Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

INSTRUCTOR Gideon Kossoff (gkossoff@andrew.cmu.edu)
TA: Peter Cederberg
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Tuesdays, 6.40–8.30 pm, via Zoom

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About This Course

Ecoliteracy challenges the specialisation and siloization that is norm in contemporary education and research, drawing on science, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and the humanities. It means thinking and living contextually — asking that we learn to ‘inhabit’ the places we live in, our communities and ecosystems, whether these are urban or rural. It means understanding how principles such as self-organization and participation, diversity and pluralism, interdependence and synergy could be woven into the fabric of everyday life. And it is to understand the dynamic, participatory and creative nature of wholeness and to be able to use this insight in any pursuit. Ecoliteracy gives a critical lens through which to view current norms, in politics, society, economics, psychology, culture and technology, and it suggests alternatives in which communities at all levels of scale are empowered, equitable, sustainable and in control of their destinies.

Spanning 15-weeks, this doctoral and master’s seminar class focuses on key themes of ecoliteracy. It goes more deeply into many of the topics touched on in the mindset and posture aspect of the Carnegie Mellon University Transition Design seminar, transitiondesignseminarcmu.net, and serves as an introduction to transition design. This course is delivered in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University, but instructors from other universities are welcome to use it as a resource. If you do this, it would be greatly appreciated if you let Gideon Kossoff (gkossoff@andrew.cmu.edu) know, and provide feedback.

Topics

Place and Bioregions

Goethean Science

Living Systems and Gaia

Relationality and context

Radical holism

Everyday life and infrastructure

Course Overview and Structure

Course Format
Because of the situation with COVID-19, this class will be delivered online via Zoom. A Zoom link which will work for all the Ecoliteracy classes will be sent to students. Various discussion styles, including some small group discussions, will be used and students will be invited to pose questions/discussion points on a Google doc the night before class.

The Five Assignments
Students will undertake five individual assignments in the online platform MIRO that will require work outside class. Each student will be given a MIRO board on which all five assignments are developed. Whilst students will be undertaking their assignments separately, they are encouraged to ‘visit’ each other’s MIRO board, and share their research findings.

Ecoliteracy is contextualized knowledge, and the immmediate contexts for our lives are the places in which we live. The course assignments are therefore intended as an introduction to the principles of ecoliteracy as they are revealed in a place and bioregion that each student has a particularly strong connection to. The five assignments are: 1) Meeting and ‘mapping ‘your’ place; 2) Mapping the bioregional characteristics of your place; 3) Mapping the indigeneity of place; 4) Diagnosing the ‘pathologies’ of place; 5) Re-envisioning place.

The place researched and explored by each student may be in an urban or rural situation, it may be where she/he/they lives, has lived, or has spent some time. Employing principles of ecoliteracy— self-organization, interdependence, diversity, wholeness and so forth, the assignments ask each student to examine: what this place means to them and how they resonate with it; the ecological features of the place (flora, fauna, topography, watershed) and how these have shaped, and been shaped by, human endeavors; the practices and artefacts that enabled people in the past to live in this place sustainably; the consequences of the disinhabation of this place, of the disconnection of practices, artefacts, lifestyles from ecosystems, communities and environments; and what it might look like, from multiple perspectives (psychological, ecological, political, economic, social) if the place were ‘reinhabited’ by an ecoliterate population.

All assignments will be completed in Miro and exported as high-quality PDFs via CMU Box. Course schedule and content will be updated on a regular basis so please check the appropriate class page prior to each class.

The Readings
This seminar is comprised of one weekly class that last one hour and fifty minutes, rather than the more common arrangement for seminars of two classes per week, each an hour and twenty minutes. For this reason, students are expected to spend a greater amount of time between seminars reading course material than would be required for most seminar classes.

Each class in this course has a section below it with a list of required and supplemental readings. Readings may change slightly throughout the semester, so please do not download the entire box at once. Check back frequently to look for changes and updates. (External educationalists who are unable to access these texts should contact us directly at gkossoff@andrew.cmu.edu and a link will be sent to them).

Special Requirements Due to COVID-19
Due to the pandemic, the university is making several recommendations and there are new guidelines to review. Each student should follow the links below and fully familiarize themselves with these new guidelines that will be in place until further notice.

Building an Ecoliteracy Library

And now for something completely different…(that may be very helpful in your assignments)

Course Objectives and Learning Outcomes

An understanding of the concept of ‘the domination of nature’ and how this has shaped socio-technical systems and the Western way of life.

An understanding of the importance of a place based approach to ecoliteracy, the various kinds of objective and subjective approaches to research through which we can learn about particular places, and of the some of the consequences of Westernized society’s disconnection from place.

A familiarity with the Goethean, phenomenological approach to understanding natural phenomena: the distinction between counterfeit and authentic wholes and the Goethean method for coming to know plants and animals. An understanding of core concepts in Goethean science such as metamorphosis, multiplicity in unity and intrinsic relatedness, and of the connection between human creativity and (from a Goethean perspective) and creativity in the More-Than-Human World.

A familiarity with various approaches to understanding place including personal reflections, creative work, bioregional mapping, and research into local cultures and history. A familiarity with the key ideas of bioregionalism such as reinhabitation and living-in-place and an understanding of the relevance of living systems theory and Goethean science to these.

A familiarity with the key features of living systems theory such as self-organization, interdependence, autopoesis, holarchy, emergence and resilience, and, relatedly, with Gaia theory.

An understanding of the concept of ‘relationality’ as it pertains to the human and ‘More-Than-Human world, a familiarity with relational ontologies of non-Western cultures, and with some of the consequences of the non-relational ontology of the West.

A familiarity with the use of the philosophy of holism in social theory and why historically it has been so problematic, and an understanding of how the principles of ecoliteracy renew this holistic approach, and what its implications are for the organisation of human affairs and everyday life.

A familiarity with a range of approaches to design which are informed in varying degrees by principles of ecoliteracy. These include permaculture and agroecology, living machines, biomimcry and circular economies.

