The quest for sustainability – a critical reading of permaculture literature

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: The permaculture concept was coined by Australian scientists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978. In the beginning, permaculture was presented as a framework for designing self-sustaining cultivation systems which mimic natural ecosystems in as much as possible, in order to make the most use of existing natural resources and minimize the harm done to nature by the agricultural processes. Today, the scope of permaculture has widened to also entail the designing of sustainable social systems and permaculture claims to propose holistic and practical solutions to sustainability challenges of different varieties, not only food production but also financial investment and political organisation. This is reflected in the permaculture ethics which serve as important guidelines to permaculture proponents. The ethics are: 1) care for the earth, 2) care for people and 3) a fair share (of resources). The permaculture ethics resemble the three commonly cited sectors of sustainable development: society, environment and economy. The possible similarities between permaculture and sustainable development initiated this research, which examines whether permaculture could be helpful in promoting sustainable development. To assess this, a critical reading of key permaculture literature was conducted. John Dryzek’s interpretation of sustainable development was used as a lens in the reading. Findings from the research material were also subjected to a linguistic analysis built upon selected elements of the critical discourse analysis (CDA) model, to further support and guide the critical reading. Results show that while permaculture and sustainable development do agree on certain aspects, they carry profound differences in terms of worldviews and visions of what a future, sustainable world should ideally look like. It is therefore unlikely that permaculture could be used to promote sustainable development.

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