Behind the Scenes: The Ecovillage Movement towards Professionalism

Researcher Sabrina Görisch reflects on the European Ecovillage Conference

Researcher and political scientist Sabrina Görisch attended the European Ecovillage Conference in Lilleoru, Estonia, in July 2018 to gain a better understanding of the contemporary ecovillage movement. Here's what she found out. 

If anyone still thinks of Ecovillages as places for hippies to escape from society and celebrate hedonistic lifestyles, they might be surprised by current developments. 

What I witnessed at the GEN Europe Conference is a professional and serious attempt to bring change into the world. There is a clear vision of creating a conscious, resilient and sustainable Europe, where ecovillage lifestyles are widely adopted.  The mission is to become stronger, to grow and to influence. And why is that important for Europe? 

The tools and methods Ecovillages developed over the past 20 years have a direct link to the problems and challenges we face in our modern, industrialized Western society. One striking example is the alienation of humans from their natural environment (cf. Taylor 1992/ Rosa 2016). People no longer see themselves as part of nature. This leads to an objectification of nature as a resource, which can be exploited for one's own purposes. In the context of Ecovillages, people reconnect with nature as part of their self. This manifests in a low impact lifestyle, environmental activism and plenty of innovations for example in the field of energy supply and waste reduction. The Ecovillage lifestyle does not only touch environmental issues, but also social, economic and cultural ones. Personal sustainability through methods of deep self-reflection such as “Shadow work” (Irene Goikolea), intelligent forms of organization such as “Sociocracy” and pooled economics join together to form a new culture, which is relevant for the solution of societal problems. The workshops during the GEN Europe conference gave a unique insight into the rich cultural heritage of the movement. 

Now, the Ecovillage movement faces the challenge of bringing its rich cultural heritage to the world. The central question is: How can this be done? 

Italian Marxist philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci notes: 

"Without the training of one's own "intellectuals" no renewed common sense can emerge with the coherence and power of a new philosophy, but only in contact with the "simple" does a philosophy become “historical", does it cleanse itself of the intellectualistic elements and become life (Gramsci; Prison books  6 / 1381) 

So one of the main tasks is not just to live the new culture itself, but also to develop and articulate a common, coherent identity. Both are equally important components for a successful transition. Since Ecovillages differ from each other, this is a balancing act between simplification and a realistic presentation of the complex reality.  

Moreover many people within the movement understand “Ecovillage” as an attitude and not necessarily a way of living.  Consequently, the vision is not having a world just full of Ecovillages. It is about realizing the particular culture also in other, for example urban, contexts. In order to achieve this, the significance of Ecovillage practices and values for society as a whole must be clear. Why does the new culture add value to society as a whole? Where are the concrete links to social, environmental, economic and political issues? And in what form and to what degree can the values and methods be manifested outside the "Ecovillage world”? To answer these questions, further collaborations with the academic world are planned. 

Furthermore, it is a central task to decide how Ecovillages want to position themselves. The influence varies greatly, depending on whether acting as role model, educational institution, consultant or more directly as political actor, who is involved in decision-making processes. Since Ecovillages are still outside the established political institutions, the previous influence has been described as rather limited in terms of decision making.  

Nevertheless, many Ecovillages are already operating successfully as autonomous educational institutions. Together with various cooperation partners, a multitude of creative projects have been launched that are already reaching people throughout Europe and around the world. The Ecovillage movement is unmistakably rich in creativity. Let´s use this creativity to create a conscious, resilient and sustainable Europe. 

About the author: Sabrina is a researcher and political scientist. “I dedicate my work  to the important work of the ecovillage movement towards a better future. In personal connection, gratitude and love, Sabrina"