Author : Mildred Gustack Delambre

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Abstract :

The most widespread definition of an eco-village seems to be the one of Robert Gilman (1991) who proposes four essential characteristics : “a human-scale and full-featured settlement (food, leisure, social life, education, business, residence), in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world (principle of ecology) in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future”.

Another main concept for understanding the purpose of this paper is the community of practice concept, that Lave & Wenger (1991) describe as “a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession”. According to the authors, the group can evolve naturally due to the member’s common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. They affirm that it is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.

Taken as a process, the Degrowth movement seems to require some peculiar mediation tools. In order to analyze the sustainable communities of practice and eco-villages as mediation tools for Degrowth process and its performances towards society, we position this phenomenon as a contesting initiative for the dominant model of development, based on the economics growth and human spoilage.

Constituting a recent collective action strategy, typical of the modern post-industrial society, we assume that this movement isn’t an end in itself, but a mean to question and to propose alternatives to the current social and economic development scenario in which we live at the moment. This phenomenon demonstrates a return to the natural necessities of humans – such as the social links, the sharing, the habitation and healthy diets – darkened by the “northern” lifestyle and its contemporary consumption culture highly dependent on petroleum exploitation.

The present paper is a reflection of an empirical and theoretical study (Gustack Delambre, 2009) within four French associations2 working for the mediation of environmental and human friendly techniques, lifestyles and development, based on balanced levels of production and consumption. The objective of this work is also to identify the stakes in the mediation of an alternative model of development through the practices and projects led by these kinds of associations and communities. It is expected to make a rapport between the eco-villages practices and the cognitive paths of social learning; to assess the efficiency of communities of practice in this process; to explore their function as a link-builder between society and the environmentalist values and to identify challenges and possibilities for these mediating structures.

KEYWORDS : Eco-village, Communities of Practice, Social Learning, Mediation, Economic Degrowth

1Prepared for the Scientific committee of the 2nd Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity – Barcelona , 26 – 29 March/2010
2Brin de Paille – Association Française de Permaculture (89160), Association et Revue Passerelle &Co (71190), Coopérative Cravirola / Association Cultures du Maquis (34210), Eco-centre ECOlonie (88260)