Social Ecology London

A Social Ecology Reading List
January 6, 2008, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Articles and reviews, Texts

This is an attempt to provide a resource of books and essays on social ecology and libertarian socialism. We are only able as a group to read a small number of books and we feel there is a need for suggestions on further reading for people who want to examine different aspects of social ecology in more depth. This is not a definitive list and will be added to periodically as SEL members read more widely themselves


The Ecology of Freedom, Murray Bookchin
Remaking Society, Murray Bookchin
Social Ecology and Communalism, Murray Bookchin
Includes the essay, ‘What is Social Ecology’ which is the best short introduction to social ecology
The Philosophy of Social Ecology, Murray Bookchin
The Modern Crisis, Murray Bookchin
Which Way for the Ecology Movement? Murray Bookchin
Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash, Brian Tokar
Mutual Aid, A Factor of Evolution, Peter Kropotkin
Classic work in which Kropotkin demolishes the Social Darwinist claim that both nature and human society are based on an unending ‘war of all against all’ in which only the most ruthless survive. He argues that the most successful species are those that co-operate and that the mutual aid principle has been the dominant force in human development from primitive societies to the present-day, despite the ideology of capitalist competition.

Organic/Primitive Society

The Ecology of Freedom
Mutual Aid
The World of Primitive Man, Paul Radin
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Erich Fromm
In this work from the mid-seventies, Fromm, a radical psycho-analyst, attempts to show that an instinct for destruction is not inherent in human nature, but a result of society’s thwarting of natural needs and creative impulses. Interesting psycho-analytical biographies of Hitler and Stalin.

Pre-capitalist Society

From Urbanization to Cities, Towards a New Politics of Citizenship, Murray Bookchin
Tedious title but ground-breaking work from Bookchin. He traces the history of the ‘political realm’ – the authentic democracy of community self-management – from Ancient Athens through to the Medieval Communes, and the demise of the political realm at the hands of the State and market. Concludes with a call for a new political movement to re-empower citizens through direct democracy.
Mutual Aid
The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi
Written at the end of the Second World War, this classic work demonstrates how the liberal market system was forcibly imposed on European and colonial societies, causing social and cultural immiseration. A renowned economist but one with a far wider understanding than most denizens of the ‘dismal science’, Polanyi is the perfect antidote to Hayek and Adam Smith.
The City in History, Lewis Mumford
Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, Jacques Le Goff
Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis

Communalism and Confederalism

Social Ecology and Communalism, Murray Bookchin
Mutual Aid
See chapters on ‘Mutual Aid in the Medieval City’
The Death of Communal Liberty, Benjamin Barber
Cities and the Rise of States in Europe, AD 1000-1800, edited by Charles Tilly and Wim P Blockmanns
The World we have lost, Peter Laslett


Capital, Karl Marx
Marx’s Capital, Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho
The Great Transformation
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, RH Tawney
Late Victorian Holocausts
From Urbanization to Cities
The Ecology of Freedom
The Corporation, Joel Bakan
Wall Street, What it is and How it works, Doug Henwood
Economic Justice and Democracy, Robin Hahnel
Includes a systematic critique of Milton Friedman’s apologia for the market, ‘Capitalism and Freedom’
Consumed, How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantlize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, Benjamin Barber
The market economy becomes the market society. Interesting book that unfortunately pulls its punches in searching for a solution.

Future Society

The Politics of Social Ecology, Janet Biehl
If “Parliamentary Democracy” is an oxymoron, what would a genuinely democratic alternative look like?
Remaking Society
‘Market Economy or Moral Economy’, in The Modern Crisis
Parecon: Life after Capitalism, Michael Albert
Or ‘Participatory Economics’ to give it its full name. An attempt to devise a libertarian socialist economic model – neither central planning nor market economy.
Equality’, in The Chomsky Reader, Noam Chomsky


Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left, Murray Bookchin
Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism, Murray Bookchin
Social Ecology and Communalism, Murray Bookchin
Fields, Factories and Workshops, Peter Kropotkin
Chomsky on Anarchism, Noam Chomsky
Facing the Enemy, A History of Anarchist Organisation, Alexandre Skirda
Journey Through Utopia, Marie Louise Berneri
Demanding the Impossible, A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall


