Can we transition from Economy to Ecology?

Moving from economy to liberation and kinship

Reimagining Economic Possibilities
9 min readOct 27, 2022


Text says “Araceli Camargo” in italic font on a burnt orange background. In the right corner is a graphic of a tropical leaf.

This blog is part of the Reimagining Economics Possibilities series. This series accompanies the Neighbourhood Doughnut portfolio of work in which CIVIC SQUARE, along with many neighbours, researchers, partners and visionaries have, since 2019, been exploring large and small scale ways to reimagine economic possibilities.

The series brings together 15 commissioned works by visionaries who are reimagining economic possibility from a number of different angles. We are deeply passionate about Doughnut Economics and recognise the wealth of possibilities it unlocks, as well as its limitations. As Kate Raworth has said, quoting British statistician George E. P. Box, “all frameworks are wrong, but some are useful.” Therefore, we want to be able to stretch as far and wide as the Doughnut Economics Action Lab invites us to, seeing it as a platform to organise, whilst also encompassing a plurality of bold visions.

In this contribution ARACELI CAMARGO, a cognitive neuroscientist and science communicator at Centric Lab, paints a picture of a new economy rooted in her ancestral understandings of kinship with the natural world.

“Five hundred years ago the europeans failed to acknowledge the intrinsic worth and Sacredness of this symbiotic Kinship or our imaginations, yet we are still here continuously challenging supremacy structures.”

I am here as one of the descendants of the Peoples from Turtle Island, as a scientist and as a being on this planet who wishes for an abundant Life for future generations. My Ancestors* were Peoples who strive(d) to seamlessly, harmoniously, and intelligently relate with the Land to generate abundance and health for both humans and non-human beings — this is Kinship.

This is not to create a utopia or fall into the stereotype of the “noble savage”. The collaboration was and is a work in progress, non-linear and filled with various forms of failures. Like many other societies, our Ancestral health was not guaranteed. There is evidence that some Peoples** were iron deficient, for example. However, compared to europe at the equivalent time circa 1400s-1500s, our Peoples were healthier. Europe at the time was going through a plague, acute malnutrition, a wide range of diseases related to poor sanitation and hygiene, as well as mental health problems related to poor living conditions.

The need to be in Kinship, regardless of shortcomings, was and still is the root of our cultures. For instance, the Milpas of the Uto-Nahuatl speaking Peoples (from present day occupied western United States, Mexico, to El Salvador) is a self governing and carefully orchestrated ecosystem. Deep ancestral knowledge has gone into understanding the placement and timings of each being within the ecosystem. The three sisters, which are the Sacred bean, maize, and squash would be planted first, then small to medium sized medicinal plants for healing and ceremony. Last to be planted were the big trees which produced nuts, fruits, and wood. Nothing was wasted and the ecosystem contained knowledges*** of time, space, micro climates, nourishment and astrology in order to orchestrate an optimal Kinship between all beings. This methodology also opened the opportunity for the ecosystems’ wisdoms to self-organise and collaborate to ensure their health and abundance. All without major human intervention. To achieve this there has to be trust, love and deep Kinship between human and the Milpa; no supremacy, hierarchy or subordinance.

“When I say our it is not in terms of ownership, but in terms of relation, like saying our brother or mother. The Land are Kin, they are siblings, they are Creators, they are Ancestors, they are us, we are them, there is no separation.”

Imagine knowing how each tree and plant regulates the thermal value of the soil and how this changes soil nutrients? Or knowing the exact soil conditions each type of root needs? Or knowing how insects, birds, and other living beings interact with and benefit from the ecosystem? This requires a profound sense of knowingness, which needs generations and generations worth of time as well as space and in this case access to the Land. Despite the traumas of continual colonisation and occupation of Turtle Island, the Milpa knowledges still go on to this day. Five hundred years ago the europeans failed to acknowledge the intrinsic worth and Sacredness of this symbiotic Kinship or our imaginations, yet we are still here continuously challenging supremacy structures. And we will continue to do so until our liberation.

However, this is not about one culture versus another or establishing a moral hierarchy between them, it is to highlight that there are multiple ways to imagine existence, to relate to the world around us, to experience natural phenomena and to organise society. When the europeans observed our Lands, they thought my Ancestors were “savages” who were not capable of managing land. They were used to seeing land divided by boundaries, sold and bought for profit, used to food being for profit, used to Land existing only for the generation of economy. Therefore, our way of relating to the Land, governance structures, and culture was seen as lacking civility and impeding human progress, because we didn’t imagine the world in terms of value, finance or economy. This perceived lack of civility was used to justify our violent removal from our Lands. When I say our it is not in terms of ownership, but in terms of relation, like saying our brother or mother. The Land are Kin, they are siblings, they are Creators, they are Ancestors, they are us, we are them, there is no separation.

“Language is like a code that is used to pass on ideas, learnings, and thoughts about the phenomena we experience. This is then used to build knowledges, imaginations and wisdoms that anchor and steer cultures.”

One of the most insidious mechanisms by which colonialism survives is through creating the false impression that there is one universal imagination or way of being. To enact this, they viciously forced the erasure of our languages. From a cognitive perspective language is like a code that is used to pass on ideas, learnings, and thoughts about the phenomena we experience. This is then used to build knowledges, imaginations and wisdoms that anchor and steer cultures. Without our languages we can become locked in the coloniser code and if we are not mindful we can adopt the coloniser imagination as our own. It becomes difficult to enact our liberation if we are not rooted in our Ancestral imaginations. Therefore, it is crucial that we choose words carefully and learn to hack coloniser languages, so we can continue to express our thoughts independent from supremacy frameworks. This is especially important for those of us who do not have access to our original languages.