An understanding of some of the implications of ecoliteracy for how ‘self’ and ‘psyche’ are defined and a familiarity with contemporary speculations concerning panpsychism and the connection between Gaia theory and traditional notions of ‘word soul’.

Close-up of assigment template in Miro

About the Five Assignments

Miro templates have been designed for each of the assignments and form a long, continuous canvas or “polyptych” in which a deepening and diverse representation of a particular place unfolds. The canvas has been created with five separate boards so that each assignment can be exported as a high-resolution PDF and submitted for a grade. Students are encouraged to make connections between the different sections and try to achieve a rich, continuous and layered “portrait of place.”

Visual Vocabulary: Students are encouraged to use a variety of media with which to create their boards that is both visual and verbal. Combinations of images, drawings, diagrams, sketches as well as typography (remember to make it legible and ‘hierarchy’ is your friend in information design). MIRO lets you create shapes with colors, add comments/talk bubbles and connecting lines to create clarity, connect elements and variety. Think of each board as part of one long, informative composition. The “parts” need to work separately as well as together. As you undertake each new assignment, reflect on previous ones and add/map connections back to them where relevant. The internet will be a rich resource for you, but please include photo credits, references and hyperlinks to more information when relevant — this can greatly enrich your work.

We would like to treat these assignments as if they were being undertaken in a studio environment where students continually interact with each other and discuss the work in progress. For this reason, all students will be members of each other’s boards and will be encouraged to peruse them, leave comments and make connections. Watching these diverse “ecoliterate portraits of place” emerge and develop will be part of all of our collective learning. Instructions for each assignment as well as various “prompts” have been included on the template, but may be moved out of the way to create more room for sketching and research materials. For purposes of consistency, we ask that you do not change the size/proportion of the boards and at the conclusion of each assignment, export the board as a high-resolution PDF.

In addition to the assignment templates, we have also created a community board that we are calling the Ecoliteracy Coffee Table. This takes the place of the interstitial moments we would have if we were on campus: having a coffee together, going out to lunch/dinner, having impromptu discussions in the hallway or walking across campus. These are times and places where we exchange information, learn more about each other and simply share experiences. We encourage everyone to begin populating this space and even more importantly, making connections between the contributions. We’ve created some areas for different types of information but encourage students to do the same. We hope this board will grow and evolve over the course of the semester and tell its own type of story in contrast and compliment to the storyboards of place.

Submitting the assignments for a grade: on the due date for each assignment, each student should export their board in MIRO as a high-definition PDF and place it in the course DropBox, clearly labeled with their name and the assignment number: Students should feel free to continue to work on the assignments after the due date to integrate further discoveries, reflection or to create visual connections among the different assignments. Submit assignments to this drop box (link)

Course Requirements and Grading

Your grade is based upon the following:

  • Participation in class discussions & exercises: 50%
  • Assignments: 50% (each assignment: 10%)

Details of these 5 assignments can be found on your MIRO boards and in the course Medium page.

Participation in Class Discussion and Assignments
Participation is evaluated on the basis of students’ overall presence/posture, engagement in discussions & exercises, assessment of how prepared they are, how well the material is understood and students’ ability to relate it to ecoliteracy, how well students are able to build upon the ideas introduced in both the readings and the discussion and willingness to engage fully in the class. Successful participation involves taking up postures of speculation vs. certainty, learning to ‘dance’ with and build upon others’ ideas (as opposed to entering a debate or proving the other person wrong), being willing to change one’s mind, listening as opposed to ‘waiting to talk’, being generous and encouraging everyone to speak up and participate, not dominating the conversation, speaking clearly and loudly enough for all to hear.

Given that the course is online (Zoom) and we are trying to cultivate a sense of community, please keep your video on during class (unless you have problems with internet bandwith) and please remember to mute your microphone when you are not speaking.

Office Hours

Attendance

Absences of any kind are strongly discouraged as your learning and work will be adversely affected by the information and activities you miss. Be punctual, arriving just before class begins, so we can start on time. If you are fifteen minutes late you will be marked as absent. Two absences may cause your final grade to drop a letter. The number of accepted absences for most courses in the School of Design is six. Since, however,this class only meets half as many times as is the norm (15 classes instead of 30) students may earn a failing grade if they are absent for more than three classes. Please email the TA if you are technical issues are making you unable to join the class.

Please schedule doctor’s appointments, interviews, etc. for times other than class sessions. Interviews and conferences are not considered valid reasons for missing the class and will be counted as absences. In the event that you encounter a health or life issue that requires you to miss class please notify us as soon as possible to provide an idea of the severity of your illness/issue and the length of time needed for recovery so that we, and other university resources if needed, can support your successful learning and completion of work.

Note again that attending conferences and job interviews do not count as excused absences.

Diversity Statement

Each of us is responsible for creating a safer, more inclusive environment.

Unfortunately, incidents of bias or discrimination do occur, whether intentional or unintentional. They contribute to creating an unwelcoming environment for individuals and groups at the university. Therefore, the university encourages anyone who experiences or observes unfair or hostile treatment on the basis of identity to speak out for justice and support, within the moment of the incident or after the incident has passed. Anyone can share these experiences using the following resources:

All reports will be documented and deliberated to determine if there should be any following actions. Regardless of incident type, the university will use all shared experiences to transform our campus climate to be more equitable and just.

Student Wellness and Well-being

Accomodations for students with disabilities

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

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FOUNDATIONS OF ECOLITERACY
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Nature is comprised of “holarichies” or systems in which semi-autonomous “wholes” are nested within other “whole” in…..(rewrite)

CLASS 1: Introduction to Ecoliteracy: The Domination of Nature

The term ‘ecoliteracy’ was first developed by environmentalist David Orr in the early 1990s to describe an understanding of “the earth and how it works” and to live accordingly. He argued that such knowledge needs to be fed into all disciplines, although ecoliteracy itself transcends specialisms, and requires an ability “to assess the health of our environments [through] intimate knowledge”, a sense of place, and a feeling of kinship with the non-human as well as the human (biophilia).