Marx’s Capital

‘Reflections on Marx and Marxism’ in Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left
Marx’s Concept of Man, Erich Fromm
Unorthodox Marxism, Michael Albert & Robin Hahnel


The Greeks, H.D.F Kitto
Democracy, Ancient and Modern, M.I. Finley
‘Communalism: the Democratic Dimension of Anarchism’ in Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left
Beyond Adversarial Democracy, Jane Mansbridge
Contrasts two contradictory ideas of democracy. Representative ‘adversarial’ democracy and face to face ‘unitary’ democracy

Building a Movement

Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left (see the interview on ‘movement building’)
Social Ecology and Communalism
Includes Bookchin’s last essay, ‘The Communalist Project’ in which he calls for “a new radical organisation to change the world”.
The Politics of Social Ecology
The Ecology of Everyday Life, Chaia Heller
Develops the idea of ‘illustrative opposition’.
Liberating Theory, Michael Albert, Holly Sklar, Noam Chomsky etc
The Trajectory of Change, Michael Albert
A practical attempt to bridge the “disconnection between many of our most informed activists and the bulk of people who are dissatisfied with the status quo but inactive”.

Revolutionary History

The Third Revolution, (Four volumes), Murray Bookchin
A mammoth history of revolutionary popular movements from the Levellers of the English Civil War to the Spanish Anarchists. An education in itself. Last two volumes are obscenely expensive and only available in hardback. Try ordering them from the library.
To Remember Spain, the Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution of 1936, Murray Bookchin.
The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, Maurice Brinton

English Radical History

The Levellers and the English Revolution, H.N Brailsford
Brilliant and hugely readable account of the radical democrats of the English Civil War who opposed both King and Cromwell’s Puritan totalitarians.
The World Turned Upside Down, Christopher Hill
The Making of the English Working Class, E.P Thompson
The Blood Never Dried, A People’s History of the British Empire, John Newsinger


Women’s Consciousness, Man’s World, Sheila Rowbotham
Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics, Janet Biehl
Liberating Theory


17 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’d just like to add a few books off the top of my head:
*In Search of the Primitive, Stanley Diamond
*multiple titles by Lewis Mumford covering organic, precapitalist societies, urbanization and much more (he had a huge influence on Bookchin and while Bookchin did acknowledge his influence, I don’t think he did enough)

Some books that I think are important to social ecologists, but Bookchin probably would not like:
*The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality
*The Emergence of Probability and
*The Taming of Chance by Ian Hacking, on the rise of modernity

I also think that there is a lot to gain from the work of Ivan Illich – another great generalist – particularly Deschooling Society, Tools for Conviviality, Towards a History of Needs, Shadow Work

Comment by Matt

I’m not sure if this is the right place to mention this, but I recently wrote an essay about Bookchin entitled
Being a Bookchinite.

Comment by Chuck Morse

To supplement your currently rather sorry selection under ‘feminism’ –

*Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
*Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex
*Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology (hate this book personally but it should be on the list)
*Anna Coote & Beatrix Campbell, Sweet Freedom
*Angela Davis, Women, Race & Class
*Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Rocking of the Cradle & The Ruling of the World
Sheila Rowbotham, Women, Resistance & Revolution
*Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women
*Rosemary Hennessy, Materialist Feminism & The Politics of Discourse
*Donna J Haraway, A Manifesto for Cyborgs

And many, many more…

Comment by Debbie

Nothing regarding how/where the third world would/should/could situate on the trajectory of change (revolution?). Also, complete absence of anything on racism. So much for “participatory” thoughts which even after more than hundred years of left theorizing remain white eurocentric.

Comment by Ziggi

Hi, Ziggy! Very comfortable position to take that criticism. Would you instead help the comrades with any reading suggestions?

All the best

Comment by Giorgio

Some good suggestions:

“There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack” by Paul Gilroy. “The Black Atlantic” is also very good.

“Feminism without Borders” by Chandra Talpade Mohanty. Essential for an intersectional perspective.

