Social Ecology and Social Change

By Savran, Yagmur | Anarchist Studies, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Social Ecology and Social Change


Savran, Yagmur, Anarchist Studies


Eirik Eiglad (ed.), Social Ecology and Social Change Porsgrunn: New Compass Press, 2015; 258pp; ISBN 9788293064343

Social Ecology and Social Change brings together nineteen interesting and informative essays from the 2014 Ecological Challenges conference in Oslo, aiming to demonstrate how social ecology theory connects with real life issues and how it might concretely influence social change towards communalism. The book overviews some of the main concerns of social ecology today, e.g. climate change, rapid urbanisation, transport, environmental conflicts, organised crime, and explains how social ecology addresses global problems such as these. Among the chapters are case studies from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Czech Republic, Italy, Turkey, and Iraq. Social movements around the world are encouraged to increase their awareness of the current ecological crisis, and of potential solutions to it.

Some of the most insightful essays here include Eirik Eiglad's and Dan Chodorkoff's opening essays, which provide a foundational introduction to social ecology theory, followed by Brian Tokar's and Sveinung Legard's fascinating texts, asking what can be done to counter the impact of climate change. While taking different approaches, Tokar and Legard both suggest participatory democracy as a method to challenge climate change.

Mat Little warns that the contradictions of capitalism have come to the fore, and that, contrary to predictions of social ecologists, the system is crumbling. Adam Krause acknowledges that capitalism's collapse seems imminent, but this hasn't stopped the looting of our planet because capitalism as a system 'manages to supply basic needs for enough people [so] only a small minority ever hit the streets' (p89). Apparently, getting organised requires too much effort, as people are busy just trying to make a living - which seems to condemn ordinary people to the status quo.

Marco R. Rossi interestingly discusses the 'civic nature of socialism' instead of its commonly emphasised economic aspect, pointing out that the core issue within leftist theory today is that 'it has not matured beyond the world described by its founders' (p99). John Nightingale, drawing especially on Bookchin, provides an excellent summary of how social ecology conceptualises citizenship and solidarity - though it would have been preferable to see this contribution earlier in the book.

Two interesting essays which raise questions about urban transport, planning, and design are Janet Biehl's 'The American Built Environment as an Ecological Challenge' and Ersilia Verlinghieri's 'Radical Approaches to Transport Planning'. Biehl astutely demonstrates the disastrous effects of the automobile on the environment and social relations. In the USA, entire communities and suburban areas were designed to encourage car use, eventually leading to a lack of social interaction, with people confined to the private sphere, only interacting with the rest of the world via technological devices. 'Good urban design' and 'smart growth', Biehl points out, should also focus on how to (re-)strengthen social bonds and community spirit. Ersilia Verlinghieri is critical of the slow rate of progress and lack of radical approaches to urban planning. While acknowledging an increasing awareness of sustainable transport (walking and cycling), she criticises city transport planners and academicians in transport studies for focusing on engineering solutions and top-down strategies that ignore public participation. …

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