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Social ecology is a philosophy developed by Murray Bookchin in the 1960s.
It holds that present ecological problems are rooted in deep-seated social problems, particularly in dominatory hierarchical political and social systems. These have resulted in an uncritical acceptance of an overly competitive grow-or-die philosophy. It suggests that this cannot be resisted by individual action such as ethical consumerism but must be addressed by more nuanced ethical thinking and collective activity grounded in radical democratic ideals. The complexity of relationships between people and with nature is emphasised, along with the importance of establishing social structures that take account of this.
The philosophy's "social" component comes from its position that nearly all of the world's ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems. Conversely, social ecologists maintain, present ecological problems cannot be clearly understood, much less resolved, without resolutely dealing with problems within society. 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.
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 domination between people. The domination of nature is seen as a product of domination within society, but 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 manâ¦ But it was not until organic community relation â¦ 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. â¦ The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital
âBookchin, Murray, Post Scarcity Anarchism, p.24â25
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 communalism.
Since the founding of Social Ecology its evolution has been considerable. Now it is involved in research and instruction and âIs informed by and contributes to knowledge in the social, behavioral, legal, environmental, and health sciences. Social Ecology faculty apply scientific methods to the study of a wide array of recurring social, behavioral, and environmental problems. Among issues of long-standing interest in the School are crime and justice in society, social influences on human development over the life cycle, and the effects of the physical environment on health and human behavior. While the field of ecology focuses on the relationships between organisms and their environments, social ecology is concerned with the relationships between human populations and their environments.â
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