Every institution, whether it be a government building, a private home or an airport, reveals something about the kinds of people that enter and interact within them and how they present themselves. Total institutions are generally laid out and filled with things necessary to provide for the people whom come and go. This essay will discuss prisons’ tendency toward total institutions and the rites of passage that go hand in hand with entering and exiting these institutions. Goffman and Enchandela (Goffman 1962, p.4 & Enchandela 1991 p. 131)  describe a total institution as something that consists of three crucial elements: all elements of life (eating, sleeping, bathing, working) are performed in the same place and under the same authority, all activities mentioned above are performed in the company of a large group of people, all activities are prearranged and scheduled by a body of officials. According to Goffman (Goffman 1962, p.6) there are 5 rough groupings of total institutions. First type, institutions are to care for people that are incapable of doing so themselves (orphanages, nursing homes). A second type of institutions are to care for people that are incapable of doing so themselves, and post an unintentional threat to the community (mental asylums, tuberculosis and swine flu quarantine). A third type is an Institution that aims to protect the community from intentional dangers (prison, prisoner of war camps). A forth type provides work like education and training and only serve under these premise (boarding schools, navy vessels) and fifth are, retreats from the world that also serve as training institutions (convent, monasteries).

Rites of passage are defined by Turner as changes within one’s life, generally transitions into new stages of life, which make up one’s lifecycle. These transitions are generally marked by a ceremony or performance and consist of three stages: separation; symbolic behaviour signifying the detachment of a previous status or phase of life, the liminal stage; where the person is ambiguous, they are not what they were before the rite of passage, nor are they what they are going to be and finally the reincorporation, the stage where the passage is fulfilled (Turner 1964, p. 5).

 Modern day high and low security prisons meet the criteria of all three crucial elements of a total institution as defined by Goffman. The main agenda of a jail or correctional facility falls under the group of institutions that aim to protect the community from intentional dangers. Modern prisons offer education to inmates not only in the sense of how to fit into society, but also university level education. Nevertheless education is not the sole purpose of the facility, and it is not defined as an institution that provides work like education and training although it lightly leans toward this type of institution. (Department for Correctional Services website).

Goffman explains that the large ‘block’ of people within a total institution are split up into inmates and the supervisory staff. These two groups of people have little communication with one another, although being in close contact with one another on a regular basis. “Within total institutions, two different social and cultural worlds develop, jogging alongside each other with points of official contact but little mutual penetration” Goffman 1962, p.9). Goffman makes the point that those who have only lived domestically, whether they are currently solitary or still domestic find it easy to uphold domestic relations. Whereas a person who has experienced long term batch living (define) find it hard to re-establish a domestic relationship with the family they have outside of the institution.

 Upon entering a jail, the inmate is removed from many roles they identified with on the outside. They no longer have the ability to earn or possess money, cannot contest divorce or adoption of their children or vote. Often, these limitations are removed from the inmate for life, even after being released from prison (Goffman 1962, p.16)

 In the prison setting, inmates no longer have the ability to work for money, and spend their earnings on leisure. Completion of work is met with payments of tobacco or the promise of Christmas presents, however if inmates refuse to do the work allocated to them, they can be threatened with physical violence or containment. In some prisons, harder working inmates get more privileges such as longer ‘outside’ time and receiving of mail from family on the outside (Goffman 1962, p.10)

 The rite of passage of entering prison is made up of three phases, the separation from society and identity, the liminal stage where the person lacks identity and is doing their time in prison and in some cases the final reincorporation stage. The separation phase plays out in a very ceremonial way. The offenders hair is cut, body disinfected, fingerprinted and provided with a number which is the only way of identifying that person from that stage forward. This is a very crucial point at which offenders can make a positive impression on the prison staff. While the process of destructing the self is being carried out, cooperation from the offender is expected from prison staff. Staff members feel that if an offender is compliant during these tasks, they will prove to be a compliant prisoner (Goffman 1962, p.17)

The liminal stage of the prison rite of passage is one of very little status. Offenders identify with the role of inmate through the wearing of the prisons uniform, and the customary haircut. New inmates have no status or property, and have very little ways of distinguishing themselves from fellow inmates (Turner 1964, pp. 8-9) The identity constructed through the years within society is physically, mentally and materially stripped from inmates through the initiations stage. Though, it may be possible for inmates to recreate their outside identity, it would be irrelevant within the total institution of a prison as the norms and social mobilisers within prison are vastly different to the society in which the inmate came from.

