What's the difference between permaculture and feralculture?

We might say that feralculture aspires to the practice of “wild permaculture”, or an orientation that uses permaculture as a tool to regenerate wild ecosystems and rewild domesticated humans and social relationships.

The idea of designing a permanent human culture is not intuitive. Many competing ideologies endlessly debate how an indefinitely sustainable – both in terms of ecology and human social well-being – culture is possible. Utopian ideals collide and all are free to assert which theory is likely to lead to a particular vision. Indeed, the visions themselves vary hugely. We hold a critique of permaculturists as products of an agricultural system attempting to visualize a permanent culture of agriculture. We find through anthropology that such an endeavor embodies irreconcilable conflicts and is doomed to fail.

Feralculture carries the inbuilt observation that the most sustainable earth systems are wild systems, and the most sustainable human social systems have been demonstrated among wild humans. Rather than leave the idea permanence up to chance, we put our cards on the table and assert that a wild culture is the only way humans may experience the full potential of permaculture. Our invocation of “feral” rather than “wild” springs from the humbling recognition that we are highly domesticated humans tending toward the wild.

Permaculture is an idea that inspires us, but we do not work for permaculture. Wildness is an idea that inspires us, and we work for the wild.


any guidelines to consider, such as word count, etc? my initial idea is to go through it and edit parts while also adding parts that i see as necessary ingredients. this may mean a bit of extraction here and there to keep it from getting too long. or it might not.

i think i will have time sunday to begin. busy day tomorrow. i am thinking that what i will do is post a re-write as a reply here with emphasis on changes.

I would say the goal is succinct. I wanted to get a few people warmed up to the collaborative process in the #faq so there’s a degree of comfort before tackling the main website content.

But there isn’t really a word count restriction other than what’s reasonable to get the point across.

sounds good. i generally go for succinct with kickers of information density and clarity. that trio makes me smile. the Patreon page does that well.

@andrew- i am about to sit down with this for a spell and see what comes out. the first thing that comes to mind is how different our voices are (my intention is not to re-write the whole thing?). this may be a non-issue, and if it does become one we can deal with it then. i just wanted to throw that out there.

No pressure. My hope is to nudge others toward the habit of adding new voices.

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so, this is what i have put together tonight. it is just under 100 words longer, so we may want to shorten it still. however, based on the information density and detail necessary to comfortably establish the difference between two groups of values such as these, i think it may be necessary.

on the bright side, the “fundamentals” intro can get the idea across to anyone that lacks the attention span to read all 330 words. for those that are more curious, they have the chance to get more out of the question, which is an important one.

@andrew - i changed quite a bit of your original text in places – particularly in the second paragraph – while trying to keep the original intent. i’d like any input you (or others!) have. i am putting my entire write-up here in this comment for now so that it can easily be compared to the original text. this is something all of us can use for comparison until we call it finalized.

gonna sleep on it and read it all again when i wake up in the morning.

dig in:

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between permaculture and feralculture is:

  • Where permaculture is anthropocentric, feralculture is ecocentric.

To further demonstrate this fundamental difference, we can elaborate:

  • Where permaculture perpetuates domestication, feralculture embraces wildness.
  • Where permaculture is often a means toward agriculture, feralculture advocates for horticulture and hunting/gathering.
  • Where permaculture in practice is driven by human intellect and design, the practice of feralculture upholds first the intelligence of wildness and its inherent creativity.
  • Where permaculture often reinforces the male-dominated age of reason, feralculture demonstrates the need for a renewed sense of human intuition.

Having touched on these fundamental differences, we might say that feralculture aspires to the practice of “wild permaculture”, or is aligned with the use of permaculture as a tool to regenerate wild ecosystems and rewild domesticated humans and their social relationships.

Sustainable – in terms of both ecology and human social well-being – cultures cannot be designed. They must arise as they always have: across time, through multi-generational relationship to place. As such, the idea of designing a permanent human culture (re: permaculture) is not intuitive. We hold a critique of permaculturists as products of an agricultural system with the potential to visualize a permanent culture of agriculture. There is abundant anthropological evidence that such an endeavor embodies irreconcilable conflicts. We applaud those permaculturists who aim to transition away from agriculture and toward horticulture and hunting/gathering.

