The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
The New Environmentalism and its Critics
The Perils of Consumption and the Gift Economy as the Solution Daniel Miller’s ‘Consumption and Its Consequences’
Anarchist and Hybrid Strategies
Ruling Class Men: Money, Sex, Power
Options for a Sustainable Future - Four Models of Utopia
Exploitation, Surplus and the Community Economy - 2013
What is the Difference between Anarchism and Socialism anyway?
Checkmate: Why Capitalism Cannot Survive Global Warming
The Social Meaning of the Climate Crisis
Indigenous Sustainability and Collapsing Empires
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 1)
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 2)
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 3)
Sociological Utopias and Social Transformation: Permaculture and the Gift Economy
On the Edge of Utopia: A Letter to the Green Parties (Part A)
On the Edge of Utopia: A Letter to the Green Parties (Part B)
Sustainable Agriculture: A Marketing Opportunity or Impossible in the Global Capitalist Economy?
Food, Society and the Environment - 2003
Apocalypse Most Likely: Agency and Environmental Risk in the Hunter Region
Second Wave Feminism - The Opening Debates
Second Wave Feminism - Since the Mid-Seventies
Ecofeminism Part One: Different positions within Ecofeminism
Lecture: Deep Ecology
Sociological Utopias and Social Transformation: Permaculture and the Gift Economy
Currently, utopian schemes have a somewhat tenuous legitimacy in the social sciences. After all, sociology textbooks always say that sociology is about the rigorous scientific description of social reality, not about dreaming up fantasied alternatives to the present condition. Yet social theory has many skeletons in the closet, not the least of which is Marx's dreadful vision of the transition to communism through a statist dictatorship of the proletariat - a new form of wage labour working according to a central plan with nationalisation of the means of production. Of course it is the disaster of the working out of this vision that lies behind postmodernist rejections of utopias and their associated grand narratives:

In fact we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society , of another way of thinking, another culture, another view of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions (Foucault 1986: 46).

In this view, dreaming about utopias becomes the sociologist's Pandora's box, not to be opened without dire consequences. However since dreaming about futures is hardly the preserve of sociologists and is also the preoccupation of science fiction writers and other authors of popular culture, it is difficult to believe that a restraining order on sociologists will be particularly effective.

Three defences of utopian writing are considered in this paper. In the first, utopian writing is argued to be no more fantastical than the ideas which funtion to underpin every social order. I defend utopian writing by taking up Castoriadis's view that "the imaginary" is a central and inevitable feature of every society. A second defence of utopias argues that everyday life and the political acts which go to make up social transformation are never lived in total clarity and sober realism but are inevitably suffused with fantasies and daydreams. A third defence of utopias considers them as "affirmations", a concept coined by New Age therapy movement writers to refer to statements that are consciously affirmed with the intention of shifting subconscious blocks to change.

In the second part of the paper I consider a number of related utopian projects both as sociology and as aspects of social transformation.

A defense of sociological utopias

I shall examine the writing of sociological utopias as a strategy within a politics of social transformation. This analysis of utopian writing invites us to step back from the scientific claims made by utopias and look instead at the way utopias may function. Before doing this it is only sensible to set out the kinds of scientific claims that make utopian writing a distinctive moment in the social sciences. I take it that the two basic claims of utopian writing in the social sciences are firstly that the claimed utopia is possible and secondly that the the claimed utopia is preferable to the current state of affairs. Eschewing a relativist view of ethics and social reality these can both be regarded as factual claims. In claiming that a utopia is possible, utopian writing sometimes contents itself with the claim that the utopia is possible given the constraints of human nature and the natural world. A stronger claim is involved in arguing that the utopia could actually be attained by some possible transformation of the present state of affairs.

Castoriadis in The Imaginary Institution of Society (1987) argues that every social order is organised according to a particular manifestation of the social "imaginary":

... the imaginary ultimately stems from the originary faculty of positing or presenting oneself with things and relations that do not exist, in the form of representation (things and relations that are not or have never been given in perception) (Castoriadis 1987: 127).

Such fictions lie at the heart of every social order:

This element - which gives a specific orientation to every institutional system, which overdetermines the choice and the connections of symbolic networks, which is the creation of each historical period, its singular manner of living, of seeing and of conducting its own existence, its world, and its relations with this world, this originary structuring component, this central signifying signified, the source of that which presents itself in every instance as indisputable and undisputed meaning, the basis for articulating what does matter and what does not ... is nothing other than the imaginary of the society or of the period considered (Castoriadis 1987: 145).

For example he suggests the origin of class society in an arbitrary development of the social imaginary, by which "people saw one another and acted with respect to one another not as allies to help one another, rivals to surpass, enemies to exterminate or even to eat, but as objects to possess" (Castoriadis 1987: 154). Modern capitalist society itself, which prides itself on its realism and functional efficiency likewise works in terms of an imaginary which defines what is real and efficient. "To treat a person as thing or as a purely mechanical system is not less but more imaginary than claiming to see him [sic] as an owl; it represents an even greater plunge into the imaginary" (Castoriadis 1987: 157). Castoriadis defines alienation as a condition in which the imaginary becomes autonomous and people forget that it is a social product which can actually be changed.

Within this framework sociological utopias could be no more fictional than the imaginary system by which society already and necessarily functions. The informing of social organisation by the imaginary is not something that can be overcome by some act of clear thinking and will. There can be no transparent communication of the type suggested in Habermas's writing. According to Castoriadis, any attempt at radical change necessarily involves the creation of a new social imaginary. Utopian writing can be seen as an aspect of this process. His view does not suggest a simple relationship in which utopian ideas will be implemented literally in new practices. Ideas as they are written are like other social practices in being informed by an imaginary which they may also misrepresent (Castoriadis 1987: 147). So rather than seeing a utopian text as a recipe or as a new imaginary in itself, it can be seen as part of a set of social practices which may reflect the birth of a new social imaginary.

A similar insight is provided in Walkerdine's analysis of the way fictional fantasies operate to inform people's practices in daily life (1986). In the article "Video Replay" she considers the responses of a working class family to a showing of the film Rocky II. In particular she looks at the way Mr Cole identifies with Rocky as a working class man involved in a constant struggle or "fight" to deal with the humiliations of his daily life and resist the powers to which he is subjected. She argues that he receives the film in terms of pre-existing modes of fantasy and desire through which he also negotiates events in his daily life. Generalizing from this she argues against a separation between fantasy - as an ideology to be overcome - and a sober reality - which ought to be perceived without illusions:

There is no 'real' of these practices which stands outside fantasy, no split between fantasy as a psychic space and a reality which can be known. If such fictional identities become 'real' in practices, they must have a psychical reality which has a positive effectivity in the lived materiality of the practices themselves (Walkerdine 1986: 183).