 The final stage of the rite of passage is the reincorporation stage, again generally quite ceremonial through the court hearing and the “treatment plan” administered months before being released from prison. The treatment plan and rehabilitation attempts to readapt the inmate to society, and remove institutionalisation from their persona. Upon completion of the treatment, and upon exiting the prison, the inmate is introduced to a new status, get their name back and is allowed to wear clothing brought to them by family or from the outside(Federal Bureau of Prisons website).

 One of the very few ways an inmate can quickly make a status for himself within the prison is through the presentation of the self, specifically tattooing. For the purposes of this essay I will be defining the term ‘tattoo’ as to include ink tattoos and scarring left from injections of narcotics. McCarron (2008 p.2) states that “tattoos of addict inmates (heroin addiction scarification) are designed to dramatize their desolation, while the tattoos of criminal inmates are designed to demonstrate their agency”. These definitions and categories of tattoos help slot inmates into groups or gangs within the prison; it is said that in prison tattoos that are bold, large and colourful, generally lead to a greater amount of respect being paid to the person that bares them, than to someone with no, or small tattoos.

 Alongside these kinds of tattoos, those placed on areas of the body such as the eyelids, penis or anus cause the most offence to other inmates, creating an identity within the prison as “tough” or “able to tolerate high amounts of pain. For these inmates I would suggest that this form of tattooing could represent an increased desire to distance themselves from society or even from the prison norms themselves. Tattoos may be a significant visual presentation of the self, arising from a homogeneous masculine perception of toughness. Also, a highly visual presentation is important due to the limited contact and socialising allowed for inmates in order to establish their social positioning. A form of communication transcendent of the laws of the institution is how prisoners negotiate their social positioning and self-presentation.

 As tattoos and deep scarring are permanent, it is seen by inmates as property and a source of identity that cannot be stolen by the prison. In conjunction with tattoos and scarring, skin colour is also a very important tool in negotiating a position within the prison setting.

 “Race, itself inseparable from skin colour, is a crucial aspect of American prison life; indeed, it is the most significant; the nature of an inmate’s crime has far less importance in a prison yard than the colour of a convict’s skin.” (McCarron, 2008: 6)

 Inmates seek out other prisoners to form a group with to provide additional protection for themselves, and more times than not, the members of a group are of the same ethnicity (McCarron 2008 p. 6) This ethnic affiliation is another role inmates identify with in prisons, either as a member of a gang (protected) or an outsider of a gang (the hunted). These roles influence inmates’ social positioning and may even lead to an emphasising of racial ethnicity when presenting the self in order to be accepted into a gang for protection.

Individuals that end up in prison often find it hard to negotiate any position for themselves other than what is outlined in the prisons mandate for them. However, once explored through the lense of an anthropologist, there are quite a few ways for the inmate to mould an identity within the institution. First and foremost, the role of inmate is a position that is expected of offenders by the outside world and of prison staff; this role is cemented through the wearing of the uniform, haircut and strict regimes that must be followed. Ethnicity and tattoos also prove to be a handy tool to distinguish the self from other inmates, along with the labelling as tough and respected by others in the institution. Looking at the institution of prison as a rite of passage: separation from society, liminality of personhood and citizenship, and re-entry into society, it appears to have negative outcomes for prisoners. The inmate emerges from prison, labelled as an offender or criminal and often finds it hard to remove the subsequent stigma of being a convict.






Department for Correctional Services, Government of South Australia, 2010, viewed 9th June 2010, < http://www.corrections.sa.gov.au/prison-industries&gt;


Enchandela, Danger at Sea: Social Hierarchy and Social Solidarity, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 20 (1991:Apr.-1992:Jan.)


Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2012, viewed 9th June 2010, < http://www.bop.gov/.>


Goffman, E 1962, ‘On the characteristics of total institutions’  in Asylums: essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates, Aldin Pub Co., Chicago, III., pp. 1-59


McCarron, K 2008, “Skin and Self – Indictment: Prison tattoos, race and heroin addiction.” English studies in Canada, Edition 34.1


Turner, V 1964. Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage. In J. Helms (ed) New Approaches to the Study of Religion. American Ethnological Society, pp. 4-20



“If man is a sapient animal, a toolmaking animal, a self-making animal, a symbol-using animal, he is, no less, a performing animal, Homo performans, not in the sense, perhaps that a circus animal may be a performing animal, but in the sense that a man is a self-performing animal–his performances are, in a way, reflexive, in performing he reveals himself to himself. This can be in two ways: the actor may come to know himself better through acting or enactment; or one set of human beings may come to know themselves better through observing and/or participating in performances generated and presented by another set of human beings.” (Victor Turner The Anthropology of Performance 1986: 81)

 Victor Turners influential work The Anthropology of Performance refers to performance in the theatrical, literal sense, however using his sentiment of homo performans, this essay will explore the performance of conflict and violence, drawing on evolutionary theories and will show examples of cultural and social violence. To understand practices of violence and conflict, a holistic approach must be taken, using social, historical, cultural and psychological observations. In the last 20 years an evolutionary psychology approach based on ‘neo-Darwin’ theories has been used in anthropological research, and looks at the evolved mechanisms of social behaviour in humans as they strive for survival, reproduction and status. This approach will be the crux of this essay, as it goes ‘back to the basics’ and draws on many approaches including historical, cultural and primarily evolutionary.