Feralculture carries the inbuilt observation that the most sustainable earth systems are wild systems, and the most sustainable human social systems have been demonstrated among wild humans. As such, we assert that a wild culture is the only way humans may experience the full potential of permaculture. Our invocation of “feral” rather than “wild” springs from the humbling recognition that we are highly domesticated humans, tending toward the wild.

Permaculture is an idea that inspires us, but we do not work for permaculture. Wildness is an idea that inspires us, and we work for the wild.


@staff - see above comment regarding changes to the posted faq.

Do you think permaculture is fundamentally anthropocentric? There is a lot of talk by Mollison and Holmgren types about wild ecosystems. There’s a quote/paraphrase I usually attribute to Mollison, but I don’t actually remember the source, that goes something like: “the goal of a permaculture designer is to design themselves out of the system”.

Granted, permaculture in the hands of your average modern human (American, in particular) tends to be overtly anthropocentric in practice. I’m just not sure if we can blame that on permaculture.

I realize this discussion could probably go on forever. :slight_smile:

@samuelsycamore and @BrunoManser, thoughts on the question, and Alexander’s framing.


@andrew, i hear you loud and clear. i did not intend to say that permaculture is fundamentally anthropocentric. i actually intended to remove as many absolutes as feasible from the faq to avoid any miscommunication since there is such a wide spectrum of people aligned with permaculture, from agriculturalists to… well, feralites! thanks for catching that.

i do think it should be reworded to remove the absolutism of the statement, yet it should indicate that permaculture does not openly condemn anthropocentrism and is stylized in a way that can easily lead to an endorsement of it. i might get pretty long-winded in explaining what i mean in detail, and i don’t have the time at this moment. i can go into that if folks want later on.

rewording similar to:

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on another note, we could call these two dichotomies listed as being somewhat redundant: anthropocentrism/ecocentrism and domestication/wildness. if we were to do away with one i would select to keep the domestication/wildness dichotomy because of it less complex nature. we could opt to replace the fundamental difference with domestication/wildness and remove altogether the dichotomy of anthropocentrism/ecocentrism. thoughts?

Great quote.

Whether permaculture is anthropocentric depends vastly on the individual person practicing it, his/her belief system, his/her influences, and probably the overall time permaculture is practiced.

The longer I do permaculture, the more I let the ecosystem make decisions, and the more I withdraw from the responsibility of influencing cultivation. After all, it is the plants, the fungi, the insects and worms who do most of the work, not me. They instinctively know what to do, I don’t. I have to learn all of that.

My main job is to assist the ecosystem during its recovery, increase soil fertility, reintroduce native species and “friendly” plants like keystone species trees that prepare the land for yet others to come; and from there on I let the gods (or whomever else) decide. Seeds often come with the soil (or in bird shit), so when a particular plant grows in a particular place, I’m like “Alright, if this is where you want to grow…”. Maybe I didn’t intend for this plant to grow in this place, but if it clearly wants to grow there I accept that and help it where I can. There’s few places in my garden where only a handful of individuals of the same species were purposely planted close together, because if you go to the jungle (the ultimate functional and self-sustaining ecosystem) the plants there grow wildly mixed, and it works perfectly without composting systems, planting, mulching, weeding or tilling.

To me, permaculture is healing of the land and healing of the (human) spirit; Masanobu Fukuoka said that “the healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit is the same process”. The longer I do permaculture, the more I realize that there are much bigger things at work, and it is best to go with the flow, to follow the Tao.

Anthropocentric permaculture is practiced by those who not yet or still don’t understand how Nature works. If you keep an open mind and listen to your ecosystem, it becomes obvious that the goal of Nature (and therefore the goal of permaculture, which is a form of cooperation between humans and the rest of the ecosystem) is wilderness - and we humans learn along the way of practicing permaculture what our place in that ecosystem is: what plants and animals we should eat and how much of them in any given season, what the limits and boundaries are, etc.

