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Towards a perma-sociology? Laura Centemeri on permaculture as a social movement and a way of life.

Review of “Laura Centemeri (2019), La Permaculture ou l’art de réhabiter. Versailles: Éditions Quæ, 2019”

Mischa Gabowitsch (2021)

Partecipazione e conflitto, 14(1) 2021: 499-506. Open access

Extract: “Centemeri’s is the first book-length study of the phenomenon, and neither permaculturists nor sociologists could have hoped for a better overview. In a slim yet immensely rich volume that grew out of two lectures at the former French National Institute of Agricultural Research, Centemeri provides a brief history of the movement before analysing it as a new form of ecological critique, based on learning, that she sums up as an ‘art of reinhabiting’. She examines how permaculture develops an approach to ‘earth care’ through environmental reflexivity; how it acknowledges incommensurable modes of valuation; and how it creates ecotones, or hybridization zones, that facilitate encounters between, and shared exploration by, those from a wide variety of different backgrounds. Indeed her book can itself be read as an effort to create such an ecotone by putting permaculture into resonance with some of the most promising recent developments in sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and the life sciences. This includes Anna Tsing’s anthropology of global connectedness, friction, and non-scalability (Tsing, 2005, 2015); the debate in social movements studies about prefigurative politics (Yates, 2015); science studies in the vein of Bruno Latour and Annemarie Mol; French pragmatic sociology’s approach to the study of critique (Boltanski and Thévenot, 2006), of regimes of engagement (e.g. Thévenot, 2002, 2011, 2014) and of social and environmental transformation (e.g. Chateauraynaud and Debaz, 2017); Serge Audier’s (2017) philosophical genealogy of environmentalism; and advances in plant neurobiology (Mancuso and Viola, 2013). In a sense, the book is a work of permacultural design in its own right: without ever idealising her subject, she orchestrates a veritable dialogue, demonstrating not only how insights from these fields can inform an account of permaculture but also how permaculture’s own principles can be made fruitful for advancing the social sciences.
The distinctiveness of the permaculture movement, the reasons why it has often been overlooked, and Centemeri’s contribution to its study can perhaps all be understood best in contrast.”

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