 The evolutionary psychology approach was brought to light in Robert Wrights book ‘The Moral Animal’ (1994) where he showed the vast amount of potential this approach had for asking questions about human kind and their behaviours owing to its wide scope. Evolutionary psychology is the study of behaviour and its evolutionary origins, and is based on Charles Darwins theory of natural selection/origin of species. It suggests that behaviours which are essential for survival are learnt and passed down to the next generation much more frequently than less beneficial traits (REF Confer). This suggests that survivability is inherently important in human kinds genetic makeup and evolution and it could be argued that aggression in humans is fundamental to survival (survival of the fittest) and that is why it is so commonly displayed within cultures and societies. Animal reproductive/survival instincts to acquire a mate through performance of ‘fitness’ or ‘toughness’ is displayed by human kind, these displays of fitness through performance are complex and performed in many ways.

 Resistance seems to be a key driver in conflict, whether a group or individual resorts to conflict as a form of resistance, or individuals/groups lash out with violence as a reaction to resistance but both aim to bring about significant change. Conflict that stems from resistance can be seen as a performance of competing goals, and is viewed in the youngest of the human kind, infants. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1979) observed that infants who have not yet learnt to talk, lash out with violence at those who refuse to do what they want, and most importantly this phenomena is viewed in a variety of different cultures. This example is vital to understand the evolutionary approach of conflict and violence, as it shows that survivability is indeed inherent to the human makeup, and that it is passed down generations.

The above example demonstrates violence as a evolutionary performance, but this sentiment will now be discussed from a social perspective. For the sake of this essay, conflict and violence will refer to the act of being violated, which is to corrupt, to do violence to and to dishonour and disrupt boundaries (real and imagined) (REF lecture slides 1). Violence and conflict are important to establish a unique identity within society, to “differentiate your personality from the rest of the world” (Coser, 1998: 33). To achieve a unique identity often means to achieve a high social status, which comes hand in hand with greater access to resources, thus survivability and an increased desirability to potential mates, thus reproduction.

 It is important to note that most behaviours are dependant on ones environment, and violence or conflict as a performance depends heavily on ones social and cultural surroundings. For example, finding a mate or partner differs significantly across the globe. One in five relationships in the United Kingdoms start online, but in Vanuatu, men are lunging themselves off a tower with a vine bungee attached to their leg to compete for the local ladies attention, the man that gets closest to the ground without injuring himself is considered the ideal mate (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/humanplanetexplorer/life_events/courtship). Although this is not an example of violence, it was necessary to show the dependency of behaviour on environment and to lead into the example of violence as a rite of passage, a cultural necessity.

 The Ilongot group from The Phillipines seem to acknowledge this embedded need for violence and conflict; a rite of passage for a young man to be recognised as a man is headhunting. The Ilongots believe that by taking another mans head, they relieve their young hearts of anger and can then progress into man hood. Although on face value, this rite of passage man not be seen as a boy striving for survivability, if the boy fails he will not be allowed to marry, be seen as undesirable by women thus not reproduce and will not have the rights that men have. This ritual can also be viewed as a performance, based on the criteria that Turner has provided, as the actor may come to know themelves better through observing and participating in performances generated by another set of human beings; in this case the elders performing their own stories of their headhunting, subsequently applying pressure and a standard to the rite of passage (REF lecture notes/rosaldo) and making headhunting a performance of superiority.

 The example of the Ilongot group show that violent acts within a cultural platform, or a specific environment have been learnt, however acknowledge the evolutionary proof that violence is found in young hearts. “Culture gives people a sense of community and belonging, and is therefore one of the principal means through which identity is constructed and sustained” (Murray 2006:259). This indicates that humans learn their behaviour from their environment, and to talk of cultural conflict, means that conflict is a performance that is learnt. On this sentiment, it is also apparent that cultural conflict is goal-oriented, drawing on the case of ‘The Dizi Girls’ (ref). After a long period of peace between two groups ‘Dizi’ and ‘Suri’ in Southern Ethiopia, four Dizi girls were killed by three young Suri boys. This act of violence portrayed an significant message to the Dizi people, that change had occurred. As mentioned before, humans lash out with violence with the aim to bring about significant change. The killings were carefully executed, choosing girls of the most culturally important age in order to make the most significant impact. The girls that were killed were at a fertile age, where they were expected to marry and reproduce, this was emphasised in a speech made by the Dizi chief at the funeral:

