ Grayson wrote:
>TAFE (Technical And Further Education) is not a permaculture  
>organisation and is thus not bound by the philosophy. As a training  
>provider it is primarily a government-funded competitive organisation  
>with deep reach into the public and is the prime tertiary training  
>provider in this state. When we take our course structures to TAFE, we  
>enter this world whether we like it or not.

> TAFE course content  
>becomes the de-facto permaculture content, putting a non-permaculture  
>organisation into a position of great influence over the future of the  
>system and how it is perceived by the public.  I understand it.
>> I'd rather permaculture 'the mainstream' (which IMO is a dangerously  
>> mythical over-generalization anyhow) than mainstream permaculture.
>I'm interested in your comment about "permaculture the mainstream" (a  
>long-held desire in permaculture) as a "dangerously mythical  
>over-generalization". I think that any objective assessment of the  
>capacity of permaculture to substantially influence the mainstream will  
>disclose that its influence is very limited. The system's main area of  
>influence, from what I see about me, is the individual in their home.  
>This is good and adds to permaculture's grass-roots credentials, if my  
>observation is valid, but has only minimum effect on society at large.  
>The accredited course may generate influence among horticulturists and  
>others, if they enroll in sufficient numbers once again, but as recent  
>discussions on this list have disclosed, horticulturists seldom occupy  
>decision-making positions in centres of influence such as local  
>The key positions are those formulating policy and these are often  
>political in nature for which, a recent respondent wrote, you need  
>political savvy to operate in. But not all. Landscape architects in  
>local government bodies, for instance, have influence as do town and  
>social planners. I am aware of one case where a local government  
>planting document regarding recommended types of plantings for  
>residents, drawn up by council's landscape architect, was strongly  
>influenced by a person on staff active in permaculture. The influence  
>was on plants for interior climate control and food (environmental  
>sustainability was a key point in the document and this person raised  
>the issue of food security as an element in sustainability. Otherwise  
>the document would have focused mainly on native plants - the native  
>plant lobby is politically savvy and strong in local government).
>This, it seems to me, offers a point of incursion for graduates of the  
>accredited course who add permaculture to their professional skills.  
>But to achieve substantial change, a critical mass of people doing this  
>must be built and the likelihood of that, I think, is questionable.
perhaps what  
>it needs is a new 'hook' on which to snag the public imagination. >

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