Saturday, November 30, 2013

Study of Social Ecology

Srishti School of Art Design and Technology
Introduction to Art and Design( Foundation Studies program)

Semester 1
Study of social ecology
Group   :Wood as tree and forest
Course  content, planning and design : Narendra Raghunath
Faculty cordinators : Narendra Raghunath,Hansa Thapliyal

Course abstract :
“Men and trees are similar. The first step of becoming a tree is the roots. The first step of becoming human is umbilical cord. Second step of becoming a tree is fighting against nature and growing vertical. Second step of becoming a human is fighting against nature and growing vertical. Third step of becoming a tree is colonizing and conquering the world; earth, water and air. Third step of becoming a human is colonizing and conquering the world; earth, water and air. Strange but we parted at third step.  We supplemented our inabilities with our intelligence and trees unfortunately in that intelligence became only a wood- just a another tool for human to survive the life and conquer the world”

More than the above superficial narrative, there are many connections and disconnection, learning and unlearning in our relation to trees as an individual and community.  This course will try to understand this connection between the wood as tree and us.  During the three weeks of course, we will try to explore the socio political ecology of tree through its semantics, myths, narratives, sociology, habitat and material. This will include the study of the concept “co-operative forest” in Salem district in Tamil Nadu.

Course plan :

What is social ecology:  Social ecology is a  critical theory  founded by  Brookchin Murry,  a social libertarian political theorist from America   who  through establishment of  social ecology advocated a harmonious human society in natural world celebrating diversity, freedom and creative existence.

He argued in his theory “in hierarchical models of societal organization, individual actions alone cannot resist the systemic issues of hierarchy in society,  but must be addressed by a collective conscience of society rooted in democratic ideals. The complexity of relationship between people and nature is emphasized along with importance of establishing more mutualistic social structure where each constituent becomes an essential and integral micro ecological system than an individual private component.

Why social ecology:  Brookchin Murray,  the founder of social ecology argues in his acclaimed book  Ecology of freedom  that nearly all of the world's ecological problems stem from social problems; with these social problems in turn arising from structures and relationships of dominating hierarchy. He argues 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. Present ecological problems, social ecologists maintain, cannot be clearly understood, much less resolved, without resolutely dealing with problems within society. This position is completely different from the sustainability argument of ethical consumerism, where the conversation still revolves around structural hierarchy.

What does this course envisage?

Espousing the social ecology argument of collective social conscience of democratic and mutualistic social structure where nature is emphasized, this course will try to understand such socio-economic and political structure of one to one and one to many and many to many relationship of ecology of human society and environment.

Why wood as tree and forest

The idea of wood from tree from forest exemplifies the relationship human society developed over a period with nature, where the consumerist economic structure of political hierarchy override ecological necessity, where forest becomes the place of trees that can be used as material for utility.   Since wood is an utilitarian material economically production linked to yields and profit, bigger has become the extraction, bigger has become the utility and bigger has become the extinction- of both tree and forest in nature. This defies the geographical nature and demographical demand of local ecology for a centralized socio-economic and political structure, where micro ecological system becomes only individual component with a possibility of production, yield and profit.

Under such system, relationships among individual constituents often get reduced to productive competence that are validated against economic monetary value, an act against perceived notions of humanity where weakest of the weak should have been standing among the strongest as equal.

Unfortunately all socio- economic and political systems of the day,  be it capitalistic, communist, socialistic or democratic are operationalized under this premise may be at varied level as a system.  This has led to the present state of our environment where human society is paying a huge cost to for survival on account of  assumed worth of development.

This calls for a radically alternate approach towards nature and society, an approach far beyond the usual arguments of sustainability of ethical consumerism such as save tree, reduction of use, recycle and up cycle.  Social ecology argues for such an ecological system of ownership based on collective conscience against individual ownership and property where wood also becomes  an extension of micro ecological system of tree from a macro ecological system of forest.

Course structure:

Course will evolve as a collaborative learning where students will explore the multiple systems that are operational in wood, tree and forest and the ecology around it.