             “These young women. . .  imagine how many children they could have carried . . . now they die without children to make their parents rejoice and satisfied. Their names will be lost, and no sons and daughters will live to help the family or to invoke the name of their mother”. (Abbink pg 125)

 The emphasis put on the loss of future generations of children in the chiefs speech, confirms the purpose of these killings, to affect the Dizi group for the longest time, and for the Suri group to perform and assert power over the Dizi. With the loss of four fertile girls, comes the loss of opportunities for reproduction, the loss of greater numbers and more security and the loss of status.

 All of the examples used in this essay confirm that conflict is indeed a performance, and that it is a reflexive and dynamic phenomenon. Using the evolutionary psychology approach, it becomes clear that conflict as a performance serves to achieve survivability, a trait that has possessed human kind since the dawn of time. The infant lashing out with violence when not getting what it wants/needs shows that this is something that is fundamental to all human beings regardless of environment or culture. Cultural performative conflict also aims to achieve survivability, through sabotaging and disrupting boundaries of their biggest threat, groups of people increase their chances of survival. Although evolutionary psychology appears to pave a new path to understand conflict through the lense of anthropological research, a limitation of this approach is its inability in explaining cultural and individual differences. “Evolutionary psychology has been far more successful in predicting and explaining species-typical and sex-differentiated psychological adaptations than explaining variation within species or within the sexes” (Buss, 2009).




This essay will explore the historical timeline of Cuba’s agricultural systems starting with the countries colonisation in 1492 and finishing with examples from modern day agricultural setups. Cuba have faced many economic, political and food security crises which have led to them exploring a path to food sovereignty relying only on organic sustainable farming and inward looking development policies. Though huge success has been shown in the yield of urban gardens, Cuba is still faced with the challenge of applying their alternative agricultural methods to large-scale farming.



Cuba’s agricultural history begins shortly after Columbus’ discovery of the country in 1492, when it was settled by Spaniards who were in search of lands capable of grazing cattle, growing tobacco and sugar (Warren 2010). The sugar industry stayed pinnacle to Cuba’s economy and development for over 100 years, with exports becoming so large and constant that infrastructure such as railway and highways were built to keep up with the demand (Warren 2010).

In 1920, the sugar boom collapsed and Cuba was subject to many military coups and political struggles for power until 1959 when Fidel Castro starts leads the country and promised to return Cuba back to a land of prosperity and trade with his revolutionary communist approach (Castro 1967). It is important to note that by 1959, 9% of farmers in Cuba owned 62% of the land, 4 million hectares of which was taken up by latifundio a dualistic land tenure space (Nelson 2003) (Rodriguez 2010).

1959 saw Cuba and the Soviet Union (USSR) establish diplomacy, causing the United States to enforce a trade embargo in an attempt to drastically reduce Cuba’s economic benefit from exports by refusing to trade any fuel to Cuba, nor receive any exports from Cuba (Rodriguez 2010). The Cuban government attempted two agrarian reforms after 1959 to give land to tillers; the first failing due to strangleholds from the United States and the second achieving taking land from farmers who owned more than 67 hectares which led to 70% of land being owned by the government (Alveraz 2004).

From this point up until 1980, Cuba depended heavily on the USSR for aid, trade and food imports, the years 1981-1985 saw an increase in trade after Cuba and the USSR enter a bilateral cooperation agreement, sharing resources and both experiencing increases in trade of up to US$8 billion per year (Warren 2010).

 Leading up to the fall of the USSR, trade and aid was cut to and from Cuba by 12% causing Cuba’s economy to drop 3.5% in the year of 1988. 1991 saw the fall of the Soviet Union, destabilising Cuba’s economy, development and soviet-styled industrial agriculture (Koont 2008). With the collapse of the USSR came the end of Cuba receiving farming goods such as machinery, spare parts and most importantly: petroleum and other fuel alternatives. The country was facing an agricultural crisis and a huge threat to food and economic security that demanded sustainable inward-facing development policy implementation from the government. This began with the ‘Special Period’ in 1992, which involved a wartime styled economy and development program using a mix of deregulation, decentralisation, demonopolisation and the implementation of a food rationing system (Rodriguez 2010) (Garth 2009).