“Provincializing Europe” by Dipesh Chakrabarty. Interesting when ones gets through the poststructural jargon.

“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon. A classic.

“Justice and the Politics of Difference” by Iris Marion Young. The chapter “Five Faces of Oppression” is indispensable. But copy also the critique by Nancy Fraser made in her book “Justice Interruptus”. I maybe can copy this to you. Iris stuff I only got in Swedish 😦

“Racism: A Short History” by George M. Fredrickson is a very consist and pedagogic book on Racism.

“Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination” by Benedict Anderson. Anarchism and national liberation.

Good to start with…

All the best!


Comment by Giorgio

Like the rest of this culture, I have entered the era of accelerated topsoil depletion, peak oil (oops! sorry, shouldn’t have mentioned that!) and nonlinear climate change almost completely unprepared. Where in your reading list can I find any hands-on practical information about how to engage with these unprecedented and calamitous events at the local level? This murderous social formation is will likely fall to pieces within the next few decades at the latest and there isn’t enough conventional energy (fossils) within the system for a nuclear power station program to halt the collapse even temporarily. Whether the collapse is attended by ecological and social dislocations so severe that they threaten the continuation of complex life or will be a form of lingering heat death involving the disintegration of state-corporate behemoths unable to comprehend and respond, it is at least possible that the planet will be sufficiently hospitable for the resurrection of small, coherent human communities to emerge, communities which will need some practical vision of human regeneration which instructs them how to live in harmony with nature and shows how and why to fashion their technologies intertwined with the restraints and obligatons of nature without the folly of domestication and tells them how to incorporate nature into their souls as well as their tools. I’ve read quite a few of the books above and they were very inspirational but how about looking into the physical world a little more and learning about alternative energy systems and permaculture, you don’t need a list. Or even better, start putting them into practice and stop being armchair warriors. I’d like to take the opportunity once again to apologize again for bringing up the peak oil thing. I realize that it’s not something Murray had much to say about and I’m aware from the bookfair that it’s a sensitive subject for you. Sorry. Lacunae are often very painful. But hey, even Marx got the odd thing wrong, y’know!?! And removing a civilisation’s energy resources can have some very serious consequences, so maybe you should go read about it. Try Comradely (who SAYS that?!), Mark

Comment by Mark

Has your sewing circle ever had a discussion of David Watson’s ‘Beyond Bookchin’? Or does this Bookchincult think primitivism always means John Zerzan? Does following your leader prefigure the lifestyle you want for us all, anarchists? Are we really to head back to the Athenian polis, assembling to discuss how to control our slaves?Just who and what the fuck are you cunts? Bookchin was no more an anarchist than Chomsky. “Bluntly put”: dialectics is mysticism. Your faith in this old Marxist and his crude grasp of technology and his notions of progress are blinding you to the truth that everything you have ever known is about to end. Wake the fuck up ‘comrades’.

Comment by Mark

why such a downer on sewing? Surely it will be vital skill come the apocalypse

Comment by Anonymous

Is it just me that smell a little odour of sexism around here somewhere? Don´t feed the troll.

Comment by Anonymous

I have written a discourse on ‘Social Ecology – a new morality, alternative choices’
in which there is a comprehensive booklist, supplemented by Prof. Stuart Hill, University of Western Sydney.

Comment by J.Kelvyn Richards

I salute what you guys are trying to do. By all means be inspired by Murray Bookchin, at the risk of being called Bookchinites. It is entirely human and natural to be inspired, to take somebody’s example, to try to do better, to take a challenge. Why should that urge be questioned?
And as for those who criticise you saying that the approach is not feminist enough or racist enough, they are just continuing to perpetrate the I win/You lose philosophy that made them victims in the first place. We’re about creating a world based on mutual aid and cooperation, so you should be congratulated for making a stand and supported, rather than shot down.

Comment by Stephen

A 3 books that fit with the ideas of social ecology and communalism…
“My Ishmael”
“The Story of B”
All by Daniel Quinn
These books make the connection between our culture’s idea of “civilization” and the destruction and brainwashing it causes.
They are good books for those who don’t understand the reasonings behind this philosophy.

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