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Does permaculture offer an interesting alternative for human organizations?

Gazi Islam, chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management
Published on
27 September 2018

How can the rise of new farming practices such as permaculture enable us to rethink the organization of society? This innovative question was at the heart of research designed to offer a positive solution to mankind's unprecedented impact on the environment.

 Alternative Visions: Permaculture(1) as Imaginaries of the Anthropocene(2) – Forthcoming in Organizations was published last June in Organization. The research was carried out by Anahid Roux-Rosier, a doctoral student in the philosophy department at Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, Ricardo Azambuja, a professor and researcher at ESC Rennes School of Business, and Gazi Islam, a professor and researcher in organizational sciences at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

Gazi Islam shares with us the results of this research and explains its implications.

Why did you choose to research permaculture as a means to advance human organizations?

Permaculture is not only for agriculture, where it aims to eliminate monoculture. Permaculture is a way of thinking about resources that prioritizes diversity and an environmentally friendly approach. Our research work consisted of theorizing new practices for human organizations on the basis of the permaculture model. We looked at all human organizations from a general perspective and not just economic ones. The goal was to imagine new human relationships that could lead to concrete practices.

Could you explain your research process?

We had to create a map of possible organizational approaches. As a result, we studied scientific literature on the various alternatives offered by permaculture. We observed three general trends that are present to a varying degree in every permaculture initiative.

First, “permaculture as a set of practices” characterizes groups that rely on practices and original materials which enable them to produce in an alternative manner

These individuals generated inventions and innovations through the use of different relationships with various actors. It's a vision that is similar to libertarian and anarchist movements. It's built around small communities that share best practices for healthy farming alternatives. Rather individualist, these types of organizations have still managed to develop shared knowledge. Politically speaking, this trend creates decentralized organizations which are connected through networks.

Second, “permaculture as a holistic life philosophy” reflects groups in which a harmonious vision between man and earth prevail.

It's almost a Rousseauist vision of the world, from which emanates ideas of purity and a return to the innocence that prevailed before the modern world. It's an almost religious and transcendental organizational structure in which the system must be revered. The relationship to earth (hence the link with permaculture) enables participants to find meaning in their work. In political terms, this trends proffers a collective and idealist vision that is in contrast with the "permaculture as a set of practices" trend.

Third, "permaculture as an intersectional movement" represents groups that are led by a political agenda which aims to resist systems and major corporations.

Instead of being individualist, this trend brings political action that unites various movements such as worker's movements, feminism, native movements (African Americans and Native Americans for example). Interculturality plays a central role. The trend offers a political vision of permaculture.

What major societal questions are revealed by your research?

Many approaches derived from permaculture are springing up around the world. As emerging movements, they bring up many questions. The "débroussailleurs" approach is very concrete and practical. It offers solutions for inherent problems in the global warming crisis. However, it's too individualistic to create large scale, practical alternatives. The second, Rousseauist approach can foster general mobilization. And the third trend, which favors “intersectionality”, can open the door to dialogue and exchanges around alternative practices.

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