On 19th April 2018 I conducted a workshop on my research project exploring permaculture as a transnational social movement at the 14th Australasian Permaculture Convergence, hosted at the Greenhills Centre at Cotter, on the bank of the beautiful Murrumbidgee River outside Canberra.
This research project is examining permaculture as a transnational social movement, with a view to with a view to exploring how the movement acts at the interface between local-level sustainability transition projects, national environmental policies, other environment and social justice movements, and international climate politics, across different national contexts.
A key question that emerged in the workshop related to the definition of a “social movement.” Drawing from the work of thinkers such as Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow, David Snow, Sarah Soule, and Louis Kriesberg, social movements can be defined as collective challenges prevailing systems of authority by people with common purposes and solidarity, in sustained interaction over time, through known repertoires of protest and innovations of practice. At a transnational level, social movements provide social infrastructures for movement coordination, cultivate constituencies for intergovernmental organisations, mobilise and redistribute resources to movement members, foster transnational identities around the movement, and stimulate coordinated attempts to redress problems that transcend state boundaries.
The study will be guided by five key strands of social movement theory to map the international permaculture movement, in all its dynamism and diversity, guided by questions such as…
- What aspirations and grievances inspire the permaculture movement?
- What factors open windows of opportunity for permaculture to spread?
- Who is in the permaculture movement, and why?
- How does the permaculture movement operate at global scale?
- What are the political impacts of the permaculture movement?
The goal is to construct a conceptual map of how the permaculture movement operates at global scale, to help permaculture practitioners and organisations to better facilitate networking, resourcing and collaboration internationally. It is also hoped that through the process of participating in this research project, either as interviewees or as workshop attendees, permaculture practitioners might come to expand their appreciation of their place in the transnational community of permaculture practice and in so doing, turbo-charge the emergent transformative potential of this international network.
During the workshop, I provided an introduction to the research project, then led a small-group discussion with audience members asking them to discuss how they connect with the international permaculture movement. Audience participants were then asked to visualise that connection in pictorial form by drawing a diagram. As a group we then viewed the collected drawings together to decode meaning, identify patterns and interpret our stories as participants in the movement.
In the sustainability transition space, permaculture is demonstrating a methodology of sustainable and regenerative systems design in agricultural, economic and social contexts, drawing on a set ethics and design principles which mimic the organisation and complexity of natural ecosystems. This project will map the relationship between grassroots permaculture projects as an expression of the evolution of environmental movements from protest-based activism against environmental degradation into more holistic projects based on ecological and economic regeneration. As a political practice, permaculture moves beyond traditional activist models to create new economic and social systems that send tangible political, social and market signals to existing institutions and give its practitioners leverage in relation to these structures.
The drawing-based workshop activity is an adaptation from a more expansive research methodology developed by my PhD student Sarah Houseman, who is exploring ecological and horizontal organisational models in her research project. The aim of this method is to provide participants with a tactile means of communicating connections, as well as a means of articulating potentially problematic relationships in a non-confrontational manner. The visual medium can also help the researcher identify patterns across the data set that might not otherwise be obvious from written or spoken responses.
Thank you to audience members for your enthusiastic participation in the collaborative workshop and to the APC14 organisers in Canberra and surrounds for hosting a wonderful event!
If you are a qualified permaculture practitioner (completed a permaculture design course) and would like to participate in this project as an interviewee, you are invited to complete the interview questionnaire and/or contact Dr Benjamin Habib directly to arrange an interview face-to-face or online. I have already interviewed over 40 permaculture practitioners from around the world and would love to hear your story.
TAKE THE INTERVIEW SURVEY:
For more information about this research project, please contact Ben Habib at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to all the wonderful people I interviewed for this project at the Australasian Permaculture Convergence in Canberra, and earlier at the International Permaculture Conference and Convergence in India. It was fascinating and inspiring to hear your stories.
 Kriesberg, Louis. 1997. ‘Social Movements and Global Transformation.’ in Jackie Smith, Charles Chatfield and Ron Pagnucco (eds.), Transnational Social Movements and Global Politics: Solidarity Beyond the State (Syracuse University Press: New York); Snow, David A., and Sarah Soule, A. 2010. A Primer on Social Movements (Norton and Company: New York and London); Tarrow, Sidney. 1994. Power in Movement: Social Movements, Collective Action and Politics (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge); Tilly, Charles. 2004. Social Movements, 1768-2004 (Paradigm Publishers: Boulder and London).