What is Social Ecology?

what-is-social-ecologyFounded by activist Murray Bookchin, social ecology is an approach to society that embraces a ecological, reconstructive, and communitarian view on society. This ideology looks to reconstruct and transform current outlooks on both social issues and environmental factors while promoting direct democracy. It looks to do away with scarcity and hierarchy in the economy in favor of a world in which human communities work together in harmony with nature to accept and promote diversity as well as creativity and freedom.

Murray Bookchin

Born in 1921, Murray Bookchin was an important figure in ecology movement developments of the 20th century. While developing his theories, Murray Bookchin wrote foundation works such as Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, and The Ecology of Freedom. Though he identified as an anarchist for much of his life, Bookchin eventually would begin to criticize anarchy in favor of a “libertarian socialism” framed in the context of a political ideology he would refer to as “Communalism”.

Relationship between hierarchies and environmental crises

In social ecology, the idea that many must control nature is looked on as espousing an authoritarian mentality that is at the root of our society’s structure. This ideology is, according to the approach, viewed as a root cause of environmental problems. Rather than being looked on as a hierarchy, life and the environment should instead be looked on as a complex system in which all lifeforms are interrelated and of equal importance to a healthy and sustainable environment.

Fundamental principles

This approach to society puts forth the idea that ecological problems are inevitably the results of social dysfunctions in human society. The approach posits that problems in ecology will only be completely resolved when the underlying social issues are addressed and resolved. These social issues involve things such as industrial expansion, a class structure that designates certain portions of humanity as “inferior”, and a distorted view of what constitutes “progress”. The approach links social factors such as racism, sexism, and exploitation of third world countries with environmental problems such as the deforestation of rain forests.

Relationship with other theories and viewpoints

Bookchin felt that too many environmentalists were trying to resolve ecological issues by focusing on the symptoms of the problems instead of the underlying causes. Rather than fundamentally changing society for a comprehensive solution, environmentalists were singling out particular problems like overpopulation and deforestation.

A social ecologists stresses the importance of establishing a more egalitarian social system that is driven by equality and cooperation rather than individual profits. Collective action and equal concern for all aspects of life are fundamental to this form of ecology. It is important to understand that this form of ecology views human beings as merely very intelligent primates. Despite being highly intelligent, humans are still part of ecology and should by no means be considered a “special case” either among mammals or animal life in general.

Social ecology has continued to have a strong influence over society and views on environmental issue into the 21st century and will likely continue to be important as concerns increase over ongoing problems such as global warming and overpopulation.

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