In particular, Orr draws attention, as have others, to Western society’s attempt to dominate, master or conquer nature, which has taken on many forms. Ecoliteracy is the ability, Orr says, “to see things in their wholeness…to see things whole is to see both the wounds we have inflicted on the natural world in the name of mastery and those we have inflicted on ourselves and on our children for no good reason”. This attempt to master or dominate imbues our socio-technical systems, which do this through simplifying or obliterating natural ecosystems, and through untrammelled resource extractivism and never ending economic growth.

The attempt to dominate nature can also be seen in mechanistic and reductionist science and in many academic disciplines, as they objectify, abstract and decontextualize natural phenomena. And the attempt to dominate nature is also implicitly connected to systems of social domination (class, gender, race, age). Therefore to be ecoliterate means not only to develop new kinds of partnerships with the more-than-human world (as, for example, in ‘deep ecology’) but also (as in ‘social ecology’) to challenge social hierarchies of all kinds.

Read Prior to Class

  • Orr, David (1991) Ecological Literacy in Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Post-Modern World. SUNY, New York. pp.85–95
  • Merchant, Carolyn (1990) Mechanism as Power in The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. Harper, New York. pp. 216–235
  • Lent, Jeremy (2017) To Command the World in The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY. pp. 27–30 and 277–292

Supplemental Reading

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THE ECOLITERATE SELF
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Leon Kossoff, Willesden Junction: Morning in October, 1971

CLASS 2 : Encountering Place

Modern society has in many ways become alienated from ‘place’ — the emergent and unique character of particular areas that arise out of the interaction between local ecosystems, histories, cultures, built environments and social practices: places are made not given, and the diminishment of place in the modern world has had many problematic consequences. Most of our socio-technical systems are highly centralized and have been developed without consideration for the unique characteristics of the particular places in which they are located. Globalization has exacerbated this tendency of the modern era to override local social and ecological conditions and place-based lifestyles and cultures. The result is that everyday life has lost, or is losing, its ‘placefulness’; we are coming to live in a homogenized world of decontextualized lifestyles, with a one-size fits all approach to designing, manufacturing, building, growing food, supplying energy etc.

The recovery of place and our intimate connection with the places in which we live has been a core concern of ecoliteracy: it advocates the study and recapture of place-based ‘ways of knowing’, analogous to that of indigenous and many pre-industrial peoples, that can inform the satisfaction of people’s needs at the regional and local scale. To be sustainable, in the broadest ecological, social, cultural sense of the word, our lifestyles need become place-based: place must be the context within which the principles of ecoliteracy are realized, if it is to be more than another abstract and disembodied form of knowledge.

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Reading

  • Massey, Doreen (2000) Space, Place and Gender in J. Rendell et al (eds.) Gender, Space, Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Introduction. Routledge, London. pp.128–133
  • Harvey, David (1993) From Space to Place and Back Again in J.Bird et al (eds) Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change. Routledge, London. pp. 292–326
  • Lippard, Lucy (1998) The Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multicentred Society. New Press, NY. pp.4–19 and pp.32–37 & pp.54–59
  • Porteous, J. Douglas and Smith, Sandra: Home: A Landscape of the Heart in Domicide: The Global Destruction of Home. McGill Queens. McGill Queens, Montreal, pp. 24–63

Assignment # 1 : Meeting & Mapping “Your” Place

The five assignments will provide you with an opportunity to study and know your place from many different perspectives that can be informed by a variety of different types of exploration. This first assignment however asks you to portray what you already know or feel about the place you’ve selected to work with. Therefore, the images, words, drawings and sketches that you assemble to create your first place board.

People have used countless ways, over history to portray the aspects, meaning, characteristics and essence of place. Some of the ways you might choose to engage are listed below, but you may think of others.

  1. You might write a brief essay or statement about the place you are portraying. think about how to integrate it well with the other elements on your board. This might be a memory, description of the place or a single event.
  2. You might choose to do a drawing or sketch of a memory, experience, event or event what you know of the history of the place.
  3. You could integrate photographs that you have taken of the place or the people in that place and add notation, drawings, diagrams to enhance the meaning or description
  4. You might draw a map or diagram of the place or an aspect of the place to help explain it. This could be enhances with photos or other media.

The result of this multi-media, multi-perspectival representation will be a kind of “mood board” of place, filled with “fragments” of meaning, that together, create an impression of place that others can connect with.

You might choose to use a different vocabulary/style/approach for each assignment, or you might choose to create one long-coherent mural and treat the vocabulary and composition as a “whole”. Imagine that this is the first panel of a complete creation that might be displayed in an exhibition about place. What would make it arresting? What are the primary things it should communicate about your place? Although you will turn this assignment in approximately 2 weeks from now, you will still be free to make changes and evolve the panel in concert with the others in order to create the finished “portrait of place”. Remember one of the most important principles of making a compelling visual/verbal piece of communication like this is to vary the size/scale of elements. Instructors will be monitoring your progress and will leave comments and feedback in the form of talk bubbles as you progress with the 5 assignments.

Due Date: September 28th
Each student has been assigned a Box folder into which pdfs of assignments can be uploaded.

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Different aspects of the wholeness of the oak tree is revealed through each of its parts

CLASS 3 : Encountering Wholeness

The phenomenological approach to understanding natural phenomena (initiated by the poet scientist Wolfgang Von Goethe and in recent decades developed by others such as the philosopher Henri Bortoft) challenges how we ordinarily think about the relationship between the parts and wholes of organisms and organic systems — plants, animals and ecosystems. We tend to think of wholes and parts of these phenomena in linear relationships to one another — we assume that either their parts precede wholes or wholes precede parts.

