Original Ouptut Design

Liberation Permaculture: Design Frameworks for Social Justice

Purpose: This project aims to explore if and how permaculture can be applied to social struggle, not just in the forms of creating new ways of living but in challenging oppressive systems. Liberation permaculture explores if permaculture can offer tools towards ending all forms of domination.

Please find a link to the full output plan here.

Current Patterns

One way I designed this output was by asking what are my current project patterns? Urgent or important?

I realised the main stumbling block to my decision making was that of the strategic pathway I would take in relation to my desire for social change. It was clear my organising patterns were 'setting the stage' for my life. Current patterns included:

*The start of a anti-fracking coalition in Somerset
*My increasing feeling of disillusionment with some of my projects & an intensive return to anarchist reading, thinking and analysis in response
*Reading about systems analysis
*Challenges at work questioning its effectiveness & my own role and discomfort at being a 'professional' organiser
*Planning my MSc and long term life designing
*Increasing anxiety about coming 'off-license' and my future role in the animal liberation movement
*Organising with various other groups and projects
*My inertia at designing Brook End for the long term due to indecisions about my pathway (due to community organising confusion)
*My patterns of self-care & burn out related to organising

Common (constructive) criticisms of permaculture

Permaculture & wider social change:

- We must do more than contribute to the spread of permaculture - must locate permaculture within a wider campaign of radical social change
- Fundamental economic, political & cultural change is essential & without these permaculture will be of no significance even if it flourishes
- Only aiming to spread permaculture knowledge is not sufficient
- Most permaculture literature does not reinforce the impression that fundamental change is necessary (rather individual behaviour/lifestyle changes dominate)

From an 'anti-civilization' perspective there are further criticisms:

- Permaculture does not encompass a world view change away from civilisation (which is recognised by many as roots of oppression)
- Still promotes agricultural viewpoint/land management vs relationships with other than humans
- Permaculture serves as a way of 'saving civilisation'/ensuring continuation of dominant power structures as it does not explicitly challenge them

Others, including some from my own observations:

- Permaculturalists generally have a relatively privileged position in society & the yields are not often shared beyond a white, middle class bubble. There also seems to be little attempt to challenge this within permaculture organisations.
- There is a strong avoidance of political analysis - many simply want to work on 'positive projects' as they do not like confrontation, however this results in a total lack of genuine radical critique
- Once many are empowered by permaculture design this impact does often not translate further than their own gardens or farms
- General lack of attention & critique to power relationships in systems & in power structures of societies
- Limited exploration to the barriers of why permaculture is not more widely implemented e.g. access to land, inequalities
- The invisibility to animal oppression & the perpetuation of speciest/domineering mindsets


- There also some useful analyses of the transition movement (heavily influenced by permaculture) e.g. transition towns are based on the idea that communities can create different systems, but this is only possible if the malignant forces & entrenched power that people have been struggling ageist for hundreds of years are recognised, challenged, and TTs become a political force for change (2) vs becoming an appendix to the state or preserving pockets of sustainability for the privilege few.

Community Food Movement

My challenging of permaculture and agroecology has also extended to the vibrant community food movement, which has some wonderful yields while at the same time posing little threat to the corporate food system. The most succicent quote relating to this is from the cookbook, 'Another Dinner is Possible':

"Many of these community food projects present us with amazing opportunities to collectively make our lives better, more sustainable, meaningful & interesting. However without a context of explicitly addressing & challenging the global exploitative food system as a whole they are basically reinforcing privilege. The system will not change because a few of us eat better."

Principles of Liberation Permaculture

  • Places permaculture in a wider context of social change
  • Observes power relationships & structures within systems
  • Recognises oppression as part of 'people care' & aims to consciously design oppressive practices and mindsets out of systems for the risk of otherwise perpetuating them
  • Works in solidarity with multitudinous social struggles, indigenous peoples & ecological resistance movements
  • Ensures yields are shared across genders, races, classes, ages and so forth & challenge privilege consciously reducing inequalities
  • Supports the regeneration of our landbases without exploitative relationships and rejects speciesm and the domination of nonhumans
  • Places re-skilling in a context of increasing autonomy and self-determination
  • Takes a 'beyond our backyards' approach working for ecosystem & community restoration on broader scales than beyond home gardens
  • Practitoners use observation and intelligent ecological design principles to inform decision making in all areas of life, not just farms but organisations and movements
  • Places permaculture in the context of rebuilding land based cultures rather than 'fitting in' or mainstreaming into capitalist & oppressive societies
  • Uses the practical applications of permaculture e.g. food growing, cleaning water, to genuinely improve people's lives beyond that of a privileged few.
  • Practitioners practice mutual aid for collective living  and design systems that maximise power and relationship building within communities.
  • Ultimately liberation permaculture is about 'obtaining a yield', by addressing root causes of systematic dysfunction.

