The Ecovillage as a Regenerative Peacebuilding Agent

Abstract

This article explores the nature of the agency of ecovillages in regenerative peacebuilding through the analysis of the “Global Campus”, a program launched by the ecovillage of Tamera (Portugal), focusing on its activities in the West Bank. The analysis adds to existing theories on peacebuilding agents by arguing that, in such circumstances, the role of ecovillages is to diffuse the ecovillage model as a whole-system strategy of post-conflict reconstruction and promotion of sociocultural understanding and psychosocial stability among the parts formerly in conflict. It also argues that, when it is not possible to spatially reproduce the ecovillage model, due to recurring hostilities, political obstacles or cultural reasons, ecovillages can still act as agents of diffusion of technologies and strategies for working on issues of trauma, power, identity and historical memory between parts in conflict, as well as promoting energy autonomy and food security among those in disadvantaged positions.

Introduction

What is the nature of the agency of ecovillages in regenerative peacebuilding? There is a gap in literature on the topic, largely explained by the fact that the active involvement of ecovillages as agents in peacebuilding is very recent, although the ecovillage model has been promoted for a while as a strategy of post-conflict reconstruction by public actors and NGOs. This article explores such involvement through a unique case study: That of the “Global Campus”1, an international program of cooperation with grassroots peacebuilding initiatives launched by Tamera – Healing Biotope I2, an intentional community and ecovillage founded in 1995 in southwestern Alentejo, Portugal. At the time of research, this program has already produced significant results in Palestine, Colombia, Brazil and Kenya. It helped to pave the way for the involvement of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN)3 in the construction of the first ecovillage in the West Bank, in natural and human-made disaster prevention and reconstruction in various parts of the world, as well as in the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

This article focuses on the activities of the “Global Campus” in the West Bank, where the program began and where it has its longest-standing partners in the field. It indicates that the nature of the agency of ecovillages in regenerative peacebuilding is that of being agents of diffusion of the ecovillage model, for the purpose of post-conflict reconstruction of infrastructures and ecosystems, as well as the promotion of sociocultural understanding and psychosocial stability among the parts formerly in conflict. It also shows that, when it is not possible to fully reproduce the ecovillage model in the field, due to political or cultural reasons, ecovillages can still act as agents of diffusion of technologies and strategies for working on issues of trauma, power, identity and historical memory between parts in conflict, as well as promoting energy autonomy and food security among those in disadvantaged positions.

The article begins with a dialogue between literature on regenerative peacebuilding and ecovillages. It proceeds with examples of the application of the ecovillage model to post-conflict reconstruction by public agents and NGOs, as well as an account of the move, from the part of GEN, from a focus on the internal consolidation of ecovillages to that of orienting them towards serving as agents of diffusion of strategies and technologies for sustainability. The empirical analysis starts with an overall presentation of the “Global Campus” in its different geographical areas of activity and then focuses on cooperation with partners in the West Bank. Such cooperation includes support to existing grassroots projects, including the transformation of the village of Farkha, in the West Bank, into the first ecovillage in Palestine. It also includes the plan of creating a new ecovillage and intentional community: The Peace Research Village – Middle East (PRV-ME).4 It describes the political and material conditions faced by these processes in terms of developing material commons and implementing knowledge on regenerative ecology and community-building.

Given the focus on context and process, I chose to use a hermeneutical methodology. The analysis is based on data collected during fieldwork that took place in Tamera between April and October 2015, in the West Bank in December 2015 (Bethlehem and Tulkarem) and once again in Tamera in August 2017. Fieldwork included 22 semi-structured interviews, of which 15 took place in Tamera and the remaining among partner projects in the West Bank. It also included archival research in the two fieldwork sites, as well as participant observation in a month-long meeting of partners of the “Global Campus” in Tamera in July/August 2015, as well as two one month-long educational programs offered by the community in the same year: “Terra Nova School”5 and the “Community Course”6. These programs explore the synergies between the interpersonal, social and ecological dimensions in the application of the ecovillage model to regenerative peace building.

Fieldwork in the West Bank focused on visits to two project partners of Tamera, the “Holy Land Trust” and “Hakoritna Farm”, during which I interviewed their main carriers and collected documents on their activities. This period of fieldwork coincided with the second Ecovillage Design Education program (E.D.E.) in Farkha. I was requested not to conduct fieldwork at this site during that period, in order not to interfere with the program. However, in August 2017, I had the chance of interviewing the main carrier of the application of the ecovillage model to Farkha during “Defend the Sacred”7, an international gathering of peace activists that took place in Tamera. I also had the chance of collecting further information on the evolution of the process from “Global Campus” team members.

I secured consent from all the informers to use their real names in this article. All the quotes from interviews or conversations were transcribed in the original language of communication (English) and are inserted here in the exact way they were spoken. For reasons of privacy and cultural sensitivity, it was agreed that I would not include information about the reasons why the informers do not reproduce, in their organizations, one of the core aspects of the psychosocial dimension of the model developed by Tamera, which is the promotion of an environment where solid and lasting partnerships can coexist with free sexuality.

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Ana Margarida Esteves

Researcher at CEI-IUL. PhD in Sociology (Brown University); held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Tulane University’s Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies (New Orleans). Research interests: Social and Solidarity Economy, popular education, community-based finance, participatory action research, alternative food systems, local development, and direct and participatory democracy, as well as on how to integrate “specialist” and “lay” knowledge in academic and activist research.

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