Ecology of Social Movements (week-long version)

7 to 14 Sept 2019

A space in which to think critically, to ask challenging and transformative questions, and to search for a deepened inspiration and understanding to empower ourselves as actors for social change

This is an inquiry into social change and our place within it. We’ll share experience across struggles and places. We’ll reflect on lessons from social movement history. We’ll explore the lively ecologies that make up movements, how systems work and change. We’ll study different theories of social change and complexity. We’ll share experience. We’ll bring our learning into relationship with systems thinking and theories of complexity. And we’ll ask: How can all of this help make our activism and organising more powerful, more creative, more transformative?

This week-long course is a space to think critically, to ask challenging and transformative questions, and to search for a deepened inspiration and understanding to empower ourselves as actors for social change. We’ll take a holisitic approach that integrates the personal, interpersonal and socio-political dimensions of this work.

We’ll explore the life cycle of social movements and seek to learn from historical precedents. We’ll survey theories of social change, identifying tensions and complementarities. We will increase our skills in strategising, planning and working for change in the complex ecologies and systems of movements and societies. And we will ask how big picture thinking can inspire and empower our work together.


We will explore:

  • How different social engagement practices intersect with each other
  • How to increase the collective impact of our work
  • How to build campaigns, organisations and movements geared towards systemic change
  • How to build alliances and transversal strategies and increase our collective impact
  • How to create strategic approaches that are responsive, dynamic and systems intelligent

 Key areas of study and reflection include:

 Theories of Social Change

  • Exploring a wide spectrum of theories of change (influencing elites, points of disruption, exodus and alternatives, cultural change and public attitudes, organising vs mobilising, disrupting hegemony, beyond patriarchy/intersectional approach to power etc)
  • Investigating historical precedents and identifying where different political approaches have been effective or ineffective.
  • Lessons from historic social movements & some theoretical analysis (touching on systems change, transformational shifts of power, and public perception)
  • Studying practical contemporary examples (organisations & movements) and examining strengths and weaknesses
  • Emergent understanding: How does contemporary systems thinking and complexity relate to theories of social change?

 Movement Seasons and Cycles

  • Reflecting on the ebb and flow of movement life-cycles- recognising phases of preparation, engagement and regrouping
  • Mapping the range of actors and their roles, as well as their spheres and phases of influence
  • Recognising the importance of balance for movement care and self-care

 Movement Ecosystems

  • How do different approaches condition each other?
  • What are the contradictions and tensions?
  • How can different methods and efforts fit & how can they be complementary?
  • Collaborating for collective impact and coalition building

 Planning and Strategising

  • Developing long term strategy – scaling differentials between 5 to 20 year frames
  • Context and stakeholder analysis
  • Collaborative and expanded visioning
  • Creating agile frameworks that adapt and respond to feedback
  • Applying Action-Reflection Methodologies with seasonal rhythms

 We won’t just explore theories. We will also ask what we do with them – personally and collectively. Do we use them or do they determine us? We can become entrenched in our political views. We can hold models of change unconsciously and they can be hard to examine. History suggests that none of our theories of social change encompass the whole story. And yet we can find our strategies and approaches welded tightly to one fixed position or another. Our approach can become entrenched and unresponsive.

This course will help us to think afresh and to gain perspective. We will explore the formation of political identities – exploring how they serve us and how they hinder us. We will ask: How can we learn to strategise in a way that acknowledges the partial and provisional nature of our views and analysis? How can we develop a strategic approach that is responsive and in which on-going learning remains integral? How can we construct political identities that are genuinely empowering? And how can we develop campaigns, organisations and movements with significant impact for systemic change?

 Who is it for?

Activists, campaigners and organisers concerned with systemic change for social justice and ecological integrity. We aim to bring together a range of people from diverse movements and across Europe to share and learn from each other. There will be contributions from participants from diverse movements and settings and we will also draw in presentations and seminar contributions virtually.

Preparation and follow up

The course will be designed to incorporate some preparatory reading and reflection, as well as some participation in a forum with co-participants. Similarly follow up process will help us to continue to share our learning with each other as we carry our learning back into our day to day work.

Suggested Contribution
In the solidarity economy: €400/€700/€1200
(see the details of our approach to Solidarity Economics for details)

The Team

Our Name

Ulex: Latin (argelaga Catalan, gorse English) noun:

1. A thorny-evergreen flowering shrub, with a high capacity for regeneration and resilience. Its seedpods open in contact with fire and it reshoots from charred stumps. A successionary plant that grows well under challenging conditions. It improves soil fertility through nitrogen fixing, preparing the way for renewed biodiversity.

2. A traditional choice for igniting fires. Burns hot and bright.

3. A networked project adding nutrition and fertility to European social movements through training and capacity building. It kindles the realisation of social justice, ecological intelligence, and cognitive vitality.