"You cannot control a system. You can only design & re-design" - Donella Meadows

The Not for Profit Industrial Complex

The 'not for profit industrial complex' is a term I came across when reading articles about radical community organising. Below are key observations that have surfaced and most of these come from the book The Revolution will not be funded. Beyond the non-profit industrial complex. Edited by Incite! Women of colour against violence, as well as my own experiences.

This area of attention in this output period has come about through my own discomfort and challenges through my 'professional' organising. In October 2011 after volunteering for a few months one day a week with a local food charity in Somerset, one of the two workers was due to take maternity leave and her position came available. I was successful at interview and so began my first job as a paid organiser, doing 17.5hrs a week on a salary that would have taken me previously nearly 60 hours a week to achieve when working in social care.

Prior to the position I was 'signing on' for state benefits, about £53 per week, needless to say I was over the moon to get the job and finally be out of the dole queue! However it has generated a number of feelings & concerns:

- Coping with privilege when my friends and partners are either on benefits or generally low-waged labour. It felt like I'd been ascended to the middle classes in this crazy 'third sector' of not for profit organisations delivering projects for as long as their funding lasts.
- Being paid while working with unpaid volunteers - how would I relate to people who do work for free within the charity? Why is there such as lack of grassroots energy (because its never been our role to organise with them)?
- Being politically silenced - Not long into the job I sent an email on our networks email discussion list publicising an event for Reclaim the Fields - it was a national gathering with lots of opportunities for networking, skill sharing and movement building for access to land (I work on an access to land project). I was discretely told very promptly that this was inappropriate as we may risk breaking the rules of our funders. Despite my colleague putting out all sorts of emails, it was a definite push at me due to my anarchist background. I've been told a number of times that we can't be 'political' despite working in complex political situations concerning land & inequalities.
- Being witness to the grant chasing - that is groups competing with each other over small pots of money, or totally redesigning their groups or projects to simply chase large sources of funding.
- On a personal level getting paid to organise has meant loosing time on other grassroots projects and a slight uncomfortableness about my paid/unpaid edges
- Organising in completely 'politically neutral' contexts when the food system is massively political, exploitative and a play of power relationships. We cannot fear challenging this for fear of loosing funding!
- The total focus on building organisational power e.g. the brand, press coverage, the plaque on funded projects - rather than building movements are actually achieving long term social change

On the one hand having a living has enabled me to access courses & education opportunities, travel to shows, see friends and generaly enjoy life in comparison to years of economic struggle and compromise. I have felt honoured and my skills recognised and feel I have made the best use of funding to build a grassroots network anyhow! So as you can see it has been a whirlwind of feedback pushing my edges in all directions.

Summary of the Not for Profit Industrial Complex

Not for Profit Industrail complex: "a set of symbiotic relationships that link political and financial technologies of state and owning class control with surveillance over public political ideology, including and espe- cially emergent progressive and leftist social movements." - Dylan Rodriguez

- capital interests & the state use non-profits to monitor & control social justice movements
- divert public money into private hands through foundations
- manage & control dissent
- redirect activist energies into career based modes of organising vs mass based grassroots organising
- allow corporations/big business to mask/greenwash their exploitative practices & ultimately many funds arise from exploitated labour/ecological harm
- encourage social movements to model themselves after capitalist structures rather than to challenge them
- grant bodies are unregulated, unaccountable concentrations of power
- create modes of organising that are unsustainable (e.g. when funding ends)
- create a culture that is non-collaborative, narrowly focused & competitive
- efforts are placed on organisational preservation vs social change
- organisations will continuously need to act reactively for funding streams & planning, monitoring & strategizing is dictated & imposed by the funder e.g. constant need to show 'outcomes', 'buff up effectiveness' vs actually being effective
- Constant need for grant applications/ corporate management drains from grassroots capacity building work
- NPIC has persuaded us that we cannot do our work without their money & their systems (capitalism's/privilaged elite)
- The careerism attracts educated professionals rather than those passionate about issues or embedded in communities
- Fundraising is seen as a distinct or specialist activity rather than a way to build membership/grassroots support
- NFPs ultimately provide a buffer for resistance to the state & prevention of radical social change