Social ecology is a philosophical theory about the relationship between ecological and social issues.[1][2] Associated with the social theorist Murray Bookchin, it emerged from a time in the mid-1960s, under the emergence of both the global environmental and the American civil rights movements, and played a much more visible role from the upward movement against nuclear power by the late 1970s.[3] It presents ecological problems as arising mainly from social problems, in particular from different forms of hierarchy and domination, and seeks to resolve them through the model of a society adapted to human development and the biosphere.[4] It is a theory of radical political ecology based on communalism, which opposes the current capitalist system of production and consumption.[5] It aims to set up a moral, decentralized, united society, guided by reason.[6] While Bookchin distanced himself from anarchism later in his life, the philosophical theory of social ecology is often considered to be a form of eco-anarchism.[7]


Bookchin's theory presents a vision of human evolution that combines the nature of biology and society into a third "thinking nature" beyond biochemistry and physiology, which he says is of a more complete, conscious, ethical, and rational nature. Humanity, according to this line of thought, is the latest development in the long history of organic development on Earth. Bookchin's social ecology proposes ethical principles for replacing a society's propensity for hierarchy and domination with that of democracy and freedom.[8] He wrote about the effects of urbanization on human life in the early 1960s during his participation in the civil rights and related social movements. Bookchin then began to pursue the connection between ecological and social issues, culminating with his best-known book, The Ecology of Freedom, which he had developed over a decade.[9] His argument, that human domination and destruction of nature follows from social domination between humans, was a breakthrough position in the growing field of ecology. He writes that life develops from self-organization and evolutionary cooperation (symbiosis).[4] Bookchin writes of preliterate societies organized around mutual need but ultimately overrun by institutions of hierarchy and domination, such as city-states and capitalist economies, which he attributes uniquely to societies of humans and not communities of animals.[5] He proposes confederation between communities of humans run through democracy rather than through administrative logistics.[6]

Bookchin's work, beginning with anarchist writings on the subject in the 1960s, has continuously evolved. Towards the end of the 1990s, he increasingly integrated the principle of communalism, with aspirations more inclined towards institutionalized municipal democracy, which distanced him from certain evolutions of anarchism. Bookchin's work draws inspiration from anarchism (mainly Kropotkin) and communism (including the writings of Marx and Engels). Social ecology refuses the pitfalls of a Neo-Malthusian ecology which erases social relationships by replacing them with "natural forces", but also of a technocratic ecology which considers that environmental progress must rely on technological breakthroughs and that the state will play an integral role in this technological development. According to Bookchin, these two currents depoliticize ecology and mythologize the past and the future.[1]


International meetings

In May 2016, the first “International Social Ecology Meetings” were organized in Lyon, which brought together a hundred radical environmentalists, decreasing figures and libertarians, most of whom came from France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland, but also from the United States, Guatemala and Canada. At the center of the debates: libertarian municipalism as an alternative to the nation state and the need to rethink activism.[10][11]

The second edition of the meetings takes place in Bilbao, in October 2017.[12]

Kurdish movement

Bookchin's reflections on social ecology and libertarian municipalism also inspired Abdullah Öcalan, the historical leader of the Kurdish movement, to create the concept of democratic confederalism, which aims to bring together the peoples of the Middle East in a confederation of democratic, multicultural and ecological communes.[13][14] Adopted by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since 2005, Öcalan's project represents a major ideological shift away from their previous goal of establishing a Marxist-Leninist state.[13][15][16] In addition to the PKK, Öcalan's internationalist project was also well received by its Syrian counterpart, the Party of Democratic Union (PYD), which would become the first organization in the world to actually found a society based on the principles of democratic confederalism.[17][18][19] On January 6, 2014, the cantons of Rojava, in Syrian Kurdistan, federated into autonomous municipalities, adopting a social contract which established a decentralized non-hierarchy society, based on principles of direct democracy, feminism, ecology, cultural pluralism, participatory politics and economic cooperativism.[15][16][20]


  1. ^ a b Bookchin, Murray (2006). Social Ecology and Communalism (PDF). AK Press. ISBN 978-1-904859-49-9.
  2. ^ Bookchin, Murray (2007). "What is Social Ecology?" (PDF).
  3. ^ "On Bookchin's Social Ecology and its Contributions to Social Movements". 2018.
  4. ^ a b Light 1998, p. 6.
  5. ^ a b Light 1998, p. 7.
  6. ^ a b Light 1998, p. 8.
  7. ^ McKay, Iain. An Anarchist FAQ. AK Press: Oakland. 2008. pp. 65.[ISBN missing]
  8. ^ Stokols, Daniel (2018). Social Ecology in the Digital Age: Solving Complex Problems in a Globalized World. Elsevier Science. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-12-803114-8.
  9. ^ Light, Andrew (1998). Social Ecology After Bookchin. Guilford Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-1-57230-379-9.
  10. ^ "Questions pour un autre futur" (in French). Le Courrier. 2016-07-25.
  11. ^ "Rencontres Internationales de l'Écologie Sociale – 27 28 et 29 mai 2016 Lyon" (in French). Passerelle éco. 2016-03-16.
  12. ^ "IIe Rencontres Internationales sur L'Écologie... – la gueule ouverte" (in French). 2017-09-29.
  13. ^ a b Bookchin, Debbie (2018-06-15). "How My Father's Ideas Helped the Kurds Create a New Democracy". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2016-05-20.
  14. ^ Benjamin Fernandez (July 2016). "Murray Bookchin, écologie ou barbarie" (in French). Le Monde diplomatique.
  15. ^ a b "A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS' Backyard". New York Times. 2015-11-24. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  16. ^ a b Shilton, Dor (2019-06-09). "In the Heart of Syria's Darkness, a Democratic, Egalitarian and Feminist Society Emerges". Haaretz. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  17. ^ Malik, Kenan (2019-10-27). "Syria's Kurds dreamt of a 'Rojava revolution'. Assad will snuff this out". Guardian. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  18. ^ "Revolution in Rojava Democratic Autonomy and Women's Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan". Pluto Books. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  19. ^ Krajeski, Jenna (2019-10-14). "What the World Loses if Turkey Destroys the Syrian Kurds". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  20. ^ Baird, Vanessa (2020-06-22). "In the Autonomous Zones". The New International. Retrieved 2020-07-02.