This leads to a mechanistic understanding in which the parts are seen to cause wholes, or wholes are seen to cause parts. Goethean science, by contrast, views whole organisms, animals and ecosystems as being immanent in their parts so parts and whole coarise. Each part of a plant, for example — its leaves, stem, flower, roots, fruits and seeds — reveals a different but related aspect of the whole plant as it unfolds over time: we can understand the plant as a whole by coming to ‘dwell’ in each of these parts. But because the plants part unfold sequentially and temporally, its ‘wholeness’ cannot be physically seen but can only be experienced throught the imagination.

Many of the core principles of ecoliteracy — contextualism, relationality, diversity, nestedness, self-organization, emergence and diversity — follow logically from the Goethean approach to understanding the relationship between wholes and parts. Goethean science is therefore not only important in helping us understand the natural world, but also has huge implications for how we think about human affairs and many contemporary issues.

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Reading

  • Kossoff, Gideon(2011) Goethe’s Science of Wholeness in Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life. PhD dissertation, University of Dundee. pp. 73–94

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Goethean Science drawing by Terry Irwin

CLASS 4 : Goethe’s Way of Science

The poet scientist Wolfgang von Goethe maintained that mechanistic and reductionist science, as it was developing in his day, only enabled us to understand natural phenenomena abstractly and in terms of external causation, which is described through mathematical processes and formulae: Goethe sought to develop an approach in which phenomena could be explained in terms of themselves, without decontextualization. Thus, the Newtonian approach explains different colours in terms of varying wavelengths of white light; the Goethean, phenomenological approach explains colour in terms of the dynamic interaction between light and dark. This approach can, through Goethean science’s ‘delicate empiricism’, be applied to plants and animals. This involves an encounter between the ‘Goethean scientist’ and the plant or animal, which allows the latter to reveal itself — its inner logic, wholeness or meaningfulness. Goethean science involves a process of illustration and drawing to help dialogue with the plant or animal, and to come to understand it intuitively and imaginatively.

Goethean science can help us develop a new kind of participatory relationship with the ‘More-than-Human World’ which comes to be seen as meaningful and creative, to develop intuitive faculties that are often neglected, and to experience, in a direct and embodied way, core ecoliteracy principles.

Read Prior to Class

  • Irwin, Terry & Baxter, Seaton (2008) The Dynamical View of Natural Form in C.A Brebbia (ed.) Design and Nature IV. Southampton: WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, vol. 114. pp. 129–138
  • Irwin, Terry (2007) Audit of Goethean Process, available on academia.edu
  • Brady, Ronald (1998) The Idea in Nature in David Seamon and Arthur Zajonc (eds.) Goethe’s Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature. SUNY, Albany, NY. pp. 83–111. Note: for purposes of this class, illustrations have been removed from this reading.
  • Hoffman, Nigel (2007) The Question of Method in Goethe’s Science of Living Form: The Artistic Stages. Adonis Press, Hillsdale, NY.
  • Scott Kimmerer, Robin & Toning, Leah (2016) Two Ways of Knowing: Scientific and Native American Views of the Natural World. Sun Magazine. Available at https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/484/two-ways-of-knowing. Accessed 08/31/20

Supplemental Reading

  • Seamon, David (1998) Goethe, Nature and Phenomenology in David Seamon and Arthur Zajonc (eds.) Goethe’s Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature. SUNY, Albany, 1998, pp.1–6

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ECOLITERACY AND LIVING SYSTEMS
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Photo: Kathleen McLaughlin

CLASS 5 : Bioregionalism & Contextual Lifestyles

Thinking contextually (and understanding what context is) is one of the most important aspects of ecoliteracy: this means acknowledging and responding to the embeddedness of all phenemona — human, artefactual, natural — in infinitely complex webs of relationships and interactions. In healthy systems these webs of relationship are nested, each level at once an whole in its own right and a part of a greater whole.

Westernized (and Westernizing) society, however, has been subject, since the seventeeth century, to what might be called ‘context denial’ and this has, among other things, led to the loss of relatedness to the ecological places in which we live — our bioregions, defined by watersheds, topographies and flora and fauna, local and indigenous cultures and lifeways. This disconnection is both spatial and temporal: we are physically, psychologically, socially and technologically cut off from our surroundings and regional environments, and from seasonal and longer term rythms, patterns and processes. Time and space become abstractions, and this decontextualization leads the degradation of many of the complex webs of relationship upon which our lives depend

Read Prior to Class

  • Toulmin, Stephen (1990) Emergence of Decontextualed Thinking in Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity University of Chicago Press, Chicago. pp.30–36
  • Holdredge, Craig (1996) A Contextual Approach to Plant Hereditary in Genetics and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context. Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, NY. pp. 19–52
  • Aberley, Doug (2008) Building a Bioregional Sustainable Alternative in Judith Plant and Christopher Plant (eds.) Home! A Bioregional Reader New Society, Gabriola Island. pp. 159–60
  • Thomashow, Mitchell (1998) Towards a Cosmopolitan Bioregionalism in Michael Vincent McGinnis (ed.) Bioregionalism. Routledge, New York. pp. 121–132
  • Berg, P. and Dasman, R. (2014) Reinhabiting California in Cheryl Glofelty & Eve Quesnel (eds.) The Biosphere and the Bioregion. Routledge, New York. pp. 35–40
  • Leonard Charles et al (2008) Where You At? A Bioregional Quiz in Judith Plant and Christopher Plant (eds.) Home! A Bioregional Reader. New Society, Gabriola Island, pp. 29–30
  • Sale, Kirkpatrick, King, Angela et al (1993) Bioregional Mapping in Doug Aberley (ed.) Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment. New Society, Gabriola Island. pp. 27–34, pp.51–63
  • Snyder, Gary (1990) Bioregional Perspectives in The Practice of the Wild. North Point Press, San Francisco. pp 37-44

Supplemental Reading

Assignment # 2 : Mapping the Bioregional Characteristics of Place

The bioregional characteristics of your place include environmental components such as geography, climate, ecosystem characteristics (flora/fauna/soil) as well as the way in which human communities in the region interact. What are the economic, cultural, spiritual and political characteristics in the present?

