Julia Lindpaintner
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MFA Thesis

A blog documenting my journey creating a Master's thesis towards an MFA from the School of Visual Arts' Products of Design program.

Social Ecology

Allow me to share a recent revelation. There is a field that describes nearly precisely the kind of thinking I do, the kinds of processes that I like, and the kind of future I believe in: Social Ecology

Courtesy of Wikipedia, via Google:   

Social Ecology is a critical social theory founded by American anarchist and libertarian socialist author Murray Bookchin. Conceptualized as a critique of current social, political, and anti-ecological trends, it espouses a reconstructive, ecological, communitarian, and ethical approach to society.

I googled the term after a lecture at our department by Neri Oxman, of the Mediated Matter group at MIT Media Lab. She coined the term "material ecology" and while her talk was focused on the interaction and evolution of materials that are drawing on and contributing to biological phenomena, some of the themes seemed to me just as applicable to social issues. She began by talking about how the way we think about manufacturing is limiting our ability to imagine new products: Everything is made of many, many parts, and because of that we think about constructing any new thing in parts. But what if we could think about things as whole? Her offhand comment—"Wouldn't it be nice if we could think in terms of whole rather than parts in our politics?"—got me thinking. She described moving towards a "non-hierarchical multi-agent based system," where materials would be fabricated as whole pieces, maybe even grown. Drawing on biological systems and advancing them through computational modeling has allowed Oxman to pioneer a new field. 

And so I thought, "Isn't what I'm interested in ultimately a 'non-hierarchical multi-agent based system' of society? Am I not always talking about working against fragmentation and polarization in social settings?" I am interested in defining new processes whereby collaboration and cooperation is explored by default, and where the waste associated with competition can be eliminated. I'm interested in creating environments in which distinctions drawn between positions (left and right, Democrat and Republican, religious and atheist) are not permitted to hijack conversations before they begin. I want to create a world in which there is an incentive to show our cards in a negotiation, because there is an understanding that only by communicating what is important to us can we hope to arrive at an optimal solution. It seems to me that a theory that "espouses a reconstructive, ecological, communitarian, and ethical approach to society" is the way to go."

More googling took me to the website of the School of Social Ecology at UC Irvine, which defines social ecology as the the "study of the relationship between people and their environment, often the interdependence of people, collectives, and institutions." Hmmm... that sounds good and really uncontroversial. Looks like there are at least two strains to Social Ecology. And maybe, just maybe, there's room for a third. 

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