Individual Paper: One-structure-fits-all or how the specific identity of the Permaculture movement fits into the general structure of the networks
A central piece in the sustainable degrowth puzzle is attributed to Permaculture, as an alternative radical 'exit from the economy' (Kallis, 2011) and degrowth Nowtopia (Carlsson & Manning, 2010), for its potential to create sustainable, local, self-reliant, community economies.
Permaculture is the portmanteau of 'permanent agriculture' and was first defined by its founding authors, Mollison and Holmgren, as 'an integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man' (Mollison and Holmgren, 1978, p. 1). Permaculture is united and characterized by its approach to system design (Ferguson & Lovell 2013). Permaculture tends to be unexplored by academics (Lockyer and Veteto, 2013) and practitioners: 'there has been little hard, rigorous scientific research and few peer-reviewed papers published on the subject' (Rhodes, 2012, p. 426). Indeed, the Permaculture movement participates in the larger social entrepreneurship movement which is becoming increasingly important worldwide (Dey, 2006), but social entrepreneurship seems yet under-investigated (Dacin, Dacin, & Tracey, 2011). Many unanswered questions persist about these radical 'exit from the economy' alternatives or degrowth nowtopias (Kallis, Kerschner, & Martinez-Alier, 2012). Knowledge gaps turn upon the motivations, characteristics, and political engagements of the militants for these alternatives, the ways they collectively organize, network, and protect themselves, the conditions for the success and scale-up of these alternatives, their relationships with outsiders (Kallis et al., 2012), or the alignment between the practice of these alternatives and sustainable degrowth theory (Martínez-Alier, 2012).
Among all these relevant research gaps, this article answers the following research questions: What is the semantic network of the Permaculture movement? What is the hyperlink network of the Permaculture movement? We hypothesize that the semantic network and the hyperlink network will reflect the specificities of Permaculture mentioned above. Additionally, we wonder about the extent to which the semantic network influences the hyperlink network. To find an answer to these questions we employ unobtrusive research methods as the most appropriate to study non-conscious beliefs and visions as these methods do not interfere with the social movement members’ normal behavior. Indeed, our study aims at contributing also to the enrichment of the application of these methodologies because only a few studies of online social movements use unobtrusive research methods to collect digital traces of their characteristics (Ackland & O’Neil, 2011).
Material and methods
Our unobtrusive research methods involve the analysis of the online content of permacultureglobal.org without interaction with the principals in charge of the social network (MCCAUGHEY & Ayers, 2013; Shumate & Dewitt, 2008) and their members. Two complementary sets of techniques are chosen to analyze the hyperlink network and the semantic network.
To understand the semantic network, we principally levered the IRaMuTeQ computer assisted qualitative data analysis software for the analysis of UGC available on the permacultureglobal.org website.
To understand the hyperlink network we measured (1) the distribution of UGC (Shriver, Nair, & Hofstetter, 2013), (2) the codetermination of UGC and social ties (Shriver et al., 2013), (3) the codetermination of geographical location and social ties (Goldenberg & Levy, 2009) and the sparsity (Clauset et al., 2009) and the clustering of users (Myers et al., 2014).
The semantic network
By looking at the most frequent active form terms in the autobiographies, we understand that the most important themes are:
The practice of Permaculture, by the very frequent terms: work, project, build...
The intellectual and learning activities to understand Permaculture, by: design, course, PDC...
The agricultural domain of application of Permaculture, by: farm, garden, food...
The openness of Permaculture to other domains beyond agriculture, by: community, live, person...
