The Ecology of Social Movements: Agency, Theory and Strategy

June 2018

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

This is a deep inquiry into social change and our role within it. We’ll reflect on lessons from social movement history. We’ll study theories of social change. We’ll share experience. We’ll bring our learning into relationship with systems thinking and theories of complexity. We’ll ask: How can all that dynamize our organising today?

This two week summer camp will be a space in which to think critically, to ask challenging and transformative questions, and to search for a deepened inspiration and understanding to empower social change. We will explore the life cycle of social movements and seek to learn from historical precedents. We will survey theories of social change, identifying tensions and complementarities. We will increase our skills in strategising, planning and organising in ways that support responsive and systems intelligent approaches. And we will inquire into the ways that 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, transversal strategies and increase our collective impact
• How to create strategic approaches that are responsive, dynamic and systems intelligent

The inquiry will be structured around a core curriculum, developed and designed by the facilitation team, which will act as a jumping off point for deeper reflection, sharing and learning as a community of inquiry.

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, beyond patriarchy/intersectional approach to power etc)
• Investigating historical precedents and identifying where different theoretical approaches have been effective and 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 they can be complementary?

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

Organisational structures and how to work together
• Organisatonal types – strengths and weaknesses
• Coalition building
• Influence and communication
• Collaborating for collective impact

Overviewing Tactics
• Harvesting of tactics
• What to deploy and when
• The pros and cons

All of this will inform deeper inquiry and experiential learning. During a period of campaign building and bench testing we will:
• Explore a series of test cases, run analyses and explore them in terms of applied theories of change
• Live-lab some of the current issues facing our own organisations and movements

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?

Whose it for?
Activists and organisers concerned with systemic change for social justice and ecological integrity. We aim to bring together a range of people from across Europe from diverse movements 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.