While the field of ecology focuses on the relationships between organisms and their environments, social ecology is a philosophy concerned with the relationships between humans and their environments. Both Yale University and the University of California, Irvine offer academic programs in social ecology.
At the University of California, Irvine social ecology is a field of study, an academic unit, and a degree program for undergraduate and graduate students. The field of social ecology gives attention to the social, institutional, and cultural contexts of people-environment relations while drawing on a problem-based theoretical framework developed for the analysis of complex societal issues. The School of Social Ecology is an interdisciplinary academic unit whose scholarly research and instruction is informed by and contributes to knowledge in the social, behavioral, legal, environmental, and health sciences. A multidisciplinary faculty trains students to analyze research and policy questions from a broad, ecological perspective that integrates multiple disciplines and links basic theory and research with community problem-solving. Undergraduate, masters and doctorate degrees are conferred in the field of social ecology.
In a separate application of the phrase, social ecology also refers to the radical philosophy started by Murray Bookchin which says that our present ecological problems are rooted in deep-seated social problems, particularly in dominatory hierarchical political and social systems. These have resulted in an uncritical acceptance of an overly competitive grow-or-die philosophy. It suggests that this cannot be resisted by individual action such as ethical consumerism but must be addressed by more nuanced ethical thinking and collective activity grounded in radical democratic ideals. The complexity of relationships between people and with nature is emphasised, along with the importance of establishing social structures that take account of this.
Social ecology is, in the words of its leading exponents, "a coherent profound critique of current social, political, and anti-ecological trends" as well as "a reconstructive, ecological, communitarian, and ethical approach to society".
Social ecologists believe that the current ecological crisis is the product of capitalism. They believe it is not the number of people, but the way people relate to one another that has fueled the current economic, social, and ecological crises that the world currently faces. Over-consumption, productivism and consumerism are thus symptoms, not causes, of a deeper issue with ethical relationships within societies.
The main thinker of social ecological thought, Murray Bookchin, proposed Libertarian Municipalism as a political program consistent with social ecology.
Social ecology and anarchism
Undoubtedly social ecology is one of the most influential currents in the eco-anarchist thread within anarchism. Social ecology is associated with the ideas and works of Murray Bookchin, who had written on such matters from the 1950s until his death, and, from the 1960s, had combined these issues with revolutionary social anarchism. His works include Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, The Ecology of Freedom, and a host of others.
Social ecology locates the roots of the ecological crisis firmly in relations of domination between people. The domination of nature is seen as a product of domination within society, but this domination only reaches crisis proportions under capitalism. In the words of Murray Bookchin:
- "The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man… But it was not until organic community relations… dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself was reduced to a resource for exploitation. This centuries-long tendency finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing to its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity against the natural world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly." (Post Scarcity Anarchism, p. 85)
- "The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital." (Ibid., p. 86)
Beginning in 1995, Murray Bookchin became increasingly critical of anarchism, and in 1999 he took a descisive stand against anarchist ideology. Instead Bookchin came to recognize social ecology as a genuinely new form of libertarian socialism and positioned its politics firmly in the framework of communalism.
Social ecology education
- The Institute for Social Ecology founded in 1974 in Plainfield, Vermont offers a year-round B.A. and M.A. degree program, workshops, and academic conferences.
- The University of California, Irvine offers a Bachelor's Degree, a Master's Degree and a Doctoral Degree in social ecology.
- The Insitute for social ecology, Vienna, University of Klagenfurt, offers a Master's Degree in social ecology.
- The University of Western Sydney, Australia offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Social Ecology.
- UCI School of Social Ecology
- Whiteley, J. M. (1999). Conceptual social ecology. Retrieved November 13, 2006, from http://www.seweb.uci.edu/cse/cse.html
- Bookchin, Murray: The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005).
- Bookchin, Murray: Post Scarcity Anarchism (Montreal and New York: Black Rose Books, 1986)
- Essay: A Social Ecology by John Clark
- Deep Ecology
- Inclusive Democracy
- Green syndicalism
- Gaia philosophy
- UC Irvine, School of Social Ecology
- Institute for Social Ecology (ISE)
- Libertarian Communist Library Murray Bookchin holdings
- Social Ecology London English study/action group exploring the philosophy of social ecology.cs:Sociální ekologie
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