The linking of ‘eco-’ and ‘social’ is recognition that there is no ecological without social because of the disproportionate impact of some humans – historically from the global north, and more contemporarily the globally diffuse elite – that affects all other life and possibility for life, which plays out in the human-made conditions for climate and ecological collapse. Similarly, there is no social without the ecological given our material dependence upon healthy, living ecologies. Solidarity and social justice will be key to addressing the related crises that are in motion, fuelled by an unstable climate. And stabilizing the climate and global ecologies will be key to protecting the lives and opportunity for fulfilment of all beings.

In defining eco-social, we explicitly acknowledge that the world we have is not the one that we wish to sustain, but a planet damaged by extractivist and exploitative values and actions. ‘Eco-social change’ means systemic change to produce futures of greater fairness and respect. Thus, our definition borrows something from eco-socialist politics, in that it recognises the significance of the historical rise of capitalism. We reject anthropocentric framings, advocate for explicit attention to interdependence and welcome the broader movements within climate and social justice activism that share our interest in change at a foundational level. We use eco-social change when we talk about change processes; and eco-social futures when the focus is on what we aspire to.  

These core elements define the eco-social:  

  • Taking a socio-cultural focus – following traditions in art, design and the humanities as well as much activism, we see cultural change as being most important for transformations toward better futures.  
  • Establishing social justice between humans and across species – without social and environmental justice, mass mobilization for change will be difficult, if not impossible, and likely ignore the needs of the most vulnerable.
  • Embracing the politics of change – working towards eco-social futures is a political undertaking, bringing people together to see themselves as agents of change on a journey and not just as individuals being asked or required to change their habits.
  • Focusing on relating and relationships – a recognition across many fields is that the world and life are fundamentally relational and change happens through relationships as well as to them.  
  • Adopting pluralistic and co-creative processes – the need to live well together means offering space for many different experiences and perspectives, bringing knowledge from many sources.  
  • Being guided but not limited by scientific inputs – scientific knowledge is valuable in eco-social change processes, but there are many other types of experiencing and knowing that are powerful and relevant to work with.
  • Creating new perspectives – rather than providing a limited and limiting definition, the ideas of eco-social futures can be an inspiration for the development of new perspectives and paradigms that foster change.  

The following are extracts from CreaTures team statements about the eco-social:

  • It means systemic change that needs to happen to lead to a more eco-socially sustainable world. In our interdisciplinary group (combining all of creative practice, sustainability practice, social sciences research), the things that I really care about signalling to others are the importance of building and maintaining relations that defy the transactionalist paradigm. Only by embodying and enacting other ways of relating to one another and to all others we can see how these can extend beyond our little worlds, i.e., how to talk relationally beyond the personal. The power of stories that take something very specific and demonstrate its significance for the world.
  • A way of living that is just and does not privilege any person or group of people at the expense of other people, other beings or the planet, and that is multi-generational, multi-scalar, relational, and pluralistic.  
  • A way of co-existing between species that is of benefit to all living beings, that attends to very fundamental questions about what it means to thrive in the world – and attends to the power dynamics that are implicit in who shapes and structures communal realities.
  • We can understand sustainability as a discipline and therefore we're contributing the eco-social to the discipline of sustainability. Social sustainability is thus a powerful sub-discipline of sustainability in which we are acknowledging the Anthropocene and the dynamics that are required to move this somewhere better.
  • Stirring and laying down ALL things that it would really take to care for the current mess and thrive … while still keeping key words that can be relatable to others: ‘Eco-’ as in (and with) ecology and ecological argument(s) broadly and not simply as ecosystems; ‘Social-’ as in political/collective/anthropocentrically involved. Eco-social change means urgent transformations that aren’t happening fast enough.
  • It brings into focus ideas of interdependence, justice, multiple agencies, getting hands dirty and doing things aesthetically (not only as in beautifully, but as in attending to details and composition; feelings and relations).
  • To work together to create better futures in which all beings can thrive, based on an understanding of the interconnectedness and relationality of all life, and the power dynamics that are inherent in social, living systems. It also means dismantling and unmaking destructive systems and patterns.
  • This is the most fundamental question of what it means to be human this on planet, which brings to the fore the deeper levels of values, myths and metaphors. There’s an emphasis here on relational thinking, and this is also where we connect to the sustainability literature.
  • Power dynamics and politics are where we negotiate: who gets to say what life should be – and who is excluded from that conversation. That is at the heart.  

Workshop extracts, multiple speakers, early 2022