This analysis can be readily applied to the imagined utopias created by sociologists. They can be perceived as fantasy spaces which relate to existing desires in their authors and readers and which can have material effects as people take up subject positions offered within these fantasies. As Walkerdine argues for watching a Hollywood movie, a sociological fantasy is "not simply an escape from drudgery [science] into dreaming: it is a place of desperate dreaming, of hope for transformation" (Walkerdine 1986: 196)!

Finally, sociological utopias can be viewed as analogous to what is portrayed in New Age writings as a process of spiritual self transformation. This is the process of creating and repeating "affirmations" to oneself as a means to overcome psychic blocks and allow new possibilities to enter one's life. Sondra Ray defines an affirmation as follows:

An affirmation is a positive thought that you consciously choose to immerse in your consciousness to produce a certain desired result (Ray 1980, 10).

As an example of the effectiveness of affirmations she describes the case of Betsy who, she says, was plagued by the constant belief that no one liked her. She was advised to work with the affirmation "People are starting to like me" and gradually this came to be true in reality. To believe in the power of affirmations can of course be seen as a kind of magic; as Shakti Gawain puts it creative visualisation "allows the higher universal power to support you in receiving all of life's gifts" (Gawain 1989: 33). I find myself uncomfortable with such an ego centred view of the universe's benevolence. On the other hand a less magical interpretation of the power of affirmations is also offered by such authors when they refer to the power of unconscious processes to influence behaviour:

Most people unconsciously spend a lot of time imagining what they are afraid will happen, or what they don't want. Visualizing and imagining what you want helps you get in touch with what you truly desire in life. It frees the creative energy within you and directs it where you really want it to go (Gawain 1989: 32-33).

There is no doubt that the creation of sociological utopias can be regarded as a kind of affirmation or creative visualisation. Utopias are written or imagined to influence the behaviour of authors and readers through their unconscious effects on patterns of daily life and political practices. In this case there is a divergence between the scientific claims made by the sociological writer and the operation of the utopia as an affirmation. The scientific claims are that this utopia could happen and would in fact be preferable to the current situation. Its intended operation as an affirmation is to make something happen which is more like the utopia depicted; the depiction of the utopia itself makes the utopia more possible.

This understanding of utopias may dissolve some of the tension between reformism and revolutionary strategy. While a utopia, of course, describes the successful creation of a new mode of production, its operation as an affirmation can be seen as an attempt to move things in this direction now, not just in some after the revolution/end of history. A reformist interpretation of utopian writing is most in tune with New Age attempts to improve life in the here and now and suggests the appropriate affirmation-form of the utopia to be - we are gradually creating this utopia now. A suitably equivocal phrase used by my yoga teacher, Margaret Hewing is this : "Be sure that your affirmation will come true when the time is ripe"!

Three utopian projects:

The following three sections are discussions of utopian proposals that are inspired by my research into environmental attitudes in the Hunter region of N.S.W. This has been an in depth interview study and is based on one to one interviews and focus group discussions. Close to a hundred people have been interviewed. Some of the interviews have been conducted by my students and most I have done myself. The first discussion looks at a utopia proposed by one of my interviewees and considers the issues of permaculture as a utopian technology that are raised by this utopia. The second presents and considers the "gift economy" in the context of options for an environmentally sustainable economy. The final discussion presents a rationale for a concrete proposal for a permaculture food forest and considers this as a utopian strategy.

1. Alex's utopia of the Ituri and Permaculture as a utopian technology

In 1994 I was beginning my current research into people's attitudes to environmental politics. I arranged a focus group with a group of LEAP workers who at the time were engaged in a bush regeneration project at a Council Reserve in the Hunter region. As the group consisted of unemployed young adults whose chances of future employment were somewhat doubtful I was particularly interested in their visions of the long term future of this society. Early in the interview Alex came up with a utopian model based on a TV program he had seen about the Ituri in Africa:

Yeah, We're all going down hill. We're just fucking up. So we've gotta try and save this planet ... Man's greed for the dollar, is they'll just take more and more and not give anything back to the environment. But if we put it back into the forests. We should use our shit. We should recycle excrement. No man, the plants just grew on the site, just grew in the forests and you'd just go and say ohh I feel like smoking ... all drugs - you'd just have natural ones, and they'd be all legal. See if man didn't stuff up we'd have the land of milk and honey and you'd just pick things from the trees and bum around ... Everyone works to, just like do as little as possible, just to get by or just do a little bit more than they have to ... live like the Ituri forest people. Alright they do as little work as possible a bit of hunter gathering work 'cause it's a really good area, they can just keep moving on. Then they dance and sing to the gods, smoke hemp through their pipes and umm walk on stilts, play games with bows and arrows. They just play games the rest of the time.

Other members of the focus group were very entertained by this utopia but indicated that they would not like to do without modern technology and went on to propose more reformist models of a desirable future. I was struck by the parallels between Alex's utopia and the utopianism that affects my own daydreams and my sociological writing.

The model takes inspiration from an encounter with an ethnographic description of a stateless society and in some ways idealizes that society and relocates it in the desired future. The utopian fantasy validates these stateless societies as free from alienated labour, in terms of a constrast with current society, our days taken up with coerced labour for the "Planetary Work Machine" (P. M . 1985; see also Clastres 1987; Maddock 1974). In my own life such ethnographic fantasy is not of recent origin but dates back to early high school when I was fascinated with Spencer and Gillen's accounts of the Aborigines of Central Australia and constructed artefacts modelled from their photos for my own use.

What this idealization of stateless societies can ignore is the extent to which these societies are in fact characterized by competitive political struggles between men and by a patriarchal regime in which women, younger men and children are subordinated and consequently are involved in coerced labour of various kinds (Edwards 1987; Hamilton 1981a; Hamilton 1987; Hiatt 1987; Murphy & Murphy 1972; Shostak 1983; Taussig 1992;Turnbull 1962). So this fantasy is not immune to a gender blind complicity with patriarchy.

A second aspect of Alex's utopia is that it pictures a society in which there are no commodities, wage labour or money. It is a "gift economy" in the way this term is appropriated from Mauss by the Situationists (Vaneigem 1983). Products are either consumed directly by the producers or made available to others as gifts. For this model to be consistent with an anti patriarchal politics a clear distinction must be made between today's mythology of housework as a gift and a proposed utopia in which men and women equally share domestic responsibilities and public power.

Alex's utopian model is centrally preoccupied with a new kind of relationship between humans and nature. What is proposed is nothing less than the abandonment of agriculture as a laborious extraction of products from nature; instead there is an edenic vision of nature as a "land of milk and honey". It would be pointless to deny how closely this comes to the fantasy of permaculture which affects my own daydreams and gardening projects.