These points could be considered the leitmotivs of the collective identity of the Permaculture network members. The practice of Permaculture could be traced back to 'the prime directive of permaculture: 'The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Make it now' (B. C. Mollison, 1988, p. 1). The intellectual and learning activities are a semantic frame that is central for Permaculture network members. Indeed, these intellectual and learning activities have also been clearly recognized by the permaculture founders: 'permaculture design systems are information and design intensive […] A large part of the thinking revolution involves the emergence of design as a universal skill alongside those of literacy and numeracy' (Holmgren, 2002, pp. 13–4). The application domain of Permaculture is related to the origin of Permaculture in agriculture. From the very beginning Permaculture directed its attention mainly toward proposing and developing agricultural practices. The first published Permaculture book subtitles 'A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements' (B. Mollison & Holmgren, 1978) is clear evidence of the original relationship. At the same time, members write extensively and recurrently about the application of Permaculture to other domains beyond agriculture.
As a complement, the Alceste method gave us the potential to understand the five different discourses in the permaculture network held by different members.
The hyperlink network
The results about the hyperlink network open a space for discussion, first of all, about implications of the power law distribution concerning UGC. As a preliminary, we conclude that there is no such thing as an average member in the Permaculture social network. Indeed, the content production is not normally distributed: the majority of users contribute few items, whereas few users contribute a lot. This content generation pattern is similar to those reported for other online social networks (Shriver et al., 2013).
With regard to the codetermination of UGC and social ties, we find that the common pattern, found in other networks, such as Facebook (Saez-Trumper, Nettleton, & Baeza-Yates, 2011), or Soulrider.com (Shriver et al., 2013), is also present for permacultureglobal.org. Hence, permacultureglobal.org is subject to network effects in content generation: increasing the user’s social ties on the network induces the user to post more content, which then results in this user obtaining more ties, which in turn causes the same user to post more content, and so on (Shriver et al., 2013).
With regard to the codetermination of geographical location and social ties, the empirical distribution is consistent with Zipf’s Law (Zipf, 2012), according to which density is proportional to the inverse of the distance. This result does not diverge from the results about other social networks and electronic communications (Goldenberg & Levy, 2009).
With regard to sparsity and clustering, our results show that permacultureglobal.org has a degree distribution and a clustering coefficient distribution which follow the power laws (Barabási & Albert, 1999) which are found in other social network contexts (Clauset et al., 2009; Myers et al., 2014).
The combination of the hyperlink network and semantic network discussions reached three general considerations, calling into question the extent to which the semantic network influences the hyperlink network. Our conclusions are that the specificities of the semantic network of permacultureglobal.org do not radically diverge the hyperlink network from the usual shape of online social networks found in other studies (Clauset et al., 2009; Goldenberg & Levy, 2009; Myers et al., 2014; Shriver et al., 2013). On the one hand, this result shows that on the semantic networks the structural features of the hyperlink networks are independent of the content of the same network. Hence, the specificities of the Permaculture movement in terms of its semantic framework have no evident impact on the structure of the network of the movement. On other hand, we can advance that the key factors behind the success of social networks could be applicable to the Permaculture social network, too. One-structure-fits-all hence seems valid in the context of online social networks. Whatever the identity or the content of the network, the structural characteristics are largely invariant: the structure of the network always reproduces the same distribution of UGC, the same codetermination of UGC and social ties, the same codetermination of geographical location and social ties and the same sparsity and the same clustering of users.
In addition, we realize that the size and growth of the permacultureglobal.org, in terms of members, UGC, social ties, etc., shows an additional concrete case of the prominent role of Internet in facilitating communication, coordination and development of the social movements (Ackland & O’Neil, 2011; Conover et al., 2013; Laer & Aelst, 2010).
Finally, our analysis confirms that the Permaculture movement is a social movement (Ferguson & Lovell, 2013) to the extent that its online manifestation, at the permacultureglobal.org website, takes the form of a network of informal interactions between a plurality of individuals engaged in several heterogeneous projects, - some of them cultural, political and conflicting - on the basis of a shared collective identity, which aggregates around the declination of Permaculture in agriculture and in other domains.
Start time: 14:30
Room: ABF (209)
Track: The Pluriverse: Articulating alternatives to development