In 1987 the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians was founded and aimed to ‘integrate agricultural and forestry technicians in order to contribute to a sustainable ecologically based development’ (Caballero 2001); from this came the ‘design of sustainable alternatives for the local food sovereignty’, a project that involved local farmers teaching each other and spreading knowledge on a national level about how to achieve food sovereignty. Such programs have led to employing the unemployed to plant and provide vegetables for the community on abandoned land in urban areas, mixed farming systems utilising livestock and crop production, artisanal production of microorganisms which is turned into biogas and retrospectively used to provide warmth to new born animals and cooking of food for humans and animals (Caballero 2001).

Urban agricultural programs were surfacing as a success in Cuba with the success of vegetable growing superseding that of animal raising and training, in 2006 urban areas within Cuba were producing 1kg of vegetables per capita, per day (Koont 2008). Agriculture has shifted from traditional, industrial models toward an outstanding community driven sustainable farming culture, Cuba are no longer reliant on imports from the developed world and now rely on organic produce farmed through ecological horticulture methods that is locally sourced.

The spread of urban agriculture reached as far as the gardens of home owners in urban Cuba, with prices of fresh fruits and vegetables still unstable the community was encouraged to grow their own fresh produce in an attempt to further efforts toward food sovereignty (Buchmann 2009). Home gardens offer increased self-sustainability to individual households and reduce susceptibility to external impacts such as political, economic and climatic.



 As well as achieving food sovereignty and reducing national hunger, the current agricultural methods executed in Cuba have resonating positive impacts on environmental management and socio-economic issues. Access to land, seeds, water and local markets has opened up to the poorer ‘peasants’ of Cuba as they often hold knowledge on the ‘old way’ of farming and do not rely on the use of chemicals or industry and their knowledge is highly desired for programs such as ‘design of sustainable alternatives for the local food sovereignty’ and ‘farmer to farmer movement’ (Altieri & Toledo 2011).

The farmer to farmer agro ecology movement (MACNAC) swept across Cuba, a movement that changed the agricultural landscape and public mindset and led to food sovereignty (Historical changes in the process). This movement encourages public involvement, sharing of local knowledge and small sustainable gardens to grow food for the population (Edible City: Grow the Revolution 2012), which involves the peasants mentioned above. This movement increased productivity across the nation involving farmers from all socio-economic groups and also cemented the philosophy of organic farming in Cuban culture. Farmers have realised through this program that synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are not necessary and that they can use seeds with natural defences to boost their yield (Altieri & Toledo 2011).

A Ph.D student in Cuba discovered by Fidel Castro is on a mission to spread his grassroots organic movement to larger scaled farms, intent that organic farming can address large scale agricultural demands and should not only be used as an escape from a crisis (Block 2013)

“Sometimes we are thinking that to grow organic food is like an escape from the crisis, not a development alternative. We are fighting to give evidence. This is our battle, I involve people and they make their own conclusions, but we have so much evidence to show.” (Block 2013)

Although Cuba is well on the way to food sovereignty, it is of concern that the current agricultural method being followed does not apply to large scale farming. Development of agroecological production models for large scale farms is necessary, without neglecting the empowerment of local farmers and the necessity of sustainable based agriculture (Caballero 2001)



Cuba has shown exceptional resilience against a number of economic and food security crises and were given a rare opportunity to be innovative in the direction their agricultural production. After being reliant on other nations for the import of food and agricultural tools for many years, Cuba have broken away from traditional industry based agriculture and are heading to complete organic, sustainable farming with large yields. The traditional agricultural method contributes greatly to carbon emissions and contributes to climate change whereas Cuba’s method of producing biogas for use has much less of a footprint on the climate and the environment. Cuba is now on the way to comfortably producing enough food for their population that will be little affected by trade relations, climate change and the global political climate.






Altieri, M and Toledo, V 2011, ‘The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 38, issue. 3, pp. 587-612, viewed 18th March 2014


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Caballero, R 2001, ‘Agro-ecology and Food Sovereignty in Cuba: Successes, Threats and Challenges’, lecture notes for Food Sovereignty Day, London UK, viewed 18th March 2014.


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Warren, J 2010, ‘Sustainable Transport Systems: Leaning from Cuba’ in P Furniss, R Kimbowa, G Wilson (eds), Environment, Development, and Sustainability: Perspectives and Cases from Around the World, Oxford, Oxford, pp. 54-65.




In the early 1990s, Cuba was faced with an agricultural crisis that demanded immediate action from the government that directed the agricultural sector away from an industrial, classic model of agriculture toward an outstanding community driven, sustainable food system. The changes in Cuba’s food system and agricultural industry revolutionised the country, and replaced its previous dependency on imports for food consumption with organic produce farmed through ecological horticulture methods that is completely locally sourced.

This series of essays will give a detailed account of Cuba’s food system through exploring historical, environmental and social issues, the agro-politics of the food system, and look toward the future of the current system in relation to food security.