"Permaculture" is defined by Mollison as the "conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems" (Mollison 1988: ix). This is to be achieved through the abandonment of monocultures based on plough cultivation of staple cereal crops. Such monocultures are to be replaced with polycultures of trees, shrubs and perennial vines supplemented with some annual gardening for root crops, vegetables and legumes. It is a system of organic gardening in that it relies on mulch and composting to fertilize and deals with pests by companion planting, diversity of species and careful choice of suitable perennials for the site in question. Vast acreages given over to meat production are to be replaced with local production of small animals fed from the excess production of fruit and nut crops.

As in Alex's vision, a permaculture system is designed to be set up so that it will produce food and other useful products without having to be constantly worked upon. As Mollison says in the video "Global Gardener" - "with most of the garden perennial or self seeding, your work in planting's finished after a year or so and basically you're a forager" (1991).

What this permaculture model may ignore is the work that is in fact associated with such an agricultural technology. A worrying passage in Bill Mollison's TV series "Global Gardener" (1991) sees Bill establish his garden with a sheet mulch of newspaper and straw in "thirty working days" over a three year period. This garden, he claims is enough to satisfy all his needs for food, wood, mulch and fibres. We see Bill reclining in his lush garden: "And this is were the designer turns into the recliner. If you already have it well planted you can pretend to be working in the garden and be invisible from the house", where Bill's wife is presumably occupied in preparing the products from his gardening activities.

Permaculture has been most successful as a replacement for modern agricultural techniques in situations where fuel, machinery and fertiliser are not readily available because of poverty or trade embargoes, with Vietnam and Cuba being prime locations. What I suspect is that the labour of establishing permacultural systems is considerably more than Mollison acknowledges and that much of this work cannot readily be performed by machinery - planting trees and shrubs, along with earth works to catch water, is a very different proposition from mechanised ploughing and sowing. There would be less work to do after the perennials in the system were planted. However in comparison with current mechanized agriculture, the labour of harvesting would be increased in permaculture. Monocultures of cereals are readily harvested by machines; the same cannot be said of polycultures of fruit and nut crops. Against this one has to offset the fact that modern commercial agriculture requires considerable labour in the distribution of products which would be vastly reduced within a permaculture economy.

Suburbanites in the first world can get a high price for their labour and have access to the products of a highly mechanised farming industry. My own experience suggests that the labour cost of food produced by permaculture is higher than that of food bought on the market. In such a situation permaculture can readily become another men's hobby in which men absent themselves from domestic work, justifying their absence with a utopian rhetoric of saving the planet. This is not to deny that in the first world some permaculture solutions may be profitable for commodity agriculture as a means to reduce the cost of soil degradation, or in niche marketing of organic produce. Nor is it to deny the viability of permaculture as a strategy of opposition to the market economy.

Permaculture as an element in an envisaged gift economy of the future is yet another matter. In such a context it would have the advantage of being a system of sustainable agriculture and also a system of farming that emphasizes food production as creative gardening - as opposed to the boring monotonous work associated with monocultures. It links people in an immediate and sensuous tie to the natural world, on which they depend for their subsistence and it creates a basis for localized independent food production as a foundation for political autonomy (P. M. 1985).

The term "milk and honey" in Alex's vision and the associated prospect of endless available supplies of food and drugs to be merely collected from the trees figures nature as a bountiful and totally dependable mother. Hamilton, discussing the socialization of Anbarra children, argues that the customary generosity of adults, upon which their mode of production depends, is psychologically based on an indulgence of demand in childhood. Children are allowed the breast even when they are not hungry and for several years. They are indulged by being instantly picked up and comforted when they cry. Infants are almost always in arms. Toddlers are given toys by older children if they cry. By contrast, she argues, Western child raising practices have emphasized the practice of denial as a preparation for adulthood and a lesson in self control: separation from the mother for days after birth; scheduled infant feeding; prohibitions on dummies or even thumb sucking; children left to cry because picking up a child is supposed to encourage them to use crying to manipulate adults; ruthless childhood competition over toys (Hamilton 1981b). Hamilton concludes from this that Western adults grow up to be extremely and continuously anxious about their needs being met by other people. They amass and hoard property in an attempt to stave off these anxieties.

Alex's discussion begins by referring to this acquisitive response as "man's greed for the dollar - they'll just take more and more and not give anything back to the environment". Later in describing his utopia what he proposes can be construed as another kind of response to this anxiety - the focus on achieving a relationship with nature in which nature comes to play the part of the indulgent parents missing in infancy. As a schedule fed baby myself I wonder how much the attraction of permaculture lies in its promise of abundant and secure sources of food.

The main way in which my own utopian fantasies differ from Alex's is that I do not envisage a future without modern technology, material wealth and the social possibilities of global communication. The more Luddite aspects of Alex's utopia became an issue in the focus group:

Terry: So would you like to live like that?

Alex: Yeah, if I could, if I was brought up to it.

Trevor: Nooo. I'd like a stereo and electricity.

Alex: No but if you weren't brought up. Imagine all the hassles, you wouldn't have bills, you wouldn't have anything.

Trevor: Everything 'd be unplugged!

Alex: It'be unreal but ... [over much laughter] You'd be more advanced in ways, I'm sure they're more in tune with nature and stuff. They've probably got slight telepathic powers and things.

In interviews concerned with environmental politics I generally found that an exclusive dichotomy informed people's opinions about modes of production. A mode of production can be stateless and egalitarian and in harmony with the natural world only if it is small scale, meaning that local groups are self sufficient and largely socially separated, technologically primitive, meaning that there is no use of the technologies made available by recent science and austere, meaning that material wealth is very limited. To me, the exclusiveness of this dichotomy fits within a pro-capitalist ideology. The dichotomy creates an indissoluble link between:

  1. The social and material possibilities opened up by modernism, and;

  2. The state, commodities, wage labour and the inevitability of environmental destruction.

The question proposed to the public in the first world by this discourse is - do you want to throw away everything that capitalism has given you? Alex's discussion is marginal in embracing the alternative that hegemonic ideology discounts as folly. In this he follows some authors in the environmentalist movement - for example Bahro who advocates an end to what he calls "industrial society" and its replacement by small self sufficient communes (Bahro 1986; Dobson 1990). From one perspective this advocacy of austerity is just an unattractive and politically unwise puritanism. More favourably it could be viewed as a no holds barred challenge to hegemonic discourse; yes, if that's what it takes to destroy class society we are ready.

As I have no doubt already made clear, utopian ideas are a constant aspect of my daily internal dialogues. To that extent writing sociological utopias is an optional extra. At the same time I have been drawn to this form as one part of a recent article on environmental problems and as an aspect of a project I am aiming to realize through a submission to Lake Macquarie Council and Greening Australia.

