Social permaculture is an aspect of permaculture that applies the core principles of permaculture to social situations, communities, and families.
Social permaculture is a relatively new phenomenon within the wide umbrella of permaculture concepts, but it is entirely consistent with the requirement taught in permaculture design courses that all elements in a permaculture design should respect and serve the people who will be affected by that design.
While the principles of permaculture are most often applied to physical elements in the landscape and buildings - they are equally valid and relevant when applied to social situations like groups, gatherings, and communities.
Take for example the idea of stacking functions. Functions can be stacked in social situations just as they can be stacked with physical elements. When a group of people comes together for any purpose, there are many functions that they can perform together at the same time.
If a group comes together for one purpose, for instance a potluck dinner, this is also an opportunity for the same group to trade, swap, educate, organize, and distribute materials. In this way, a gathering which previously served only one function can serve many.
Just as the edges where different ecosystems meet are more rich and diverse than any individual ecosystem, so are the edges where different social groupings meet more rich and diverse than any individual social group.
By recognizing and understanding this aspect of social interaction, social permaculture facilitates the intermingling of different groups so that each group can learn and benefit from the ideas and beliefs of other groups.
By coming together and learning from each other, members of individual groups are less likely to feel polarized and divided from members of other groups. Instead the members of each group learn to recognize shared common ground and learn to adopt methods and strategies that are working well for other groups.
One of the defining characteristics of social permaculture is that it finds a way for each individual to contribute in a meaningful manner, while decisions are made by the group as a whole. Effective social permaculture brings people with various strengths together in working towards a common goal.
Individuals with strong leadership skills, strong opinions, and strong personalities are encouraged to express those traits in a way that does not undermine the collective preferences and goals of the group. Quieter individuals with creative talents are encouraged to take part in the group's decision making processes in a non-threatening way. In this way, everyone in the group learns to put their ego aside and function as equally-valuable pieces of a larger whole.
Examples of social permaculture can be found anywhere people are practicing the principles of permaculture. Sometimes social permaculture is intentionally cultivated, and sometimes it takes shape organically as a side effect of people living in harmony with natural patterns.
Some of the more common places where social permaculture is evident include community gardens, food co-ops, community markets, eco-villages, homeschooling communities, and online forums dedicated to permaculture subjects.
The growing movement around the world to remove privacy fences from back yards is a shining example of social permaculture in action. The removal of fences facilitates the sharing of resources and responsibilities, and it allows the nature's edge effect to take shape all around our homes.
Social permaculture is a wide open subject, and its potential applications are limited only by the imaginations of permaculture practitioners around the world.
For more examples of social permaculture in action, visit any of the popular online permaculture forums. Also see Permaculture Design Magazine, which regularly features articles dedicated to the topic of social permaculture and shares examples of real-life applications in the wild.