“Ecological knowledge is a lived process of knowing that has extraordinary ramifications for individuals and communities in terms of what is important, what struggles people engage in, and how the Earth is manifest in their values, sense of self-identity, and culture. “ -Darlene Clover (2)
In this paper I will reflect on the concept, concerns, and hopeful outcomes of a series of educational workshops addressing the history, culture, ecology, agriculture, and arts specific to a particular bioregion. Bioregionalism addresses the interplay between the individual, the community, and the environment. On an individual level, the hope is to expand one’s ecological cultural identity. On a community level, the goal is to (1) make connections building upon existing networks, and (2) publicly assess unmet community needs and shed light on community offerings. And on an ecological level, the goal is to shed light on the history and health of our non-human environment. At the bottom of this paper are related definitions and expanded upon content mentioned within the paper below.
It is important for an individual to understand how interconnected, how entangled they are with the human and non-human network around them. The myth of individualism has us operating as if our actions exist in a vacuum and do not have consequences on a wider network, a wider web of life with which we are inextricably bound. So long as we uphold an individualist interpretation of our place and relation to the world, collective liberation and collaborative organizing with each-other, let alone the non-human world, feels far-reaching. It must be recognized that no matter who or where we are, our fate is entangled with the fate of our human and non-human kin.
Environmental Justice, Collaborative Organizing, and Cultural Homogenization
It seems that environmental education is often oriented solely to the protection of the non-human world. Racism is all too often left out of environmental movements. Environmental justice applies an intersectional framework to the project of environmentalism to promote an orientation toward those disproportionately impacted by environmental injustice. It is critical to consider the ways that environmental racism plays out when taking up environmental education, especially in a region so industrially segregated as Cleveland, Ohio.
Collaborative organizing is a good place to start. Scholar-activist, Katharine Morris says “Collaborative organizing is, to me, the best tool for the intersectional activism necessary to address environmental racism and climate change.” (1) These workshops should weave together a wide range of communities and knowledge to illuminate the complexity of a bioregion.
Morris offers LOVE as an approach to collaborative organizing: L - Listen to learn, O - Organize with an open mind, V - Value a variety of perspectives, E - Engage everyone in every way.
Similarly, John Brown Childs, an author and professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offers the framework of transcommunality in his book Trans-communality, From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect (2003). Transcommunality (respectfully drawn from indigenous models of alliances in the Americas) considers possibilities of heterogeneous coordination and cooperation across “identity lines”. Childs writes “The glue holding these trancommunal ties together is that of face-to-face interpersonal relationships of mutual trust, built up through shared practical action, in which people from what I call different emplacements of affiliation can work together around shared tasks and objectives.” (24). “Transcommunality moves beyond the classic Eurocentric, progressive emphasis on homogenizing unity” as is characteristic of conversionary politics. (21) *See definitions and related points from Child's book at the bottom of this paper.
Diversity of Access
It is important to make this programming as accessible as possible. How might this program be accessible to inner-city communities? There is a large refugee immigrant population in Cleveland Ohio. What language barriers might keep this programming from being accessible? Will this programming take place in person or online? How might accessibility be considered in either circumstance?
Curation of Content
I struggles with content curation as I put the workshop proposal together. This is because there is such a vast range of possible projects, networks, histories, locations, to consider. So how to choose? What are some guidelines that might help narrow the scope or prioritize content?
A Living Pedagogy
Bioregional ecological, psycho-social initiatives vary widely given the scope and dynamic nature of the subject matter. This is entirely appropriate because the essence of bioregionalism is specific to localism. In other words, the manifestation of networks, projects, etc take shape depending on who, where, and when they take place. It is the intention of bioregionalism to combat mono-culture. Thus, a “scaleable” model, that can be implemented across different regions, might actually benefit in its vagueness. However, I have done my best to consider on-the-ground working examples of local partners/places/artifacts to give an example of how one might go about plugging in to their region.
While these workshops are scheduled to take place during a brief window of time, my hope is that they lead to relationship building and seed planting for future projects. Toward the end of each workshop, there will be time dedicated to sharing personal stories, providing feedback on related topics, and sharing related resources. If there is energy and momentum as a result of these workshops, there will be great potential to move forward in fostering spin-off bioregional projects. But the orientation, objectives, and goals of such projects would be entirely determined and shaped by what arises within the workshops I am proposing. So in this way, it is a living project.
(1) How to Collaborate for Environmental Justice | Katharine Morris | TEDxUConn
(2) Clover, Darlene. Toward Transformative Learning, Ecological Perspectives in Adult Education, 2002. Palgrave.
(3) John Brown Childs. Trans-communality, From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect. Temple University Press. 2003.
Key Related Definitions
Bioregionalism - “Bioregionalism originated with the mid-1970s counter-culture of the western United States. It began as a social critique of ecologically unsustainable lifestyles and evolved into an alternative way of living, which stresses participation in community, local control of resources, and a large measure of self-determination. It strives for harmony between human communities and nature by seeking to respect the genius loci of places and regions (Parsons, 1985). Thus, it aims to counteract the increasing pace and decreasing quality of life.” - David AlexanderEnvironmental Justice - (1) a social movement that focuses on the “fair” distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. (2) An interdisciplinary body of social science literature that includes theories of the environment and justice, environmental laws and their implementations, environmental policy and planning and governance for development and sustainability, and political ecology. (Wikipedia, 12/2020)Environmental Racism - “the exclusion of people of color from policy-making, the deliberate targeting of these communities for toxic waste disposal and the official sanctioning of life-threatening poisons and pollutants” (LEAP, 1996. Clover, Darlene. Toward Transformative Learning.” 2002)Cultural Homogenization - an aspect of cultural globalization, “the process by which local cultures are transformed or absorbed by a dominant outside culture.” Erodes bioregional identity and culture.
Notes from John Brown Childs, Transcommunality
Transcommunality: the emphasis of a general ethics of respect in which mutual recognition and acceptance of diverse, even divergent perspectives occur among partners. (21) Transcommunality allows for a high degree of diversity, autonomy, and coordination of its participants. (23)
Conversion politics: Classic eurocentric, progressive emphasis on homogenizing unity; requiring its adherents to assert a distinct set of beliefs to which others, if they are to be partners in the struggle for justice, must convert.
Emplacement: a site of collective life shared by a group of people that provides them with a rooted and demarcated sense of shared perspective and affiliation.
Emplacements of Affiliation: places and organizational environments of belonging that are experientiallly fundamentally significant to those involved and which may or may not involve some degree of exclusivity vis-a-vis other affiliations.
Constructive Disputing: appreciating conflict for making problems evident and providing the opportunity to recognize differences in views and procedures. (this reminds me of “generative conflict” as Adrienne Marie Brown writes in Emergent Strategy).