2. The Gift Economy

Interviewing Hunter residents about environmental problems I often asked whether some alternative economic and political structure could solve environmental problems better than representative democracy and capitalism. In some cases interviewees would initiate such discussions without any prompting on my part. One group of three men who were co-workers in a maritime industry spent the first part of the interview inveighing against the failings of the Federal Labor Government; it's embrace of right wing economic rationalism. They blamed global capitalism for environmental problems. One of the interviewees, nicknamed "Prawn", introduced the following outline of a utopia:

It's funny. We can't seem to. We couldn't come to a situation, where, if money was say totally - meant nothing, right and we said to each other righto, now Matt, you bloody drive a good boat, you know and Barry you're good on splicing and knots, you're good at what you do. Everyone. We've all got our little bit to do, you know. And we said righto. Well let's all just do it that way, you know. Instead of working for money, and we'll just. And the people who grow the fruit, we'll bring in the fertiliser and that they need, you know. And you know, you got people who make cars, and you know. So every one. The whole world is just self sufficient with each other you know.

As I shall explain later, Prawn went on to say why he doubted whether such a system could work in reality. However I was struck by the way Prawn quite spontaneously produced the basic outline of the utopia that I call "the gift economy", following Vaneigem's appropriation of this term from Marcel Mauss (Vaneigem 1983; Mauss 1970). As I have argued in an earlier article, the project of creating an environmentally sustainable economy is difficult within the framework of global capitalism and its political form as representative democracy and consumerism within the first world (Leahy 1994). Accordingly a change in the mode of production is necessary if we are to move to an effective solution to ecological problems. There are a number of green theorists who have proposed alternative modes of production to deal with environmental problems (e.g. Bahro 1986; Daly & Cobb 1991; Mellor 1992; Trainer 1985; Dobson 1990; Mollison 1988). As my own preferred utopia I favour a mode of production in which we have abolished capitalism, state socialism, remnant feudalism, wage labour and money itself. Instead we would have a "gift economy". Mostly, people would operate according to an ethic of maximizing their own pleasure and giving useful services and products to other people. In a sense all production would be voluntary; it would be organized to satisfy the immediate needs of the producers themselves or would be given away to meet the needs of others. We can envisage it in terms of a vast extension of the voluntary forms of organisation that in Australia are responsible for such services as surf life saving, rescuing whales from beaches or knitting jumpers for relatives.

Such a system can be argued to be more compatible with ecological imperatives than capitalism for a number of reasons. For example, in the context of such a gift economy useless production would be reduced by the producers themselves - to save effort. It would make no sense to work hard producing useless items that no one else particularly needed and that you did not enjoy making. By contrast in a capitalist society, it makes sense for entrepreneurs to produce any marketable commodity, however unnecessary, to make a profit. Those who produce such commodities have no choice as to the nature of their work, which is dictated by their superiors, and finally the purchase of useless goods comes to seem sensible as a compensation for a life of forced labour.

One can consider the implications of the end of alienated labour for what we are accustomed to think of as necessary organisations of authoritative coordination - the government or state. My view is that if producers controlled the distribution of their products and directly organized this, the powers of national government would be severely limited. An aspiring state could not regulate conduct by denying livelihood to any section of the population - since all sections of the populations would be supplied by gifts from a multiplicity of independent collectives of producers. People would not need to be in an army or police force to get access to a livelihood so it would be impossible to recruit a force whose obedience was premised on their need to keep their job. Any armed force would be dependent for provisions and arms on the whims of various producers' collectives on the occasion in question - there could be no reliable control of an armed force by a central body. So there could be no state in the sense of an automatically authoritative body monopolizing the use of legitimate force. Meetings of regional representatives could perhaps be found useful but they would not be the main means of coordination or have any automatic coercive authority.

A gift economy of the type I am proposing would not depend on dividing the population up into self sufficient communes. Instead people would continue to participate in multiple networks of overlapping productive activities. Such coordination as there was in a gift economy would also have to be achieved by voluntary organizations - of media workers, pollsters and statisticians, advising other voluntary organizations of problems of shortages, waste, future requirements and so forth. As I have argued, in such a society no policing would be legitimate and authoritative. All control of the activities of other people would be contestable and would depend upon sufficient force being mustered by the offended parties. For such a system to work to produce roughly equal outcomes there would have to be a cultural commitment to equality on the part of most people, but then no democratic system can produce equal outcomes unless this is the case.

The gift economy is envisaged as a society that is socially, racially and sexually egalitarian. For a system of gifts to work to produce this effect people would have to be motivated to achieve this outcome by a generous and sympathetic benevolence to others. Equality could not arise from a rationed out impartiality which would require a central authority to determine equal shares. Instead it would come about through relations with particular others that in aggregate were not balanced to the disadvantage of any sex, sexuality or cultural/ethnic group. While this account stresses benevolence and the gift it would also make sense to call such an order a theft economy in that people would not respect any supposed rights of others to dominate or unfairly hoard.

I take the point made by radical feminists that patriarchy provides the soil in which other forms of social domination take root (Firestone 1972). A system in which one gender dominates at the expense of the other creates a culture of dominance and submission which promotes ruling groups as the stern fathers of their societies. I also agree with Chodorow's claim that anxious and insecure masculine rivalries are fostered by a situation in which men avoid child care and "take" boys from women for initiation into "manhood" (Chodorow 1974). Such rivalries with their winners and losers are ripe to be solidified as established structures of class and ethnic inequality.

Critiques of the gift economy

Typical objections to anarchistically inclined utopias come from socialist adherents to a statist solution to our problems and from conservatives who see a stateless egalitarian society as a hopelessly optimistic ideal. In both cases what is criticised is not the ethical desirability of such utopias but their practicability. Some of these criticisms may be relevant to the gift economy and some are not.

Many of Frankel's (1983; 1987) criticisms of anarchist green utopias could without doubt be applied to the gift econonomy. One of these is that a gift economy in which producers decided the allocation of the social product could favour male factory workers, farmers and miners at the expense of those who do not produce consumer goods; namely those in the bureaucratic or service sectors of society, the unemployed, women who are mainly preoccupied with housework or childcare, children and old people who are not involved in the direct production of consumer goods. Frankel uses this as an argument that we need to maintain a state. The role of the state is to ensure that those who are not "direct producers" can have guaranteed access to the goods produced in the industrial sector of the economy. It also ensures that all people have democratic control over decisions about what goods are to be made by the direct producers.

There are a number of ways of replying to Frankel's argument. To begin with, in a gift economy all services are gifts. The power of distribution, the social status of producer and the right to receive gifts are just as much the prerogative of those who engage in domestic work, service work or bureaucratic work as they are the prerogative of those who produce durable material objects. A strike in domestic labour or bureaucratic labour is just as crippling to a gift economy as a strike in steel production. Secondly we can envisage a gift economy as being one in which socially useful tasks are not life long sentences but are spread about so that people are not generally exclusively occupied in any one sector. If indeed manufacturing is a source of power, prestige and status - through the ability of workers in that sector to determine the initial destiny of durable goods - then such work would be shared widely in the community.