Mapping the bioregion asks students to set aside our habitual ways of thinking about the boundaries of place (national/state/city boundaries, streets, man-made waterways etc.) and look at the “natural” boundaries and characteristics of place. Bioregions are “human” regions, informed by natural, social, economic, political and cultural elements.

There are several texts available in the class Box folder which give step-by-step guidance on to how to begin mapping your bioregion. Doug Aberley, in Building a Bioregional Sustainable Alternative, suggests the following, although you will probably only be able to explore a few of these, and some will pique your interest more than others.

• plant and animal communities

• watersheds

• physiographic regions

• aboriginal territories

• historic and current land use patterns

• psychophysical sites

• cognitive homelands

• climate etc

In contrast to assignment #1 in which you mapped your place from a highly subjective and personal perspective, assignment #2 asks you to take a more objective and research-based approach to understand both the physical and socio-cultural-political aspects of place. The assignment does NOT ask you to mimic a classical bioregional map with color-coded regions, although such a map might be an aspect of your assignment #2 board.

You will find a wealth of both visual and verbal information. Your assignment is to take a curatorial approach to communicating those bioregional aspects that you feel are important within the context of the “whole” (5 assignments) that you are creating over the course of the semester.

Due Date: October 19
Each student has been assigned a Box folder into which pdfs of assignments can be uploaded.

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CLASS 6 : Gaia & Living Systems Theories

Modern society — its institutions, economy, technological systems — has been to a great extent modelled on the machine and organized according to mechanistic principles. By contrast, ecological or organismic principles have been devalued and denigrated. In recent decades, however, the mechanistic world order has begun to crumble whilst living systems theory has a brought a renewed and deepened understanding of how nature works, suggesting new ways of organising human affairs that will allow us to flourish.

To be sustainable, the theorists of ecoliteracy argue, society should be modelled on (or designed analogously to) living systems — from cells and organisms to ecosystems and the planet as a whole — Gaia. This means transcending materialistic and linear modes of thinking, learning and addressing problems, in favour of relationships, connectedness, emergence and nested self-organization, and in terms of flows and cycles of energy and matter, qualities over quantities, and wholes over fragments.

Read Prior to Class

  • Goodwin, Brian (1998) The Edge of Chaos in David Lorimer (ed.) The Spirit of Science: From Experiment to Experience. Floris, Edinburgh. pp. 149–161
  • Capra, Fritjof (1996) Systems Theories in The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. Harper Collins, London. pp. 36–50
  • Capra, Fritjof (2005) Speaking Nature’s Language in Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (eds.)Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco. pp. 19–29
  • Ho, Mae-Wan (1999) The Physics of Organisms in David Lorimer, Chris Clarke et al (eds)Wider Horizons: Explorations in Science and Human Experience. Scientific and Medical Network, Collingsburgh, 1999. pp. 73–79
  • Goerner, Sally (1999) Web Dynamics and the Shape of Life in After the Clockwork Universe: The Emerging Science and Culture of Integral Society. Floris, Edinburgh. pp. 167–178
  • Sahtouris, Elizabeth and Harman, Willis (1998) Autopoiesis and Holarchies in Biology Revisioned. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA. pp. 101–130
  • Peat, F. D. & Briggs, J. (1989) Iterative Magic in Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory & the Science of Wholeness. Harper and Row, New York, pp. 66–77
  • Margolis, Lynn (1996) James Lovelock’s Gaia in Peter Bunyard (ed.)Gaia in Action. Floris Books, Edinburgh. pp. 54–64

Supplemental Reading

  • Peat, F. D. & Briggs, J. (1994) Before Words in Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change. Harper Collins, New York, 1999. pp. 1–10
  • Peat, F. D. & Briggs, J. (1994) Butterfly Power in Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change. Harper Collins, New York, 1999. pp. 37–51
  • Sheldrake, Rupert (1994) The Gaia Hypothesis in The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God. Park Street Press, Rochester, 1994
    pp. 153–157
  • Fellows, Andrew (2019) Gaia & Science in Gaia, Psyche and Deep Ecology: Navigating Climate Change in the Anthropocene. Routledge, Abingdon. pp. 42–67
  • MacAllister, James (2011) Nested Communities in Chimeras and Consciousness. MIT Press, Boston, MA. pp. 91–106
  • Volk, Tyler (2010) How the Biosphere Works in Eileen Crist & H. Bruce Rinker (eds.) Gaia in Turmoil. MIT Press, Boston, MA. pp. 27–40

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Photo: National Geographic

CLASS 7 : Ecology & Relationality

The most widespread image of nature in modern society maintains that survival of the fittest means survival of the most competitive, and that aggressive and ruthless behaviour is dictated by evolutionary pressures. This image of nature mirrors, and has been used to validate, the competitive and individualistic ideology of industrial capitalist (Western) society: just as interactions within and between species in the natural world are said to be “red in tooth and claw”, so too amongst humans who supposedly originate in this bloody melee. This perspective reinforces the view that Nature itself is an enemy that must be conquered.

But a new relational paradigm in which ‘interdependence’ (cooperation, symbiosis, synergy, mutualism) is seen as being fundamental in all realms (the human and the more-than-human) at all levels of scale, from microcosm to macrocosm. Relationality, in its many forms, is not only ubuiquitous in the natural world but is also is a fundamental feature, as demonstrated by many indigenous and non-Westernized communities, of a flourishing society or culture. This emerging relational paradigm has begun to influence the natural and human sciences, many social practices and much grassroots activism.