A comparative study is expected to emerge through the study  of  student’s immediate neighborhood,  nation at large and through the idea of collective ownership of cooperative forest.

Cooperative forest is a place near Dharmapuri district, where environmental activist Piyush Manush is developing a cooperative forest with the collaboration of local community and goverment. The students will have the opportunity to learn the overarching vision, practical socio-political issues of developing collective ownership of cooperative forest and socio-ecology around it from direct experience and exploration- an essential learning for DESIGN FOR HUMANITY.

Reading : E F Schumacher: Small is beautiful

                     P Sainath : Everybody loves a Good draught

Relevant links :      


Course plan premise and methodology

In every society classrooms often becomes the training ground for obedience that socio-political structures command over the society. This is in contrast to the spirit of willful adherence of law of the land by free will that education envisages to achieve.  This hierarchical structure in conventional classroom relationship between institution, teacher and student is often precipitated as the basic social order contrary to democratic tenets that is socio ecology proposes. Also we could identify the strains of patriarchy being reflected in this relationship, as it is evident from the political structure of our democratic state where leaders exhibit the dictatorial and dynastic traits and popular support towards it.

The practical difficulty to understand liberty of free will under mutuality of social ecology one will have to be aware of collective conscience to exercise the freedom. Otherwise one will tend to confuse individual advancement, as conceived in capitalism,  as the idea of freedom of liberty. This is a precarious situation where one can trip the idea of training in education from the awareness to obedience,

Considering these facts in mind,  this social ecology class proposes to develop a methodology of knowledge building where it will be operationalised at two levels  of engagement simultaneously.

  1. Each student will be considered as a micro socio ecological system whereby one will be allowed to negotiate with the subject of focus on their willful capacity under macro socio ecological system of class,

  1. Models of exercises will be defined to design that willful capacity under collective   synergy.

While the first part will evolve during the class, the teacher will organize taking the pointers of second paragraph into consideration second part.

Part 2 Exercises:

  1. Immersion : (initially conceived knowing the forest first)
Knowing the tree: Observe trees in around their place of stay or Yelahanka, how does it exist, type, structure, height, branches, joineries, leaves, colour, light, wind, water,  location, surroundings, how it is being appropriated in habitat both in human and other living inhabitants and organisms.

Record & capture the observations, specification and the details through drawing, other visual mediums.

Corroborate and confirm the information from other sources including books and Internet tree as a habitat and a ecological system

     Make the presentation in classroom with display of their observations for a debate about the tree gravitating towards an understanding of micro- ecological system.

Show the findings of Prof Suzanne Simard about how tree communicate and make family of mother and children

  1. Construct a tall structure inspired by the vertical growth against gravity, by studying  either        phylogettics  (eg:, or biological structure of tree or chemical structure of tree, using plastic straws.
Debate the outcome considering exercise 1 also into consideration including the carbon structure of both wood and plastic.
  1. Locate the utilitarian space of wood in our life and create a visual map of it followed by a wood workshop on nail less joineries and the idea of joinery as an extension.
Discuss the outcome based on the learning from exercise 1,2 and 3 considering joineries, structures and extension are part of the whole.
  1. Tree as a forest : Site visit to forest/cooperative forest to understand  the idea of forest as abode of habitat where the same learning from exercise 1,2,3 are being practiced as an evolutionary process.
Observe the tree as forest with all its bio diversity as macro ecological system and map the same with visual mediums and discussion with local community.
(If in cooperative forest also learn process of understanding, Bio farming, Vermi- composting Rainwater harvesting, bio char, agro foresting to understand the possibilities of designed intervention of bio-diversity when habitat depletes and the livelihood issues)
Group discussion every day

  1. Create a visual map of all connections one can make about the tree as an  ecological system.

Create a visual map of each student with all his connection to life,world and nature as an ecological system draw the parallels between the two maps.

6.       An exhibition of  exercise outcome for peer/faculty crit

Apart from these exercises students are expected to maintain a diary and contribute to blog a final reflective piece with all digitise course works

Toos : Group discussions, Hands on works, documentaries, classroom presentations,  visual documentation, environment exposure tours,  Mapping tools