If I can’t grow tomatoes in the tropics, well, I eat something else. There is no point in building plastic greenhouses to artificially help a species survive that doesn’t want to grow in this environment.
When the plants get weaker at the end of dry season, I eat more insects (who are abundant) and fish (the water level drops so they are easier to catch).

In my opinion, permaculture automatically renders itself meaningless after the ecosystem recovered and you have helped create an ecosystem that sustains itself and allows to hunt and gather for food, much as the Taoist teaching of yin and yang is merely a guideline for times of imbalance and should only be followed until ‘humans and beasts live together in harmony’ again. After all, in the beginning, when humans still were humans and the ecosystem was still in balance, there was no need for the differentiation between yin and yang (and no need for permaculture).

All in all, I do not think that permaculture is fundamentally anthropocentric. From my heart I would say that anyone practicing permaculture with an anthropocentric mind is simply not fully there yet and maybe needs to open his/her ears and eyes to what the land itself wants.


@BrunoManser, thanks for sharing your thoughts. since i have distanced myself somewhat from permaculture circles in the many years since getting my PDC, it is nice to get feedback from someone who stands by the term. i would love it if you could give your personal insights into the other bullet points listed in my above comment that holds the latest revised version of the faq answer. also, for what it is worth, i did note in an above comment that i did not intend to state the anthropocentrism and permaculture link as an absolute. it would be more accurate to say

and thanks @andrew for bringing in permaculture voices.

my intention with this revision is certainly not to create a divide between the permaculture and feralculture camps. however, there are some very distinct differences that i see, having been involved in permaculture circles for over a decade now. i might say that i see feralculture as a sort of refinement of permaculture, where less room is available inside the walls of feralculture for some of the worst human traits (patriarchy, domestication, agriculture). and if they do emerge, they automatically stand in resistance to feralculture, and feralculture stands in resistance to them. this is where i think permaculture misses the mark, and i try to address this in the bullets, particularly.

closing thought: a permaculturalist can say that they adhere to the tenets of permaculture, of which the highest ethic is care for the Earth. however, if they deem it necessary to bring in earth-moving machines to shape and form the land to the will of their minds, allowing their design to fall into place as they see it, is this adhering to the highest ethic of permaculture? subjective, of course, and perhaps in need of context, but it is simply a thought experiment.


to add more to the discussion (it may help distill useful thoughts pertaining to the topic here) i will add that i gave a lecture a little less than a year ago in the permaculture tract of a local conference. it was called Reinhabiting the Land: Permaculture with a Sense of Place. the objective was to stitch in other philosophical tools (namely deep ecology and the rewilding of humans and native ecosystems) to help permaculture stand for what i think it was intended to stand for.

years ago when i began to distance myself from permaculture i felt that it had been co-opted. rewilding was a philosophical tool that i employed to distinguish myself from most other permaculture folk. as it stands, human rewilding seems to be in the grips of being co-opted as well.

when i came across feralculture i was already calling the work i do a hybrid of permaculture + rewilding, and often referring to aspects of myself and my work as feral. i say all this to emphasize that refinement to philosophies happens, good shit gets co-opted, and we make the best we can of it. i have always been the type to choose to create distance between myself and philosophies when they do not serve to create an identity which i can healthfully align with. i find that trying to save ideas is a lost cause. they are ether.

feralculture is the new black!!!

Oh, sure, I agree - mainstream permaculture right now is bullshit.
I don’t have a PDC, and I don’t intend to acquire one. This commercialization is the worst thing that can happen to any movement. First you need money for the ‘license to practice’ like you’re a doctor or something. That already sieves out most of the people, and permaculture becomes a privilege, with the underlying assumption that one who doesn’t have the money to acquire a license is not suitable to do permaculture. I see many people getting a PDC and then starting their own permaculture project with the goal to teach PDC’s too others in the future as an easy way to get loads of money. Some courses here in Thailand want $2,000 for two weeks - per person!
I said elsewhere that a permaculture that stays true to the core principles can not be included in or become part of a profit-oriented business, since the mindset required to run the former is virtually the opposite of that required for the latter.