Read Prior to Class

  • Peat, F. D. & Briggs, J. (1989) Cooperation & Symbiosis in Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory & the Science of Wholeness. Harper and Row, New York, 1989 pp. 155–160
  • Escobar, Arturo (2016) Thinking-Feeling with the Earth in Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, v.11. 1. pp.11–32
  • Spretnak, Charlene (2011) Relational Revelations in Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness that are Transforming the Modern World. Green Horizon Books, Topsham. pp. 1–20
  • Clark, Mary E. (2002) Billiard Ball and Indira’s Net Gestalts in In Search of Human Nature. Routledge, London. pp. 6–12
  • Boff, Leonardo & Hathaway, Mark (2009) Radical Relationality in The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation. Orbis, New York. pp. 177–180
  • Mathews, Freya (2001) Deep Ecology in Dale Jamieson (ed.) A Companion to Environmental Philosophy. Blackwell, Oxford. pp. 218–234

Supplemental Reading

  • Kawagley, Angauyuqaq Oscar (2006) The Yupiaq Worldview in The Yupiaq Worldview: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit. Waveland Press, Long Grove. pp. 7–21
  • Harman, Willis (1999) The Issue Before Us in David Lorimer, Chris Clarke et al (eds) Wider Horizons: Explorations in Science and Human Experience. Scientific and Medical Network, Collingsburgh. pp. 246–257
  • Margulis, Lyn et al (1996) We are all Symbionts in Peter Bunyard (ed) Gaia in Action: Science of the Living Earth. Floris, Edinburgh. pp.167–85
  • Augros, R. & Stanciu, G. (1987) Cooperation in The New Biology: Rediscovering the Wisdom of Nature. Boulder, CO. pp. 89–129.
  • Augros, R. & Stanciu, G. (1987) Harmony in The New Biology: Rediscovering the Wisdom of Nature. Boulder, CO. pp.130–148
  • Ingold, Tim (2000) The Relational Model in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London. pp. 140–151

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ECOLITERATE SOCIETIES
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Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565, Metropolitan Museum of Art (detail)

CLASS 8 : Indigeneity and Place

In contrast with modern society, preindustrial, precapitalist and traditional communities typically developed patterns of inhabitation that were highly contextualized, in terms of their embeddness in their ecosystems (bioregions and seasons) and of their participation in collective imaginaries (traditions, cultures, societal norms). The transition towards a sustainable future requires that we ‘reinhabit’ our places (to use bioregionalist terminology). To do this, we need to learn from such cultures, not to appropriate them, but to gain insight how it has been possible for indigenous cultures to flourish in place over generations, to form reciprocal relationships with its More-Than-Human inhabitants and to develop complex and humane social and cultural forms that are grounded in place specific skills and knowledge.

Required Reading

Supplemental Reading

  • Scott, James (1999) Metis, The Contours of Practical Knowledge. In Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 311–339
  • Soren and Johnson, Jay T. (2017) Being-together-in-place in Being Together in Place: Indigenous Coexistence in a More Than Human World. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. pp. 1–22
  • Tuck, Eve & McKenzie, Marcia (2015) Decolonizing Perspectives on Place in Place in Research. Routledge, London. pp. 48–71
  • Tuck, Eve & McKenzie, Marcia (2015) Indigenous Methods of Critical Place Inquiry in Place in Research. Routledge, London. pp.126–149.
  • Orr, David W (2004) Slow Knowledge. In The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp 35–42

Assignment # 3 : Mapping the Indigeneity of Place

To begin, each student is asked to look at the history of their place and ask “who lived here before the industrial era, and, where relevant, before colonization and before the dispossession of indigenous populations? What were the patterns of inhabitation and how did they change over time? Were they ‘ecoliterate’ and were they living in a symbiotic/reciprocal/ sustainable relationship with the natural world? How did they meet their needs in place? What were their creation myths? What were the characteristics of their socio-ecological-economic-technological-political systems?

This assignment will require that students undertake historical research about their place from a variety of internet based sources. In addition to local history, students might consider anthropological texts as well as those that address pre-industrial societies’ approach to building, bartering, food systems, craft and design. In particular try to find examples of ‘ecoliteracy’ within the indigenous and pre-modern societies, over long periods of time/generations. At what point did the peoples inhabiting your place begin to be ‘eco-illiterate’? What accounted for this loss of knowledge and the inability to live sustainably in place? What were the early signs of eco-illiteracy?

This board should primarily focus on aspects of ‘ecoliteracy’ rather than ‘eco-illiteracy’ (the latter is the focus of Assignment #4). You should try to portray every aspect that characterized the ecoliterate societies that once inhabited your place. The research conducted in this assignment will likely stand in contrast to the next assignment, but could also provide clues and ideas for the completion of Assignment #5: Re-envisioning place.

Research conducted for this assignment may deepen and change your ideas about what constitutes ‘ecoliteracy’ and students are encouraged to integrate those reflections into the assignment board above.

Due Date: November 9
(figure how how they submit…Box w/PDF plus link to the boards?)

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Sketch by Wolfgang von Goethe of his Italian journey 1786–1788

CLASS 9 : The Part & Whole in Nature, the Arts and Everyday Life

The Goethean understanding of the reciprocal relationship between ‘wholes’ and ‘parts’ in form in the More-than-Human realm—plants, animals, clouds, mountains—can be applied to understanding form in the arts, crafts and many other human endeavours. From the Goethean perspective, organic (whole) form in the natural world is an inherently diversifying, creative and inventive process and in this sense it is analogous to human creativity. The rosacae family, for example takes on many diverse but related forms: the apple, the raspberry, the blackberry, the plum, the rose, the hawthorn. Each of these represents a different expression, a different part, of the whole that is the Rosacae family; and each emphasises and explores a different aspect (the fleshiness of the fruit, the thorniness of the stem, the redness of petals) of the ‘idea’ that is ‘Rosacae’. Similarly, for example, a jazz band will play variations on a musical theme, or idea; each performer, each time it is performed, something new is improvised, yet the same underlying theme is always being explored. This meaningful, diversifying inventiveness or creativity, in both nature and culture, is what Henri Bortoft called ‘multiplicity in unity’.

