What is Social Permaculture?

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Social Permaculture is concerned with applying Permaculture ethics and directives in order to create designs integrated into natural and social contexts.  Social behavior, economy, and communities are all linked to Social Permaculture, as it encompasses the ethic of ‘People Care’.


It is anchored in the patterns of flowing resources, the flow of information, and how these attend to the needs of the living elements. The novelty of Social Permaculture is the integration into our Human-centric systems of the ecosystemic functions that Nature relies upon; we also look at collaboration and competition as both being required, for the benefit of the system and its individual elements. 

The (human) skills needed for Social Permaculture are basic: communication, collaboration, transparency, empathy, trust, etc.; the difference in approach comes from the patterns we follow and the scale at which they are applied, as well as the ethics that guide us.


Understanding (Human) Nature


When trying to understand who we are, where we came from, and figure out exactly where we’re heading, it is important to state that the Human species is itself an integral part of complex ecosystems. The infinite number of subparts of this ecosystem inhabit the Biosphere of Planet Earth, itself situated in conditions favorable to life, in very diverse iterations.

Just as the biosphere came to be in its current iteration as the sum of multiple complex phenomena, on physical, chemical, and biological levels, human beings too are part of a series of life events.


With the aid of scientific advances and technology, we can trace a certain chronology of the events being referenced here; but the story of Evolution is not simply a sum of events, nor is it a linear story. For the sake of classification and of facilitating understanding, mankind has divided sciences into multiple branches, and none of these disciplines tell the whole story, no matter how accurate they are in describing phenomena from a physical, chemical, or biological point of view. These systems of references are merely indicators for tracking complex eco-systemic events, of which Humans are merely a part of and not the creators.

The instruments with which we measure Oxygen levels, speed, volume, or anything else for that matter, are simply tools to assist global comprehension.

What Social Permaculture brings is a holistic view of the pattern relationships between humans, plants, animals, and other forms of life, as well as patterns of Geology, Water, Social Sciences, etc. The focus is on those patterns that include us, but humans are not placed at the center of “everything”.


Social Permaculture aims to look at how to fulfil the needs of Humans, on multiple levels (physical, psychological, social etc), all while respecting the three major ethics of Permaculture: Earth care, People care, and Future care.

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Social Permaculture starts with yourself


As referenced in another blog entry (read more about How to start in Permaculture: https://vinepermaculture.com/how-to-start-in-permaculture/), your Permaculture journey begins from where you are.

Permaculture, as a Design science, is essentially a toolbox to help you assess and apply beneficial pattern relationships between the elements of systems. And that holds true about yourself, as a living Human being that has needs, a personal history, and a current trajectory, which is shaped and influenced by previous experiences. 


There is a need for curiosity, which Permaculture aims to direct towards the past, the present, and also the future, with the sole purpose of finding what fits and what works.

There are no right or wrong concepts in Permaculture; the point of view held is that your current life situation is essentially a stage in a greater series of (life) events. What is important, however, is that your assessment is as correct as possible so that you know where you stand; the tools being used aim at finding the correct pattern combinations, from the present moment onwards. 

As Permaculture is a social science as well, there might be a need for yourself to receive help from others, and bring in techniques and approaches from other fields; that can come in the form of knowledge, support, counseling or other physical or social resources that are relevant to your situation.

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Work from (your) zone 00 outwards


When applying Design to your site, it starts with your home, with your Zone 0. In the Social Permaculture framing, we also take into consideration your own zoning: you are surrounded by other people, by other living and non-living elements. Your relationship to these elements needs to follow natural patterns that are mutually beneficial, and Permaculture aims at using any tools that are necessary for you. It doesn’t have to be new tools or tools restricted only to Permaculture settings. On the contrary: Permanent Culture is all about supporting you, and supplying your needs in a regenerative manner.


You might have to start with taking classes on the soil, about how to cultivate plants or raise animals; but in parallel, just as much attention should be given to yourself. Yoga, meditation or spiritual practices, Non-Violent Communication, or other holistic modalities that aim at physical and psychological balance are to be employed, to the extent that they attend to your needs.

Even technology or other tools can and should be incorporated into your life if they are used while respecting the three core values of Permaculture. When designing your project, the elements you aim to include, at term, are not necessarily the ones you start with; the concept of Succession, as observed in Nature, helps put the focus on the tools and resources you have in the present. They shouldn’t be discarded, just because they’re not part of the Vision. They are a part of yourself, or of your environment now, in the now; what will take you forward is accepting them, and changing them as you yourself evolve.


Fractal patterning – what happens outside of yourself, is a mirror of what is inside


As philosophical as this sounds, there is a certain level of truth to this statement; just as the Universe is made of a number of patterns that shape both energy and matter, the Human being also replicates a number of patterns that are visible both inside and outside.

But the resemblance of patterns is not reserved to visible shapes, it encompasses behavior and mindset as well.


A few examples of patterns of beliefs that are expressed in how we shape our environment:


      • monoculture of annual crops is synonymous with the age of obsoleteness, where objects and services are only useful for a limited amount of time

      • just as religious beliefs place humans on top of a trophic pyramid, as the ultimate expression of creation, so too do we see our food crops, our favorite trees, or other valuable objects and symbols as unique occupants of a “space”; we look to eliminate “competition” at any price, failing to see how all living beings are symbiotic by nature

      • as our mindset is set on short terms goals and profit, we have come to regard natural resources as means to a (nearsighted) end; 

      • what is considered “work” from a legal point of view, is associated with what is valuable to the “economy”, and not as it relates to needs

      • our obsessions to be “on top”, to dominate or to be seen, dominate our mindsets to such an extent that we place our dwellings in the most unwelcoming places – a hilltop, the ocean shore, or in inefficient patterns (multistoried buildings, skyscrapers, etc); no matter how much these elements deteriorate due to inappropriate design, or fail to meet our true needs, we still persist in these pattern behaviours

    However, Permaculture does not propose ignoring the knowledge, or ignoring the technological advances that allow us to undertake such unproductive behaviours; what we advocate is a redesign of how, where, and with what resources we live our lives, and reintegrating Nature and natural patterns in our existence.

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    Accept feedback and favour small-scale solutions


    An important aspect of Permaculture Design is that we mostly favour solutions and techniques that are available on a small scale, free of patents and are as close to Nature as possible. Nature doesn’t hold copyrights over its abundance and its processes; working with natural cycles and resources allows anyone to use them while adapting to the environment and to that person’s needs. 

    There is a democratic aspect to Permaculture, as its toolbox is meant for the people, for the best interest of people. And who better to decide that, than the people themselves? A Permanent Culture is not one that comes from an authority, but it stems from the inside. Social Permaculture focuses on our needs, our imagination, and our educated intuition, aiming to empower individuals.


    From these interactions, we gauge what our actions lead to, and how they align with other realities; it is not a rigid model, on the contrary – our full expression is encouraged. Our capacity to change our behavior, from one moment to the next, is rather limited; but looking back three weeks, half a year, or even a decade, we can observe an arc that consists of an infinite amount of incremental changes that we bring to the “existing model”.

    This is our true Nature: to honor and improve upon our ancestral heritage; both in biological terms as a species, but also as an expression of life events integrated into the larger Ecosystems. The tools needed are amazingly simple: our hands, our feet, our eyes, our hearts, and our imagination; tools and other technologies, made available to all, are meant to empower us on this journey.

    Social Permaculture has its place as a unifying system of skills, practices, and tools; the path it leads us on is one of acceptance and integration.


    Continue reading: Crystal’s journey in Permaculture: https://vinepermaculture.com/my-permaculture-journey-crystal-heier/



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