Currently in Cuba, over 50,000 hectares of urban land is used to produce 33% of the food that is consumed in major cities (Edible City: Grow the Revolution 2012). Alongside a healthy and dynamic urban production and trade system, the Cuban government transformed the way rural, state managed agricultural farms were managed and used in a response to a petroleum crisis and trade embargo. Famers were encouraged to set aside a significant amount of land on their farms; that would normally be used for growing specific specialized crops, for growing food for the population. These farmers were then supported financially and new infrastructure was implemented that heavily encouraged state farms to transport their produce not only to major towns, but where the demand was the highest (Enriquez 2000).

It was a dynamic mix of grassroots movements, such as the ‘Campesino a Campesino’ (farmer to farmer) movement and government policies and regulations that paved the path toward food sovereignty in Cuba. On October 18 2011, Robert Caballero from the ‘Cuban Association of Technicians on Agriculture and Forestry’ explained that the agro-ecology model; movement away from a heavy onus on industrial and technological usage in farming, toward a more complex mix of technology being used in conjunction with nature, society and resource management, has been successfully applied in Cuba. The success of the model shown in 2010 when 1,352,000 tonnes of food free from chemicals and genetically modified seeds was produced through the urban and peri-urban agriculture program, which equates to 16 to 20 kilograms per square meter per year productivity (Caballero 2011).



In the current global environmental and political setting, it is of utmost importance to establish food security for developing states that are still reliant on the classic model of agriculture. The current agricultural model is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; with the looming threat of climate change it is vital to not only drastically reduce emissions from agriculture, but have reliable food sources that will be less affected by trade relations, change in temperature and the political climate. Cuba has shown that it is possible to produce food everywhere by everyone to feed the population at micro and national levels and provides the foundations of a food system that could revolutionise global food production and security.




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Wright, J 2009, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in an Era of Oil Scarcity: Lessons from Cuba, Earthscan, Sterling.

Wright, J 2012, ‘The Little-Studied Success Story of Post-Crisis Food Security in Cuba: Does Lack of International Interest Signify Lack of Political Will?’ International Journal of Cuban Studies, vol. 4, issue. 2, pp. 130-153, viewed 18th March 2014 <http://go.galegroup.com.proxy.library.adelaide.edu.au/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE%7CA294899685&v=2.1&u=adelaide&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&authCount=1&gt;.


This essay will use sustainable development discourse to cross-examine what is known as the three pillars of sustainable development with the principles and practices of permaculture philosophy and techniques. Case studies of eco-villages in Brazil, Instituto de Permacultura e Ecovilas do Cerrado (IEPC); North Carolina, Earthaven Eco Village and Kenya, Organic Technology Extension and Promotion of Initiative Centre (OTEPIC) will be put forward as instances of sustainable grass roots social movements and examined in terms of how they align with the three pillars of sustainable development discourse; social, environmental and economic. First I will outline some sustainable development discourse pertinent to this essay and then give some background on what permaculture is. The three pillars of sustainable development will then be discussed toward each of the case studies. The environmental pillar is emphasized throughout permaculture ideology and will be discussed within this essay and the economic pillar takes form as a new type of community based economy focused on self-sufficiency, little trade and a steady-state. The social will be highlighted through patterns of governance in permaculture and in the Kenya case social inclusion.

Sustainable development is the holistic approach to development including economic, social, political and environmental perspectives (Redclift 2005, p.66). The Brundtland Commission (or, World Commission on Environment and Development) described sustainable development as:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations             to meet their own needs” (Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our             Common Future 1987)

Although this appears to make the concept of sustainable development an achievable goal, this ideology is incredibly simplistic, and fails to acknowledge cultural relativism and the importance of a holistic approach. More recently, it is commonly accepted that sustainable development rests upon three pillars; economic growth, social development and environmental protection and that the concept is multi-dimensional, multi-scalar, multi-temporal and multi-geographic (Koshey, Mataki & Lal 2008). Global institutions exist to ensure the notion of sustainable development is distributed and discussed globally, and govern the direction of global sustainable development.

Development is dependent on strong and good governance, which encourages strong communities, a thriving economy and the preservation/conservation of natural ecosystems. It is broadly acknowledged that development and governance have a symbiotic relationship. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) have long held governance of high importance as it directly relates to the successfulness  of sustainable development and have followed multi-lateral agreements which involve a collection of governments coming together, creating a collaborative governance (IISD 2014).