Required Reading

Supplemental Reading

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SOCIETAL ECO-ILLITERACY
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Environmental activist, anti-globalization campaigner, physicist, food sovereignity advocate Vandana Shiva

CLASS 10 : Radical Holism

Holism has been an important feature of much social and political theory for millennia — some sociologists have argued the organism (from which the concept of holism is derived) has been unacknowledged as the core metaphor of modern sociology. But in failing to make the distinction between what Henri Bortoft described as ‘authentic wholes’ (in which the wholes emerges through parts) and ‘counterfeit wholes’ (in which parts and wholes are separate and disconnected) the use of this metaphor has been highly problematic, and has often been implicated in reactionary, authoritarian or totalitarian ideologies: organicism has been used as a justification for the dominance of ‘social wholes’ (states, cities and other collectives) over ‘social parts’ (individuals, localities, ethnic groups) and has been used to scaffold social orders that are hierarchical, top-down or coercive rather than self-organizing and participatory.

Radical holism, by contrast, describes a tradition of thought that dates back more than a century, that looks to natural world to help substantiate its aspirations an emancipated society. The radical holists were various stripes of decentralist and non-authoritarian social and political theorists who (from the different perspectives given by ecology and organicist philosophy) looked to principles found in the natural world to ground both their social critique and their proposed alternatives. The radical holists believed in the capacity of human beings to cooperatively organize, or self-organize, their own lives (their economies, their political systems, their daily lives) from within their own communities (villages and neighborhoods, cities and regions) and that such communities could organise to cooperatively network and coordinate their activities. They argued that top-down and centralized institutions generally impeded rather than aid this process.

The principles of ecoliteracy (wholes-in-parts, diversity, self-organization, participation, relationality, contextualism and on) which demonstrate how natural systems flourish can help renew the radical holist tradition holist. This would mean incorporating these principles into our everyday lives, to enable both social and natural systems to flourish.

Required Reading

Supplemental Reading

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CLASS 11 : Placelessness and Disinhabitation

The decline of place (through the homogenizing influence of industrial capitalism and globalization) and the displacement of people (through forced or voluntary migration and dispossession of land, and through economic and other pressures) are two sides of the same ‘placelessness’ coin which is spreading across the planet. Placelessness entails damage to, or destruction of, the relational fabric of everyday life, community and urban and rural environments. It renders us homeless often in the literal sense of not having a building to reside in, but more often in the metaphorical sense of being disconnected and alienated from our built, natural, and social environments. If bioregionalism calls for us to become ‘reinhabitants’ modernity often compels us to become ‘disinhabitants’: our environment itself becomes a ‘nowhere place’, in which is very similar to many other ‘nowhere places’ the world over. How can we diagnose ‘diagnose’ the health or wellness of a place and what are the social, psychological and existential effects of placelessness?

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Reading

Assignment # 4 : Diagnosing the Pathologies of Place

As before, try to analyze facets of the entire socio-ecological-economic-political-technological system from the perspective of ecoliteracy. Educator and environmentalist David Orr argues that many of the modern pathologies of place are a result of what he calls “fast knowledge”; increasingly homogenized knowledge (detached from place) that is acquired and used more rapidly and on a larger scale than ever before, often with disastrous and unforeseeable consequences. This knowledge Orr argues is driven by rapid technological change and the rise of the global economy. It has undermined communities cultures and religions that once slowed the rate of change and filtered appropriate knowledge from the cacophony of new information. We would add that the acquisition and application of fast knowledge has coincided with a decline in ecoliteracy.

Author John Lane challenges us to reawaken to the importance of beauty and argues that our modern societies have become immune to ugliness. In this assignment (again through the lens of ecoliteracy), students are asked to look critically at the place they have chosen and ask: “is this place in a symbiotic relationship with its bio and ecoregion? If not, why not? What are the physical and cultural manifestations of these ‘pathologies’?” “Are there clear, symbiotic and ‘healthful’ connections between your place (the part) and the larger city/region (whole)? If not, what are the characteristics of that pathology?”

If beauty, sustainability, conviviality, participation, self-organization, relationality and a symbiotic connection with nature can all be seen as attributes of ecoliteracy, are they present or absent from your place (most places are a mixture of both). As students contemplate their place for this assignment, they should try and develop a methodology or approach for assessing the heath/ecoliteracy/conviviality of place. What are the criteria you are using to identify a pathology or sense of ill heath or dissonance…or even ugliness. Is it possible to go beyond a purely subjective evaluation of place and begin to identify pathologies, that if addressed through systems interventions, could help transition your place (the subject of the next and final assignment) toward a more desirable and sustainable long-term future?

As before, students should use a variety of media types to portray the pathologies of their place, derived from a broad range of research sources.

Due Date: November 23

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CLASS 12 : Eco-Illiteracy as an Individual and Collective Problem

How is the absence of ecoliteracy in the practices of our everyday lives related to its psychopathologies — not only psychopathologies of the individual but what might be called systemic psychopathologies that generate the alienating, toxic, and ugly environments which we are often surrounded by, and yet to which we have become, as educationalist John Lane argued, “immune”? How might ecoliteracy help address such pathologies and how might it resensitize us to beautiful and health giving environments?

Deep ecologists, ecopheneomenologists and ecopsychologists have argued that the modern understanding of ‘the self’ as being something that is inside our head has been highly damaging in this respect: they maintain that this constricted and shrunken view of the self has led to our disconnection from the ‘More-than-Human-World’ and for our society’s propensity to see the world around us as mechanical and soulless. This, in turn, makes it easier to view ‘the More than Human World’ as a collection of resources to be extracted and commodified. We need, deep ecologists, ecophenologists and ecopsychologists argue, to enlarge our sense of self and to learn reciprocal relatedness with ‘Other’. Psychologist James Hillman, for example, argued that psyche is not in us but we are in psyche, that we have a “psyche as large as the earth.”

