Social ecology, horizontalism, bioregionalism - a brief tour around the theories that back up a return to the local

We found this very useful article in Resilience by Brian Tokar, which laid out in a concise form some of the theories around the power of localism that are being reached for by activists all over the world:

Social ecology

From Kurdish militants in Syria and Turkey to dynamic young organizers in North America, many current activists cite social ecology as a central underlying inspiration for their political outlook.

Social ecology offers a unique synthesis of utopian social criticism, historical and anthropological investigation, dialectical philosophy, and political strategy.

The foundational texts of social ecology were written by the Vermont-based social theorist Murray Bookchin between the 1970s and 1990s.

Bookchin was among the first thinkers in the West to identify the growth imperative of capitalism as a fundamental threat to the integrity of living ecosystems. He consistently argued that social and ecological concerns are fundamentally inseparable.

He described his distinct approach to political strategy as libertarian (or confederal) municipalism, and sometimes as communalism, highlighting the roots of key ideas in the legacy of the Paris Commune of 1871.

Bookchin argued for liberated cities, towns, and neighbourhoods, governed by open popular assemblies. These actively confederate, in order to challenge parochialism, encourage interdependence, and build a genuine counterpower to dominant institutions.

Social ecologists also believe that the limits of local action and the problems of parochialism and reactionary nationalism can be overcome through confederations of cities, towns, and neighborhoods that join to advance a broad liberatory agenda.

Institutions of capitalism and the nation-state often tend to heighten social stratification and exploit divisions among people. Instead, social ecologists insist that the lived experience of direct democracy can foster expression of a general social interest that strengthens human solidarity and advances a transformative social and ecological agenda.

Bookchin wrote:

It is from the municipality that people can reconstitute themselves from isolated monads into a creative body politic and create an existentially vital civic life that has institutional form as well as civic content.

The block committees, assemblies, neighborhood organizations, cooperatives, citizens’ action groups, and public arenas for discourse go beyond such episodic acts as demonstrations and retain a lived as well as organized community.

The act of civic engagement through face-to-face deliberative structures can help transcend divisions and build solidarity. Still, physical decentralization per se cannot guarantee progressive social transformation in the absence of an inclusive civic ethics, participatory self-governance, and a holistic ecological outlook.

For social ecologists, confederation and internal education through practical action offer essential counterpoints to localist tendencies toward provincialism and isolation.

Organisers in urban neighborhoods can aim to rewrite city charters and restructure municipal governance as a confederation of directly democratic neighborhood assemblies.

Then, like-minded neighborhoods, cities, and regions can continue to confederate at wider geographic levels to realize common projects, better satisfy essential needs, and ultimately create a viable counterpower to today’s ruling institutions.


Another core principle of today’s municipal movements is horizontalism, a political practice that aims to equalize decision-making across various sectors of society.

The term (horizontalidad in Spanish) was first articulated during the Argentine uprising in response to the economic collapse of 2001, but has numerous historical antecedents.

Prefigurative practices aimed toward dissolving social hierarchies and elevating popular voices have emerged in recent decades during periods of heightened social contestation on nearly every continent.


Further clues to an expansive conceptual framework for “glocalism” may be found in the legacy of bioregionalism.

Peaking in popularity during the 1980s and early 1990s, this movement helped ecologically minded activists imagine how to transform governance so as to transcend the limits of state and national boundaries and move toward a more Earth-centered vision.

Bioregionalism’s ideas of governance based on watersheds rather than political boundaries have significantly shaped contemporary practice in such domains as regional planning and water resource management.

Bioregionalists have also embraced a movement-of-movements approach, where advocates for various spheres of social and ecological praxis formed committees to draft proposals at biennial continental congresses, which then came before the committee of the whole for final amendment and adoption.

Finally, in an era of increasing nationalism, it is essential to heed the warnings of prominent anthropologist Arturo Escobar.

At the apex of the worldwide global justice/alter-globalization movements in the early 2000s, Escobar embraced the “defense of constructions of place” by social movements that seek to advance ecological democracy, while firmly rejecting the attitudes of essentialism, nostalgia and exclusion that can tend to link “boundary making around places…to reactionary politics."

More here.