Permaculture is an emerging grass roots movement aiming to provide sustainably sourced food in all environments along with shelter and a way of creating jobs. It teaches a way of growing food in small spaces as well as creating a sustainable civilisation (Hewitt 2009). The foundational philosophy of permaculture is to work with nature and mimic its systems to create a wealth of produce that is consumed locally. The form of governance found in most permaculture communities has a strong emphasis on self-governance, and less reliance on external governance. A self-governing society is operated by those involved within said society and not influenced by external bodies; decisions affecting the community are resolved by a consensus involving all members of the community (Bird 2000 p.563). Permaculture has become very relevant as recent work in anthropology and environmental geography have shown that the current system of global capitalism and the exploitation of the environment is unsustainable and cannot address the issues facing food security, poverty and other socio-environmental problems (Veteto & Lockyer 2008).

Permaculture has a strong focus on using perennial species over annual crops, intended to create permanent fixtures in backyards that produce a steady amount of food and removes the traditional agricultural routine of yearly attendance.  The idea behind this gives a sense of security, food all year round without the reliance on chemicals and machinery; however it is still important to ask the question: can we feed the world and enhance food security using the traditions and philosophies of permaculture? (Stirzatker 2010)

To do this, permaculture and modern agricultural methods used in the developing world will be examined using the three pillars of sustainable development as a standard.  To display how permaculture addresses the three pillars, permaculture eco-villages will be examined. The trend of ‘eco-villages’ has taken off with ‘The Global Eco-village Network’ reporting that there are over 800 established eco-villages globally. Dawson describes an eco-village as:

“…human-scale, full-featured settlements in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the             natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and which can be successfully             continued into the indefinite future” (Gilman 1991 p. 10)

Earthhaven Eco-village in North Carolina has achieved a sustainable community following the rules of permaculture while maintaining democratic self-governance. The community of 60 members are experimenting with new ways of achieving social, economic and ecological sustainability, addressing firsthand the three pillars of sustainability (Veteto & Lockyer 2008).  Earthhaven Eco-village are attempting to provide an alternative approach to development, one that addresses food security, ecosystem health and equality; however the ecovillage is only small scale and it is unclear if a full-scale settlement can be implemented while staying true to the foundations of permaculture and addressing ecological, economic and socio-cultural matters.  Permaculture Activist outlines exactly how those involved in eco-village projects plan on doing so:

“Permaculture is a holistic system of design, based on direct observation of nature, learning from traditional knowledge and the findings of modern science. Embodying a philosophy of positive action and grassroots education, permaculture aims to restructure society by returning control of resources for living: food, water, shelter and the means of livelihood, to ordinary people in their communities, as the only antidote to centralized power” (Veteto & Lockyer 2008).

This sentiment suggests that permaculture has the ability to morph with ecological and cultural change, to be implemented in macro or micro settings and most importantly provide a holistic bottom up approach to sustainable development that addresses all three pillars.

Economic growth is not directly addressed by the permaculture movement; rather it suggests a new type of economy within permaculture communities. Ted Trainer (2010) argues that the current industrial-affluent-consumer society is unsustainable and only contributes to environmental issues and will lead to a harder inevitable economic crash whereas permaculture offers an alternative; self-sufficient local communities, locally sourced produce, little trade and a steady state economy (Trainer 2010 p.19). Both the permaculture and eco-village movements focus more on self-reliance and sustainably sourced produce than the development of self-sufficient economies, with both movements assuming that self-governance will happen naturally and the current economy will have little influence.

The foundational philosophy of permaculture is to work with nature, so the second pillar ‘environmental protection’ is heavily incorporated into all permaculture practices. Ecocentro IPEC, a permaculture centre in Brazil are working with the community to protect and rebuild the Amazon, a rainforest so heavily manufactured it is predicted to reach a point where the forest cannot renew itself within the next 5 years (Cumming, Southworth, et.al 2012 pp. 67-74). All involved in the permaculture movement hold the sentiment ‘protect nature and safeguarding wildernesses of highest regard (Global Ecovillage Network 2014)

The last pillar to be considered is social development; an example of permaculture addressing this is the Otepic Project in Kenya. This project is working toward food and social security for the community through sharing common resources, encouraging alternative health practices, providing work and companionship for all members and integrating marginal groups into the community (Global Ecovillage Network 2014).

The permaculture movement urges a shift toward self-reliance, self-governance and community based sustainable development. Its foundations acknowledge the importance of ecological preservation and providing sustainably sourced food for all. That said, it fails to offer a practical solution to address all three pillars of sustainability by dismissing economic growth as a necessity. Permaculture cannot flourish without severe economic, political and social change. In the current economic and political climate permaculture can provide assistance to obtaining food security along with technological advances, political stability and strong global governance.