As Frankel's argument suggests, a gift economy would be one in which producers made decisions about what to produce and how to distribute it so there would be no guaranteed community control of any particular instance of production. However producers in any sector of the economy would be making decisions about what to produce and how to distribute it that were based on their understandings of the needs of other groups. For a start the status of the givers would depend on genuine needs being met by the gift. Secondly, producers in each sector would be aware of their dependence on the services of other sectors. To produce without considering the needs of others would be to undermine the social ethic which guaranteed services from others.

Another socialist objection to stateless utopias is that coordination in a modern industrial economy cannot be achieved without authoritative and coercive centralised organisation of production. This argument is a recurring theme in Frankel's discussions (1983; 1987) and Pepper quotes the following succinct comment:

Any state policy that relies on utopian assumptions about mutual aid and volunteerism is a formula for economic catastrophe, a descent into chaos (Hall cited in Pepper 1993, 226)

This is an old chestnut and goes back to Engels' "On Authority" if not also to classic functionalist defences of social class from Plato onwards. The gift economy utopia envisages that effective coordination of supply and demand in a gift economy is the result of two factors in combination. On the one hand independent and multipronged collectives of media, research and administrative workers keep the other producers' collectives up to date with what is required by whom and for what. The other factor which ensures fair and adequate distribution of goods and services is the will of the various producers' collectives to ensure that the outcomes of distribution are in fact equitable. Any further fine tuning could be achieved by informal gift links between consumers' themselves.

Frankel (1983) adds to the standard socialist objections to anarchist utopias by arguing that communalist green utopias suggest a socially divided populace. An insular and smug parochialism would prevent an even handed distribution of goods between autonomous self sufficient communities. The gift economy is not a communalist utopia of this type. I envisage a system in which society is organised into networks of producers' collectives which are geographically overlapping. The gift economy does not put an end to the globalism that contemporary society has produced. Instead global networks of culture, travel, coordination, and the transfer of goods become more effective in producing mutually beneficial outcomes. At the same time, the kinds of transport of people and goods that are environmentally problematic are restricted. Self sufficiency is not a social and cultural goal but may take place to reduce workloads or for environmental reasons.

Above all, Frankel (1983; 1987) and other marxists argue that only a democratic majoritarian state can ensure that the rights and well being of minority groups are adequately protected. It does this by making sure that all groups are paid adequate and equitable wages, protected from violence by the law and afforded social security in a state - guaranteed social wage. This is a very attractive argument, the more so because the rights of indigenous peoples, gays and lesbians, victims of sexual assault, women and the old, not to mention workers are in fact protected within liberal democracies by these very mechanisms. For a radical politics to abandon these gains in some future utopia and cease to defend them in the current context - as part of a statist plot - seems quixotic at best.

What must be remembered about this situation is that these rights, these minimal defences of the well being of the underprivileged, are in fact supported by majorities of the whole population in those liberal democracies where they are currently implemented. A gift economy would do no worse in this situation. If we were to wake up tomorrow in a gift economy the people who have voted for minority rights in the context of liberal democracy would be implementing these same liberal policies through their participation in producers' collectives to ensure just distribution and through the the defence of minorities from violence through voluntary organisations of peace keepers, community justice mediators and social workers. They would have a lot more power as producers than they currently have as voters to actually do something concrete about the situation of less privileged groups. A gift economy could not work to produce tolerance and fairness unless most people were committed to these goals. But then a democractically controlled state apparatus could do no better than this.

To me the main problem with the socialist position is that authoritative coordination of the economy or state guarantees of rights are not simple democratic tools that can be used to ensure coordination and a fair distribution of products without other outcomes. They always imply that there is an important section of the economy in which people are engaged as alienated labour. They are employed to produce, distribute products or protect rights in the way that some central government, however democratically elected, has decided is necessary. They are not just doing whatever it may be that they themselves think is necessary. There are two ways to ensure this kind of obedience. The order takers are either slaves or they are employees who have to do this work in order to procure an essential part of their living. Authoritative coordination by a state necessarily goes hand in hand with alienated labour. Whatever one may think about the ethical problems of such authority, my criticism is more practical and more addressed to the present moment in the West. Currently, allegiance to alienated labour is bought by the promise and reality of ever increasing material consumption. Ecologically, this political bargain is no longer viable.

Conservative critiques of the gift economy are much more current in the population at large. These argue that egalitarian generosity is fundamentally at variance with competitive human nature. Prawn, the interviewee who so succinctly set out the overall characteristics of a gift economy also went on to make a typical prognostication on the problems of implementing any such scheme:

Prawn: But then you'd get people who'd say. Ohh no. I want two cars.

Barry: Yeah. I want a better one.

Prawn: Yeah, I want a better one. Yeah exactly. And this is the point. If we could come to, you know, an understanding, or I don't know, you know what I mean. It's, maybe it's too idealistic or you know. It would be the perfect system, right, and I'm sure that you could make it work, but you are always going to get those people who are going to say, I don't want to work today, and bugger it, I'm not going to work tomorrow either.

Matt: I don't have to.

Prawn: I don't have to. You know. And then the other people say well shit, I've got to do it. You know. That system in theory would be fantastic but what would destroy it is ourselves. Human nature would destroy it. That's what would destroy it. And it's a shame when you think about it. You know when I think about things like that I really lose faith, you know.

In its most general form such a criticism expresses the view that the gift economy would come to grief as particular groups secured strategic advantage and used it to consolidate power against the interests of others. This is a more bleak picture than that of the marxist critics of the gift economy. Marxists believe that an egalitarian distribution and equal rights could be secured by a socialist state. Conservatives see these goals as impossible in terms of human nature. My reply to this conservative argument is to accept that human nature as it is now socially constructed may indeed operate to prevent a gift economy from being successful. A cultural shift must take place in order for the gift economy to operate effectively to produce egalitarian outcomes.

As I have suggested above, I see three aspects of socialisation as essential to a gift economy and as key signs of the broader cultural patterns that would operate in such a society:

  1. Being indulged one's infant and childhood needs is the prerequisite for becoming a generous adult who feels confident that their needs will be met by other people (Hamilton 1981b).

  2. The involvement of men in the direct care and succour of young children is necessary to prevent men from becoming anxious, competitive and insecure adults who seek to gain advantage to establish their masculinity ( Chodorow 1974).

  3. An experience of family life in childhood in which close familial adults are equal partners negotiating daily life is necessary if people are to grow up without expecting someone to always be the boss (Firestone 1972).

These keys to socialisation for the gift economy can be regarded as practices which are being gradually implemented now as part of a current transition.

Looking at the multiplicity of world cultures, a common objection to utopias is to say that no common new culture could ever gain sufficient currency to dominate global politics (Pepper 1993). This is ill conceived if we look at the history of capitalist society where elements such as private appropriation, heterosexism, wage labour, patriarchy and the work ethic have conquered and succeeded within a great variety of cultural contexts and now dominate in a world in which they were once the cultural inventions of minorities.