I was influenced mostly by Masanobu Fukuoka, since he is geographically the closest (apart from Jon Jandai, but nobody knows that fella). He explicitly said that everyone can practice permaculture, and that you can learn it all by yourself with no help just by observing and learning through trial and error. This is what I did, and so far it works great. A few years ago I would have never imagined that the garden would be so healthy and so impressive today.

It really boils down to the ideology of the individual practicing it. I am tired of constantly looking for new words to describe what I’m doing, just because some people are not 100% in line with how I think. I do permaculture, they do permaculture, and I am just a bit more radical and have read some books they haven’t read yet. Even though for me permaculture and rewilding are the same, I describe our project with both terms on our website (Feun Foo - Permaculture & Rewilding) to give people an idea of in which direction we think.

There are a few forest monks living in the jungle in the northeast of Thailand, who don’t have electricity, kill neither mosquito nor ant (since it would be a “useless killing)”, and sleep, if the weather allows, at the root of a tree (based on the Dharma stripped down to its radical core). My brother spent some months there, and he said that they live an almost primitive life, with the exception that they go “foraging” in the nearest village during the daily alms round. Of course to us it seems like they are being the good Buddhists, not the ones in the shiny golden city temples who smoke cigarettes and drink Red Bull - yet it would be wrong not to consider the majority of Thai monks ‘real Buddhists’. The forest monks are just on a higher level of dedication and understanding.

The way I see things, and I try to see things the easiest possible way, is that caring for the Earth is to be interpreted just as primitive people use the term. Many tribes throughout Southeast Asia see themselves as guardians of the rainforest - and if they fail, humanity will vanish. The forest is a living entity with an own will, therefore we humans can only care for the forest to the amount that our efforts don’t collide with the will of the forest.
Landscaping with bulldozers and excavators is certainly not the will of the forest.

I’ll take a look at the other bullet points you wrote down when I find some time.

In defense of the old school permaculture guys, PDCs were intended as a prerequisite to teaching courses for profit, not for using the ideas. Mollison was trying to prevent universities from bringing it under their scheme. Nobody has to pay to practice permaculture.

Then there’s this, which I find amusement in:


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the link is dead :frowning:

Updated link to archive.org because the post was removed by the author.

I have republished it here, with author’s name removed to respect privacy.

A bit of a quibble and a tangent I know, but I’ve recently been trying to devise alternatives to the permaculture moniker within me noggin’. Permaculture is problematic as I’m sure many of you are already aware. First off: permanence? Agriculture? What is this!

I like the term wildculturing. It is an apt label describing much of what I and we do. But it seems a little narrow. Where does gardening fit in, and homesteading as a necessary precursor to a more fundamentally wild existence? Then still, there are the inherent issues with the word “wild” stemming from our muddled and colonialist conception of wilderness.

Now feralculture is a better fit for what we do, acknowledging both our past, present, and future as domesticated beings working in the present to unlearn/relearn that we may be wild beings in the future. One of the crucial distinctions between a feralculture and a permaculture is that feralculture knocks us down from any anthropomorphic pedestals, and encourages us to relinquish some of our control (which permaculturists like to hold onto with their “design process”).

I’ve also been speculating over the virtues of the term adapticulture which I concocted. Adaptation being the name of the game, we must know how to be malleable and changing and flexible not only in regards to the march of time but also in terms of the unique features, communities, and subjective contexts of the landscapes around us. Adapticulture is thus neither egocentric nor ecocentric, but treads the waters of that in between space emphasizing good judgement.


There is a Mollison and/or Holmgren quote somewhere to the effect that they started thinking about it as permanent agriculture (meaning indefinitely sustainable), but later reconceived it as “permanent culture”. The idea with permanent culture was to instantiate human cultures which were indefinitely sustainable. I’m not sure they made explicit that agriculture could never lead to inefinitely sustainable human cultures, but it’s implicit in this mental shift. I wish I could find the references. I think the shift started in teh 70s or 80s, but Mollison still references “permanent agriculture” in the Designer’s Manual.