The etymology of the word economy is from the Greek word “oikos” meaning home and “neme” meaning management. Therefore at its root economy means the management of the home. It has had various evolutions and in the current context economy relates to the exchange of goods and services and the management of natural resources for the purposes of production that benefits the state. The idea of economy from etymology to enactment is rooted in structures of supremacy. When Nature is only seen as a means of generating value, then it would stand that Nature is lesser and separate from humans. When Nature is used to generate economic productivity then they become limited, their abundance is erased. Using a river for power or as transport limits their abundance, there are boundaries to their existence. There is only so much pollution, extraction, and planetary dysregulation they can sustain before they no longer exist. For example, we have recently learned that drinking water has reached their boundary due to pollution and drought. However, when the river is left alone and is seen as Kin, they are boundless. Water will fall from the sky again, feeding the river, the reeds will grow and continually filter the water so they are ready to feed the wider ecosystem. This process is infinite. When Land is used to generate goods and services they are removed from their original purpose, which is to sustain and create Life. Additionally, they are no longer free, they are oppressed and under the management of the human. Therefore, we, those who were colonised, have to question if economy is the most accurate word to use in the context of our liberation. We are not free until the Land is free, and the Land is not free as long as they are used to prop up the concept of economy. Furthermore, we have to consider that those who are oppressed by supremacy structures face the consequences of the Nature boundaries, generated by economy more acutely. The multi-ethnic work class are more likely to live in areas with little space for Nature, have decreased access to clean water, breath dirtier air, and face food shortages. Therefore, the current conceptualisation of economy and perhaps the concept of economy as a whole does not serve us. It also does not match our Indigeneity or way of being, as Native Alaskan, Antoinnette Helmer says “profit to Natives means a good life derived from the land and sea.”

“Our great return to the Land will be rooted in ecology, the study of our home.”

In contrast, ecology means the study of home, derived from the Greek “oikos” meaning home and English “ology” meaning the study of. This seems more appropriate for our liberation as it is suited for the concepts of Kinship. We need time/space to study the Land, build our ecological knowledge, and to be in symbiotic Kinship with the Land. Therefore, we must advocate for our Land Back and redirect our time from capitalism to Kinship. Our great return to the Land will be rooted in ecology, the study of our home. We have so many powerful examples from the Zapatistas, to the Indigenous Peoples restoring the Chad Lake ecosystems, to Soul Fire Farm and Afro-Indigenous initiative that has liberated Land for Kinship. In order to imagine ourselves out of these supremacy imaginations, we must learn to listen and platform those who are outside of it. The Zapistas have created ecological models for creating “El Bien Vivir” roughly translated as the “Living in Wellness”, their dream is to share these models all over the world.

From a scientific perspective, one of the most interesting and significant developments is the intersection of neuroscience and ecology. We are beginning to learn how the microbiome of the soil, air, and water integrates and interacts with our gut-brain axis and what this means for health and future healing. For example, when we ingest microbes from the environment, they help regulate the production of cortisol, which in turn regulates the stress response. The regulation of cortisol is significant to the prevention of diseases such as depression, anxiety as well as obesity and diabetes. However, to reap these benefits our ecosystems also have to be healthy. Unfortunately, the invention of the economy, which relies on using Nature for production of goods and services contaminates our ecosystems and dysregulates their microbiome. All economies are rooted in the use of Nature rather than Kinship with Nature, so regardless of type it requires contamination and pushing Nature’s boundaries.

In moving from economy to ecology we are mentally moving from “managing the home” to “studying the home”, this will create the opportunity to unlock wisdoms that will enable us to add to the knowledge libraries of our Ancestors and enable future generations to thrive.

Health is liberation.

*Capitalised words are there to signify their beingness, sacredness, and thus importance

**Nature and all living beings are referred to in a plural form as we are all ecosystems. We are all plural.

***The use of “s” at the end of words such as knowledges is to signify that Indigeneity is not a monolith and holds multiple cultures, thoughts, and knowledges. It also is inclusive of non-human knowledge.

Reimagining Economics Possibilities also builds upon CIVIC SQUARE’s Department of Dreams portfolio of work, a site to imagine bold new futures that weave together the dreams of many.

Whilst understanding, investing, and unpacking the dark matter of large scale system change, we have learned quite deeply through the practice, inspirational movements, and from imagineers and pioneers that came before us that we must also invest in the dream matter — the artists, writers, designers, dreamers and creative visionaries — those who dare to dream up bold new futures for humanity, and have the capacity to stretch our imaginations further than we ever thought possible.

Thinkers, doers and makers dreaming beyond our existing systems have played, are playing and will continue to play a central role in crafting collective visions that transcend our current reality, and radically illuminate the responsibilities we hold to future generations. This is particularly driven by practices of imagination and identity, and, when woven together with dark matter findings and interventions, has the power to create a supernovae of transformation; the thinking, relating and behaving differently required to usher in a new reality that becomes irresistible, that we can all build and craft together.

Find out more by exploring the following materials from Department of Dreams 2020–2021:

Initial Dept of Dreams Blog — May 2020
Watch Back Re_ Fest Talks — June 2020
Dream Library Launch — November 2021
The Matter of Dreams: 2020–2021 — December 2021



Reimagining Economic Possibilities

Demonstrating neighbourhood-scale civic infrastructure for social + ecological transition, together with many people + partners in Ladywood, Birmingham