Social Ecology - Overview


Social ecology's 'social' component comes from its position that nearly all of the world's ecological problems stem from social problems; with these social problems in turn arising from structures and relationships of dominating hierarchy.. They argue that apart from those produced by natural catastrophes, the most serious ecological dislocations of the 20th and 21st centuries have as their cause economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others. Present ecological problems, social ecologists maintain, cannot be clearly understood, much less resolved, without resolutely dealing with problems within society.

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 hierarchy and domination between people. In the framework of social ecology, "the very notion of the domination of nature by man stems from the very real domination of human by human." While the domination of nature is seen as a product of domination within society, this domination only reaches crisis proportions under capitalism. In the words of Bookchin:

The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man… But it was not until organic community relation … 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. … The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital

While identifying himself within the anarchist tradition for most of his career, beginning in 1995, Bookchin became increasingly critical of anarchism, and in 1999 took a decisive stand against anarchist ideology. He had come to recognize social ecology as a genuinely new form of libertarian socialism, and positioned its politics firmly in the framework of a political ideology which he called Communalism.

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