Radical Healthcare Pt2: Social Ecology

The Radical Healthcare series will be exploring healthcare models that intersect with progressive left wing branches of political thought. The second part of the series with be exploring the Anarchist philosophy of ‘social ecology’ and its relation to healthcare.

Radical is derived from the Latin word for root- ‘radic’. Despite the brazen and unorthodox connotations of a ‘radical approach’, in fact it informs theory and praxis which seeks to get to the root of problems with the aim of eradicating their fundamental causes rather than just managing their effects.The radical approach is one of deep rational calculation and analysis. Social Ecology, a philosophy developed by the American political philosopher Murray Bookchin, fits into this radical framework tracing the root of social problems to the relationship between humanity and nature.

‘Ecology’, a term coined by the German zoologist Haeckel, describes ‘the investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and organic environment’ . Social Ecology, with a basis in ecological principles such as mutualism and diversity, and the rejection of human domination over nature, conceives a holistic understanding of societal organisation. This framework can be used to understand human wellbeing, and inform consequent efforts taken to improve the health of populations.

The plundering of the human spirit by the marketplace is paralleled the plundering of the earth by capital

Murray Bookchin- Post-Scarcity Anarchism

Socio-Ecological Model: A Framework For Prevention

Unpicking and treating illness is a hard job because of the sheer matrix of contributing factors which informs a patient’s health. Solely prescribing a pill, or sending someone to therapy acts a band aid to prevent water from spilling out of a system whose pressure is increasing. A socio-ecological approach attempts to heal the lesion point and introduce measures which can lessen the rate of pressure build-up. In this analogy, the lesion,an illness, could be depression, usually treated with antidepressants or CBT. A socio-ecological model would analyse the complex interactions between the person and their environment ( ecosystem if I may) in order to find a radical solution which can address the root of the problem rather being content with bandaging the peripheries. This requires analysis of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal factors leading to the disease. A holistic method to understand a human being similar to that of understanding a stable ecosystem. Then measures can be put in place which allows interventions to direct towards a holistic sense of good health, on various levels (social policy, community, and individual behavior).

Source: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/documents/888/room%202.12%20workshop%20Rachel%20Brown%20-%20Healthy%20HEFE%20presentation.pdf

The Health Service treats our illnesses as individual cases, but most of our illness is due to economic and social conditions that we face collectively: unhealthy and dangerous workplaces, overlong hours and night time working, pollution from factories and cars, poor food, unhealthy housing, lack of trees and greenspaces, all exacerbated by racism and sexism for large sectors of the population

London Anarchist Communist Group- ‘Save our NHS?’

Importantly all of this needs to be infused with a revolutionary spirit if we are serious about improving healthcare. Collective care placed above profits, and confidence in the creative capacity of people to come together and organise effectively. Social Ecology rejects power over nature and promotes a harmonization with our environment and other humans. Instead of perpetuating power structures which uphold dependency on big pharma and bureaucracy, it proposes an anarchic redistribution of power horizontally where leadership becomes accountable ‘administratorship’. Social Anarchism, requires co-operation between individuals, not the dissolution of responsibility. When all are held responsible for one another and our environments through social ‘ecological’ ties, the path to care is one which is embarked on with an overriding consensus. Eradicating elements of modern capitalist consumerism that are detrimental to the environment and human health ( such as unhealthy eating habits which Dr Sarah Myhill terms the ‘permanent state of carb addiction’ in western societies) is radical in the sense that it addresses the root cause of human illness thus acting as a profound preventative strategy.

Importantly Social Ecology doesn’t dominate over nature, in the same way we shouldn’t be disillusioned in the ability of medical interventions to overcome nature:

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”


That being said nihilism has no place in Medical practice. In fact with new biotechnology developments it seems that we are increasingly being able to chart what previously would have been seen as random or unpredictable. Bookchin emphasizes the need to use technology to improve the quality of human existence, crucially working in tandem with nature to direct spontaneous developments in the direction of a better environment and societal organisation. Likewise in medicine technology has great potential to be used to improve patient quality of life. Going forward we need to integrate this with a holistic sense of a healthy life. Rather than be overly nihilistic or overly ‘death phobic’ to the point where dying becomes an undignified act. Social Ecology in it’s studied spontaneity could be used to frame the philosophy of healing in a more holistic light than is currently at work and inform the direction of future medical practice.

Last Notes

If you are a regular of my blog, you know I am no certified public health expert or political sociologist . This article was an amalgamation if ideas I’ve had from researching social ecology and the anarchist approach to healthcare. Don’t take anything I say too seriously ( and as always I am open to criticism and discussion), however I do encourage you to think about alternative systems of care to inform a more holistic sense of healing. Stay tuned for the next one!


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