The gift economy as current practice

As argued in the first section of this article, a sociological utopia can be considered in terms of its claims to be preferable and possible but it can also be considered as an element within current social practice. In this perspective it is mistaken to evaluate political action in terms of how it contributes now to some future condition in which the gift economy will be the mode of production. Instead I think the present period should be regarded as one of transition, in which we are beginning to implement aspects of the gift economy. In saying this I support Foucault's (1986) criticism of an approach to political life in which actions are directed towards some future revolutionary moment in which all problems will be solved.

Traditionally debates between the anarchist and socialist left have revolved around the extent to which parliamentary strategies and economistic trade unionism can be regarded as viable strategies for revolutionaries. Describing the new social movements, Pepper gives a typical marxist rendering of these movements as essentially anarchist in their politics. Unlike the workers' movement:

... they resist incorporation into institutionalised politics, are anti-authoritarian, and seek value and lifestyle changes rather than traditional political outcomes ... The movements' methodological emphasis is on psycho-social practices (consciousness-raising, group therapy and so on), creating geographical space (urban squatting, rural and urban communes), the 'personal is political' (feminism) and grass-roots democracy (greens). (Pepper 1993, 135-136)

In a description of eco-anarchists he claims that they tend to reject class politics, preferring the setting up of mutualist collectives to live out and prefigure the politics of a future society. While Pepper does not deny that these strategies may have a part in an overall socialist programme it is their centrality that he objects to in anarchism and the social movements:

The world cannot be restructured by moral example, or tiny colonies of well-intentioned people who are not members or representatives of the working class. (Pepper 1993, 150)

He goes on to claim that anarchism and the ecological movement are both responses to the powerlessness, guilt and angst of certain sections of the middle class. Furthermore, anarchists should realize that the political freedom of action they enjoy in liberal democracies is secured by the power of the working class movement, however reformist and coopted it may have become in the present day.

Anarchists in turn denounce the parliamentary path, arguing that a stateless society of the future cannot be constructed by participation in state politics now. (Richards 1972). This is often joined to a more personalized critique. A recent letter to Sydney Anarchist News described a Green Party forum from the anarchist perspective:

I had the feeling ... that I was witnessing a meeting of greying environmentalists tired of direct action and now opting for the more comfortable and "respectable" parliamentary path. (Bouhours 1995, 3)

The ultra left in general criticizes the workers' movement for its heirarchical bureaucratic politics and denounces the trade unions and the reformist socialist parties for an economistic politics which does not deal with the issue of control of the means of production nor with the alienation of everyday working life (Cardan 1974; Vaneigem 1983).

While some of the criticisms on both sides of this debate may make sense, they can also be seen as aspects of social closure in which two sections of the political middle class judgementally distinguish themselves from each other. The anarchist side represents itself as pure and unstained by compromise; as heroic in its disregard for the pragmatic compromises that lead most people to stay out of gaol, vote for political parties, get a job, a legal protection of one's rights or government funding for one's projects. The socialist side of the debate presents itself as pragmatic, materialist, not easily fooled, as really representing the working class as they are now, as part of a true mass movement and so on. Both sides evaluate the strategies of the other side in terms of some eventual revolutionary goal rather than in terms of what these politics may achieve now, with the common belief that nothing can really be achieved until after the revolution.

The real practice of the social movements and the workers' movements can be seen as much more inclusive. If the gift economy is being brought about now this process has a number of elements. It is struggles in daily life to gain control of time and labour, to express oneself artistically, relating to other people and the natural world with love and benevolence. It is processes of cultural change and the setting up of alternatives. It is direct action which is designed to alter the conduct of the state or businesses without formal participation in parliamentary processes. It is also the well worn reformist strategies of partial control of production and distribution through the state and through economistic trade unionism.

The problem with the state is not that all power corrupts or that reformist tactics are inevitably doomed to failure. The problems are firstly that most people in the first world are generally contented with capitalism and do not seek to radically alter it. So the state and politics cannot be expected to achieve miracles of radicalism. Secondly, the state is experienced contradictorily. On the one hand it may be a vehicle for popular control of the social product. On the other hand it is also inevitably experienced as bureaucratic regulation from above and as theft of the social product through taxation. Nothing less than the full control of social product through the gift economy would really solve and dissolve the problem of the state - but this utopia is generally seen as impossible.

In despair at right wing attacks on the gains of the welfare state, the left looks to a revival of the power of the traditional workers' movements. However there are also other solutions. As has been pointed out (Mann 1992) the working class has never been a solidaristic social force unified in securing maximum gains from the capitalist class. Historical study of the workers' movement shows how better placed male workers' have excluded the less skilled, women and migrants from privileges through political action, both as unionists and within reformist parties (Mann 1992). More inclusively, the division of the population into differentially endowed strata, both nationally and internationally, is the result of an ongoing privatisation of wealth within all sections of the population, not just the capitalist class. This privatisation is backed up by a state that ensures people's private rights to their differentiated incomes are protected.

This private ownership is part of hegemonic capitalist culture. The culture of the gift economy can also operate by a process of voluntary redistribution of the social product, through kinship, theft, gambling, gifts to friends, charitable organisations within countries and NGO assistance to the Third World.

Instead of quoting from Marx's Manifesto on the errors of the Utopian Socialists, the left should welcome developments such as 'Band-Aid', as moves in the right direction. Such events are not merely hype, false consciousness and ineffective panaceas for first world guilt, as the left usually argues (e.g. Pepper 1993). They are glimmerings of a new spirit of generosity and egalitarianism.

3. The Pig Farm Project

The other utopian proposal that I have constructed recently involves a submission to the Lake Macquarie Council for a permaculture project. The following discussion presents my rationale for the project.

Wangi Ridge Reserve is a Council Reserve of Lake Macquarie City Council. It is mostly bushland and is being weeded and regenerated by the Wangi Ridge Preservation Committee, a voluntary community body constituted as a committee of the Council to assist in maintaining the reserve. A part of this Reserve is the area under consideration for this project. It is locally known as the "pig farm" because of its use for this purpose prior to being included in the council reserve. It is an area of approximately 2.4 hectares (about 5 acres) which has been completely cleared of native vegetation and is currently covered by the weeds bitou bush and lantana. It is proposed to revegetate this area as a permaculture and bush tucker food forest.

As indicated earlier in this paper, "Permaculture" is a term coined by Bill Mollison to refer to a permanent, sustainable agriculture which is the "conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems, which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems" (Mollison 1988: ix). It is a permaculture and bush tucker forest of this type which is proposed for the Pig Farm at Wangi. In other words species will be chosen which will not require inputs of water or pesticides to successfully provide food once they have been established. There will also be species planted for use as building materials for children's play and other species planted for flowers. The result will be a permanent woodland cover for the site which will be both decorative and useful. Members of the public will be welcome to pick the fruit and nuts for their own use.