Bird, C 2000, ‘The possibility of self-governance’, American Political Science Review, 94.3 p. 563, Cambridge University Press, viewed 7th April2014

Brundtland, H 1987, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, World Commission on Environment and Development, Oslo

Cumming, G, Southworth, J, Rondon, X & Marsik, M 2012, ‘Spatial Complexity in fragmenting Amazonian rainforests: Do feedbacks from edge effects push forests towards an ecological threshold?’, Ecological Complexity, 11 pp. 67-74, Elsevier Press, viewed 7th April 2014

Gilman, R 1991, ‘The Ecovillage challenge’, In Context, 29 p. 10, viewed 7th April 2014

Global Ecovillage Network 2014, Dimensions of sustainability, viewed 7th April 2014 <http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/dimensions_of_sustainability&gt;

Hewitt, D 2009, Permaculture: ‘What, why and how: Growing food for a sustainable society’, Herald Times, viewed 7th April 2014 <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA198888267&v=2.1&u=adelaide&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w&asid=8d7eb40155e67503ae9af507878f59dd&gt;

International Institute for Sustainable Development 2014, Governance for Sustainable Development, viewed 7th April 2014 < http://www.iisd.org/governance/&gt;

Koshy, K, Mataki, M & Lal, M 2008, Sustainable Development – A Pacific Islands Perspective, Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD), University of the South Pacific

Redclift, M 2005, ‘Sustainable Development (1987-2005): an oxymoron comes of age’, Sustainable Development, 13, 4 pp. 212-227, Business Source Complete, viewed 7th April 2014

Stirzaker, R 2010, Out of the Scientists Garden, CSIRO, Victoria

Trainer, T 2010 The Transition: To a Sustainable and Just World, Envirobook, Sydney

Veteto, J & Lockyer, J 2008, ‘Environmental Anthropology Engaging Permaculture: Moving Theory and Practice Toward Sustainability’, Culture & Agriculture, 30.1-2 pp. 47-58, University of Georgia, viewed 7th April 2014


This video was structured more like a conversation than a lecture and from the start it is obvious that all the speakers on the panel are for a change in the current global economy that will back away from growth as its main objective and aim for development and a green economy instead. The governance of a green economy includes state and market, national strategies and international governance. It’s argued that the economy benefits from the environment and although businesses do not want to lose profit now, not involving themselves in a greener economy will have more detrimental effects in the future when they have run out of natural resources to produce their product. What the speakers are proposing resonate the foundations of sustainable development: economic development, ecological sustainability and social justice (quality of life) and also highlights the importance of the ‘triple bottom line’ (Koshey, Mataki & Lal 2008).

Before the triple bottom line is discussed, I would first like to point out that the discussion is centred around the premise that people won’t compromise, and societies are incapable of changing their consumption habits. I think that people can adapt, and rather than worrying about producing the same amount and doing it in a more sustainable way, a greener economy can be reached much easier by simply producing less, distributing more equally and consuming less per person. The current capitalist governed global economy is fuelled by mass consumption and production (which have a symbiotic relationship), transnational corporations have reached further across the globe and encourage consumption through advertising mediums and obviously benefit from the capitalist styled governance and economy. The current system of produce, consume, rinse repeat only highlights the importance of the triple bottom line. According to the genuine progress indicator, quality of life has not increased since 1975 and the sub-indicators used to calculate this are a fantastic preview of what corporations could be reporting on under a triple bottom line approach (Genuine Progress).


Koshy, K, Mataki, M & Lal, M 2008, Sustainable Development – A Pacific Islands Perspective, Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD), University of the South Pacific

Genuine Progress 2014, Genuine Progress Indicator, viewed 15th May 2014 <http://genuineprogress.net&gt;



This three part lecture outlines the issues of climate action, and explains why it is difficult to make policy relating to it. Climate change governance takes its shape from other models of governance within the environmental governance sphere but is solely concerned with climate change action (mitigation and adaption) and global radical change to achieve such goals (Knieling, J & Filho, W 2012). This means that the actors within the governance system ar e not limited to a few powerful institutions or players, but involves actors from all industries and environments including agriculture, transport and power to make a change. The issue with global change is that all actors need to perform collective action, and with 200 countries and 7 billion actors being involved this is no easy task. With such a wide participatory audience free riding can occur, and further increase the difficulty of international enforcement of policy.

The speaker in the lecture, Lord Stern emphasises the need for taking advantage of the beneficial relationship between top down and bottom up approaches to climate change action as purely using a bottom up approach would take far too long as this approach relies on voluntary input from countries, and a top down hard fisted approach would be impossible to manage. The lecturer himself purveyed a sense of deep transparency, and likewise, climate change policy, information and risk is easily accessible through the international organisations such as the IPCC and climate change summit reports.


Knieling, J & Filho, W 2012, Climate Change Governance, Springer, Berlin