Simin Fadaeeis a Max Batley Research Fellow at Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID). She is the author of Social Movements in Iran: Environmentalism and Civil Society and the editor of Understanding Southern Social Movements.  You can find out more about Simin and her research here. Her current research project at SIID is explained below.

The 21st century is likely to witness ecological catastrophe, and while a significant amount of scholarly and media attention has focused on global environmental politics, this research project focuses on solutions emerging from ordinary people’s efforts to relate in new and meaningful ways with their surroundings and each other. I try to understand how ordinary people and the powerless foster positive social change through grassroots struggles.  Much of my earlier research focused on the emergence and evolution of Iran’s environmental movement, and over the years I observed how activists adapted their strategies in the face of political upheavals. Ultimately, environmentalism in Iran has expanded to include lifestyles and practices of everyday life, and I documented the proliferation of vegetarian restaurants, an organic food movement, ecotours, and an ecovillage. This led me to explore other more established alternative socio-ecological development models, and my current project focuses on permaculture, a grassroots social movement network geared towards the genesis of holistic and lasting systems. To this end, practitioners of permaculture forge connections between ecosystems, food systems, built environments and local economies.

Permaculture originated in Australia in the 1970s, and since then it has inspired many groups and individuals around the world who have designed and built communities around its three core principles: Care for the earth, care for people and ‘fair share.’ The first principle emphasizes necessity of a healthy earth where all creatures and life systems can live and flourish. The second principle highlights the importance of access to necessary resources and community. The third principle suggests a circular system in which the surplus that is not needed to achieve the first two goals is returned to the system. Permaculture offers practical guidance on how to build functioning and sustainable alternatives applicable in diverse environments and scales, from densely populated urban settlements to farms and rural areas. Hence, principles of permaculture are seen as universal, although the practice of permaculture vary significantly according to context and are largely based on local knowledge, customs and resources. In this sense permaculture is a philosophy, an ethical design system and also a way of living that promotes direct positive action.

In this project I am primarily interested in understanding how permaculture is being interpreted and practiced by people at different scales and in diverse places. Moreover, I am eager to discover how permaculture has transformed people’s lives and to what extent local knowledge has contributed to creating alternative models of life in various settings. To this end I will analyze the mobility of ideas surrounding permaculture and the ways they are adapted locally in South and Southeast Asia. Many countries in these regions have witnessed the (re)invigoration of environmental politics and proliferation of contestations. By understanding the transfer of permaculture ideas and practices to/from South and Southeast Asia, I ultimately seek to determine whether/how its most successful examples can be developed into a replicable model that is usable in the global South. Furthermore, I plan to pay particular attention to instances in which permaculture practices and innovations have traveled from South and Southeast Asia to the global North.

To these ends there are three sets of research questions I will be engaging with. First, I will focus on permaculture practitioners (i.e. their social background, age, gender and motivations). These will be studied in connection with the kind of initiative they pursue. Are they primarily globetrotters with degrees from Europe and North America, or are they adapting permaculture to well-founded endogenous ideas, politics and practices? Second, I will ascertain the level of success/failure of these initiatives in terms of poverty alleviation, health and food security but also in terms of creating a sense of community, collaboration and solidarity. What sort of hybrid collective identities and communities are taking shape with the spread of permaculture initiatives in South and Southeast Asia? Finally, I will trace interconnections between permaculture practitioners and other movements concerned with development alternatives such as degrowth movement and movements for solidarity economies. To what extent do permaculture practitioners identify with global efforts directed towards the creation of a post-capitalist society, economy and ecology? Ultimately this project will show how global ideas surrounding alterative socio-ecological development models are adapted at the local scale in a range of political climates, and how these efforts influence environmentalism at the global scale.

Contact Simin for enquiries regarding potential collaboration, particularly within the framework of GCRF.

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