Recent social research in the Hunter region provides a context for this project. My own research is described above. I will also refer to the research of Jennifer Pont, a PhD student at Newcastle University, who has been interviewing residents of Cessnock, a Hunter township, on a number of topics. Her interviews on the subject of people's gardens have provided some useful insights for this project.

Disasters and Politicians

One of the most consistent findings of my research has been that interviewees have a quite apocalyptic view of the long term future of Australian society and the world at large. Typical visions of disaster have included global war, massive unemployment caused by technological change, a collapse of values and social virtues, and environmental disaster. Related to this is a great deal of cynicism and disillusionment with the capability of democratic politics to solve these problems and a distrust of and hostility to political elites. I will give some examples from the interviews to illustrate these perspectives.

Margie is a middle aged working class woman. When asked about possible environmental problems in the future she referred to her understanding of biblical prophecy.

If the world was to go on as it is, yes I do think that there'd be disaster around the corner but this is where it gets hard to explain. I think because the world was created, that everything in the world was created ... I believe what the bible says, that there's going to be a sorting out period and then we'll have more or less what they say, the great tribulation and then armageddon, then the thousand years of peace and I think that God himself will fix everything up.

Clearly her visions of apocalypse are related to her participation in a fundamentalist sect but I was surprised by how much this kind of apocalyptic view was shared by other interviewees who had no religious reasons for predicting disaster. Although she does not rule out environmental catastrophe she tends to see conflict and violence as the main concerns. She considers politicians to be responsible participants in the agressive hostility that will ultimately lead to armageddon:

Man himself fighting all the time, just the government itself, like for instance, the parties fight within themselves, plus they fight with other parties. If the people that have got the government in this country can't do it without fighting I don't think it's possible for men to live in peace. I just don't think it is 'cause from what I can see they've always fought.

I also interviewed two industrial workers whose main concerns were that unemployment would continue to increase to the point where there were no jobs for the next generation. They were also concerned about the influence of the Japanese on our economy and in fact believed that Australia would be taken over by the Japanese:

Terry: So, what - If things go the way they're going - what do you think things will be like in Australia for your kids when they grow old?

Peter: Oh it's - I'm frightened to think about it really. Yeah, I - I think, urgh, I mean so far, maybe not so much for my kids, maybe their kids, uhh, the way things are going now I don't think there will be any work for anyone, I don't know what's going - I, I've always thought that the Japs, I mean no matter where you go, on holidays or anything, full of Japs, I think in years to come I think this place will be nothing but Japs, I think the people over there will be over here, and ...

Like Margie they saw politicians as unlikely to do anything to prevent this or other disasters and were also despondent about the possibility of people such as themselves having any influence on the outcome:

Terry: Do you worry about Australia's native forests?

Ian: What can you do about it? Eh? Well they're going to cut the trees down, they cut them down, won't they? My missus is a greenie, she supports the greenies. She supports them moneywise too, but I don't, you know. But I'm not going to go out there and tie myself on the bloody tree and let'em fight and do what they do. I believe in what they try to do but, umm, not much you can do about it.

An older interviewee, Max, who was formerly the owner and manager of several small companies believed that the present order was doomed because of a collapse in the productivist ethic that had formerly been characteristic of the capitalist class and that a collapse in values also affected the population as a whole:

I think the capitalist system's sort of - uhh - doomed. But I can't see what can replace it really. It'll defeat itself in the end, like other syst - like the Roman empire, uhh faded, didn't it, uhh, who would've thought that seventy years on that communism would have gone like it did, I mean, it's amazing. It's beyond the control of people I think ... seem to be too many people pushing their way all the time, it's beyond control. Leadership haven't got the same powers that they had a hundred years ago. Well when you get down to the family, I've got a fond saying that there's a great shortage of good parents. A lot of these violent kids and that, it's not their fault, it's their parents' business. So much bribery so much corruption, so much self serving. Everyday you see it now.

Like the other interviewees, Max was cynical about the role of politicians:

But governments are really more interested in day to day things - umm - the way of life ... Politicians are small minded people, in regard to the general things, they mainly concentrate on looking after their own affairs. Their own perks and things. All parties are similar. The type of people we have representing us are not worth feeding, I don't think.

Interviewees who were members of local environmental groups were of course concerned about environmental problems and tended to foresee serious environmental disasters as the likely long term future of society. Overpopulation, pollution, destruction of the atmosphere, soil degradation and the destruction of the indigenous natural habitat were all mentioned. Karl, a long time environmental activist, who works as a technical officer in a local industry, was the most pessimistic:

I think the day that we're going to run out of fossil fuel, and the day the greenhouse effect is going to, to take place, that the rapid breakdown and so on is going to be over a very short period of time, because there is, although there's a control from private industry, private industry is also in competition with itself. Virtually overnight, or over a year, or maybe a decade. Too short a period for the human, or for our communities to adjust.

Later in his interview he suggested that it was possible that the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere might change to the extent that everything combustible would burn or that we would be gasping for breath from an oxygen shortage. Diane, an accountancy student, was concerned about overpopulation and pollution:

We appear to be running out of space, I mean, not space in the sky. There doesn't seem enough earth for us to be here because we're all, even here in this wonderful country, we're all squashed in. We're crowding ourselves out, the trees out, the animals out. We're dirtying everything, we're messing, we're mucking everything up, we're leaving litter everywhere. We're not getting rid of our waste, are we? Just too many of us and I have a feeling this is what happened to the dinosaurs. They just got too big for what was, for the resources. And I think they just went off and died, and maybe we'll do that. I don't know.

Like the other interviewees, members of environmentalist groups were not optimistic about the possibility of political processes forestalling the disasters that they foresaw. Some believed that an adequate environmental education of the population was not in the interests of a media run by business interests. Others argued that economic interests had little to do with it; people in general were just not very concerned about environmental matters and so politicians concluded that a vigorous defence of the environment was not required for electoral success.

Gardening and Attitudes to the Natural Environment.

Jennifer Pont's research in the Cessnock area (1995) reveals aspects of people's feelings about nature as they are expressed in their statements about their gardening. I have no doubt that her findings are applicable to the Hunter region and Australia more generally. What she found particularly striking was the way in which most people she interviewed saw a rigorous control of nature as necessary to create an aesthetic environment suitable for human habitation. Associated with this was a strong belief in the work ethic; that good gardening necessarily involved a great deal of tedious maintenance work and a garden should demonstrate and testify to the work carried out by the gardener; she describes the gardens as an "undertaking of dogged orderliness". Joyce, a widow of 75 years old explains her attitude to her gardening:

I hit the grass as soon as it pops its head up because I don't want it to get away from me. Ray always kept it low, he didn't let it get too long. It's more work if you don't keep it under control and also it's dangerous to have long grass in case of snakes and spiders get under things if you leave things lying around. We're all the same around here [referring to her neighbours]. Dennis will get the mower out and then I'll get mine out and then Lenny and we'll all be going. We all like to keep the grass under control ... I put the grass in bags to put it in the bin. I put it down the back in a heap and put it in plastic bags the night the bin goes out. If you put it straight in, the bin smells. I like to keep the bin clean. I wait for the truck and I bring it straight in and hose it out. I scrub it out with hot water and disinfectant and leave it upside down to dry. I don't like it to get dirty.