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Reading

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ECOLITERATE DESIGN
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Domains of Everyday Life: Gideon Kossoff

CLASS 13 : Towards an Ecological Society: The Domains of Everyday Life

In sustainable communities these Domains arise as cohesive and dynamic spatio-temporal forms as communities strive to satisfy their material and non-material needs. Similar to living systems in the natural world, the Domains are emergent, self-organizing, participatory, networked, nested and semi-autonomous forms: because material and non-material needs have been satisfied in contextualized and place specific ways, the Domains of Everyday Life have historically taken on a great diversity of forms, in response to local ecological affordances and myriad social and cultural imaginaries. As living systems are constituted of elements that are at once self-organizing wholes in their own right, whilst also being parts of larger self-organizing whole systems, so too with households, neighborhoods, cities and regions when their inhabitants are in control of the satisfaction of their needs in their everyday lives. In the modern era, however, because the satisfaction of needs has largely been ceded to centralized institutions that are disembeded from communities, the Domains have been hollowed out and there has been a corresponding decline in the vitality and vibrancy — and sustainability — of everyday life

In the twenty first century these principles of ecoliteracy need to be applied not only at a local but also a planetary level — ‘cosmopolitan localism’. This means reenvisioning (redesigning, reconceiving, reinventing, regenerating) everyday life as if it were a living system — self-organizing and networked at multiple levels of scale, from households through neighborhoods, cities, regions and the planet. These would be woven together at all levels of scale into symbiotic social, political, economic and technological systems, in which most needs can be satisfied locally, while some remain reliant on global networks. Everyday life, whilst becoming highly localized and place based, would have a cosmopolitan or planetary dimension to it. Collectively such decentralized communities would share the responsibility for the biophysical integrity of the planet as a whole. In the language of Henri Bortoft’s ‘authentic holism’ the planet (Gaia) is the self-organizing whole that would be revealed and encountered in everyday life, through its localities, its parts.

Read Prior to Class

Assignment # 5 : Re-envisioning Place

The previous four assignments have asked you to come to know your place more deeply from both subjective and objective points of view. Assignment #5 challenges you to ask how it could be better, from an ecoliterate point of view. Now begin to envision the long-term future of your place in which the pathologies you identified in assignment 4 have been ‘healed’.

As in previous assignments, your vision should address multiple facets of place and begin to describe how socio-ecological-economic-political-technological systems might have changed. In what ways have the people living in your place in the future become ecoliterate? How is that manifesting at the different levels of scale of everyday life — household, neighborhood, city and region? How are these ‘part-wholes’ of everyday life in symbiotic relationship with each other?

For this assignment, students may need to rely more heavily on drawings, sketches or photo collages, since images and descriptions of your future place will not be available on the internet. You may want to combine image-based descriptions with verbal one or even excerpts from fictional, phenomenological journals…be creative and try to make this assignment board feel as if viewers are glimpsing a better version of your place in the future.

An important aspect of this assignment is to ask “what is already working? What makes this place dear/meaningful to me now? What would I not want to see lost in the future? What aspects that exist now need to be amplified or scaffolded? Also, can my future vision be informed by my place’s past?” Go back and review assignment 3 and look for clues about when and how people were living in harmony (with ‘ecoliteracy’) with their place.

Can their previous relationship with your place (how they worked, played, farmed, built and generally met their needs in place) inform your future vision of your place; not recreating the past, but letting it inform new ways of being in place.

We have found that the development of compelling future visions, that provide people with a genuine glimpse of the what the future could be like are the most successful. This often relies on a narrative of some kind. Students are encouraged to develop a narrative for this board that is the culmination of their five-step journey in coming to know their place.

Due Date: December 8

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“Living Machines” by John Todd Ecological Design

CLASS 14 : Ecological Infrastructures

For over a hundred years, and particularly in the last half of the twentieth century, various social thinkers have advocated decentralized and humanly scaled technological and agricultural systems to address some of our most intractable social, ecological and existential problems. In as much as these would enable neighborhoods, cities and regions to be self-organizing, participatory, resilient and place based, this would represent the realization of the principles of ecoliteracy in the infrastructures of everyday life. As manufacturing and energy systems, by the year, become increasingly flexible and therefore potentially adaptable to local social and ecological contexts, and as digital technologies have enabled instantaneous communications between localities across the planet, this vision of distributed, networked and decentralized infrastructures becomes ever more viable. Yet the case for applying the principles of ecoliteracy to the development of infrastructures that will support new kinds of place-based lifestyles remains undeveloped, even among advocates of localism.

Nevertheless in recent decades there have been number of innovative approaches to designing technological and agricultural systems that embody and apply ecological principles: living machines, which use self-designing enclosed ecosystems to treat polluted water; industrial ecosystems, in which the output of one element becomes the input of another; circular economies, in which materials are circulated within the system and waste is reduced; biomimicry, which technological solutions are modelled to solutions to analogous problems in the natural: and permaculture (and agroforestry) which work towards self-sustaining, food producing ecosystems. The challenge is to extend the application of ecological principles represented by these approaches to all the infrastructures on which we depend in our everyday lives.

Read Prior to Class

Supplemental Reading

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CLASS 15 : Final Project Presentations

The final class will be comprised of student presentations of the 5 assignments and a closing discussion. Because the number of classes in this course is extremely limited and because students will be encouraged to peruse each other’s Miro boards during the course of the semester, we will not devote class time for formal assignment presentations.

Rather, each student should prepare a final presentation that showcases all 5 assignments. Each presentation should last no longer than seven minutes (we will use a timer) and will be followed by 2–3 minutes of feedback. Students may craft their presentations as they wish (via screen sharing in Zoom):

  • Keynote or powerpoint presentation showing details of the five assignments
  • Screen sharing your MIRO board and walking the class around it
  • Pre-record a Zoom presentation to play as a screen share, walking through the board or showing a powerpoint show

Because 7 minutes is not enough time to discussion the chronology and key points of each assignments, students should create a narrative provides an overview of the findings and insights; tells a story about their place (integrating key findings) or that goes into depth in a few key areas.

After the conclusions of the assignment presentations and feedback there will be a closing discussion.

Submitting the Final Assignments

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