In this quote Joyce links uncontrolled nature with all kinds of dangers - snakes, spiders and germs. Her metaphor personalizes the grass itself as a dangerous animal which "pops its head up". Human contact with the natural world require constant vigilance and rigorous control lest nature get out of hand and become feral. As the feminist environmentalist, Plumwood has pointed out, such attitudes to the natural world are part of a "master discourse" of Western society in which nature has to be constantly tamed and made to obey human directives (Plumwood, 1993; see also Turner 1986). People distance themselves from nature as though the human species is not itself a part of nature and dependent upon the rest of nature. Another interviewee explains how his desire for tidiness can lead to conflicts with less tidy neighbours:

I told the new couple next door that if their trees come over the fence I'll cut them off. I told them as soon as they moved in. I believe in telling people. The people that lived there before planted too many trees, too big. They'd be alright in a park. I told them but they don't listen. They make such a mess. We keep our yard tidy.

Here control of nature is associated with strict limitations placed on the use of personal space; nature is seen as an invader that has to be held at bay to maintain effective ownership of one's territory.

Plumwood and other environmentalists have argued that such a perspective is associated with many of the environmental problems that currently beset us. For example in Australia salinity in soil now interferes with crop production. It has come about through the massive overclearing of agricultural land which has raised the water table bringing salt to the surface. In turn this overclearing can be traced to an attempt to tame the alien Australian landscape and remove all vestiges of the original tree cover so that the land would be fit for use by agriculturalists (Barr, 1992; Dover, 1994). The view that beneficial human interactions with nature depend on distancing from an alien other and rigorous control of that other is a dangerous illusion. What Pont's study reveals is the extent to which this discourse of mastery over nature is an integral part of the way people understand their gardening and daily interactions with nature.

Rationale of the Project.

  1. The original bushland cover of this section of the Wangi Ridge Reserve has already been long destroyed, making restoration of the native bushland an option rather than the obvious choice for the site.

  2. Considerable concern by locals has been expressed about fire dangers and residents of Watkins road and Reserve road contiguous with the pig farm would not welcome an extension of the existing bushland towards their houses. A permaculture and bush tucker forest would act as a barrier to fire spreading from the rest of the Reserve as it would be composed largely of fire retardant species and involve the construction of swales that would maximize water retention on the site.

  3. Establishing a permaculture food forest is one way to address some of the concerns of Hunter residents about the future. It responds to fears of a future crisis of impoverishment and environmental collapse by planning now for an optimistic vision of a future of abundance, ease and generosity. In providing a source of food that does not depend on access to paid employment it meets some of the concerns about a feared future scenario in which problems of unemployment persist and escalate in the Hunter region. It seeks government support for a project which cannot be regarded as cynical manipulation and power mongering by politicians but comes as a no strings attached gift to the community for the future.

  4. The permaculture forest addresses concerns about pending environmental catastrophe by promoting a benevolent and harmonious interaction between humans and the natural world. It avoids the two unsatisfactory alternatives - of suppression of the natural environment for the sake of survival - or catastrophe in which nature takes revenge by threatening human survival.

Currently gardens and farms are most frequently seen as useful environments for humans in which natural processes are rigidly controlled. On the other hand bushland reserves and national parks are regarded as unspoiled environments in which nature is allowed to proceed with the minimum of human intervention. While bushland areas must be defended, the impression can be created that a natural environment is only useful for aesthetic purposes.

A permaculture food forest is offered as an experimental initiative in developing a third way of relating nature and human activities. It is a garden in the sense of being purposefully planted to provide useful products and aesthetic enjoyment. On the other hand it is a natural environment in being self sustaining in its mature state, not requiring human intervention to fertilize, protect from pests or weed.

5) The permaculture and bush tucker forest is also intended as an aesthetic mediation between the controlled environment of traditional gardens of the kind common in Wangi and the unspoiled natural state of the bushland areas of the Reserve. Aesthetically, the food forest will be a gateway between Wangi as a suburb and the bushland area of the Ridge Reserve and Wangi Point.

Review of the Pig Farm Project Rationale

In terms of the arguments put in this article the pig farm proposal can be considered as a sociological utopia in its own right. Although it is not a global fantasy of complete change in the mode of production it envisages a small reform by spelling out the project as both possible and desirable in view of various perceived needs and issues in the present context, both locally and globally. In this it makes the kind of claims that are typical of more expansive sociological utopias.

For myself as an author it can be considered as an affirmation in that, whatever doubts I have about the likelihood of this project being realized, the working out of its details is a validating exercise in my own projects of sociology and gardening and a new linking of these pursuits. A later part of the document in which I list all the suitable trees and shrubs that will (might!) be planted on the pig farm is for me an aesthetically pleasing fantasy visualisation as I see these trees on the site in my mind's eye fifty years into the future dripping with fruit, nuts and flowers, with passers by collecting buckets of produce to take home.

The proposal can also be seen as an attempt to create the permaculture forest as an affirmation for the community at large. It justifies the project itself by saying that to realize this project will be to create an affirmation in plant life. I do not argue very strongly for the economic necessity or pragmatic usefulness of the project but instead talk about the way the project may address some of people's felt concerns and suggest better ways to deal with environmental and social issues more generally. It is intended as a symbolic message that makes the typical claim of an affirmation - another way of doing things is coming to be.


The word "utopia" is normally used to cover expansive schemes which envisage a total change in the mode of production. However any proposal for reform includes elements which can be made use of to construct a more extensive utopian model. All proposals for reform argue that the reform is both possible and preferable. The grounds on which such arguments are defended can be generalized to argue for the possibility of more extensive changes. For example in arguing for the use of permaculture in the pig farm project I in fact looked at more general questions about our relationship to nature. This discussion can readily be used to suggest a more global reconstruction of human use of the environment in which the pig farm project is merely a small gesture.

One argument for the refusal to consider utopias is that small reforms entail less risk than a major change. This argument is not conclusive. While making a major change is risky, dreaming about utopias while making small reforms is surely a low risk strategy. Further, a mass of small reforms would actually end up as an avalanche of change. The transition is now, there is no magical moment at which we shall begin to enter a new mode of production though there will be a point at which the transition is completed.

I actually think it is impossible to operate socially without some vision of the overall structure of society and its likely and possible directions in the long term future. A refusal to consider utopias can mask the belief that nothing much better is really possible, a utopia in itself in that it is a global vision of what is possible and preferable. My own research suggests that people do think about major changes and mostly they think about major disasters.


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