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4. E. F. Schumacher and Small is Beautiful

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the life and work of the German economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, focusing in particular on the ideas expressed in his book Small is Beautiful (1973). We focus on: (i) Schumacher’s unlikely career as an economic advisor to the UK Coal Board; (ii) his rejection of the idea that the ‘problem of production’ had been solved; (iii) his proposed alternatives to both industrial capitalism and the command economy of the Soviet Union which involved localised, labour-intensive production rather than mass production; (iv) his emphasis (common in the ecologism literature) between human ‘wants’, subject to manipulation by advertising, and human ‘needs’, the basic requirements of life; and (v) the reception – both positive and negative – of Small is Beautiful and its impact on the ecologism movement.


In this course, Professor Matthew Humphrey (University of Nottingham) thinks about ecologism as a political ideology by surveying five key thinkers to illustrate both the diversity of ecological thought, and its core unifying themes. We begin in the first module by developing a definition of ecologism and considering how to organise its various ideological strands, focusing in particular on the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess’s distinction between the ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ ecology movements. We then begin our survey of key thinkers with the American conservationist Aldo Leopold, focusing in particular on his philosophy of the ‘land ethic’. Then, in the third module, we consider the life and work of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring is widely considered to have catalysed the modern environmentalist movement. In the fourth module, we foreground the German economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher and examine the impact of his book Small is Beautiful (1973) on the ecologism movement. Our fourth key thinker is Carolyn Merchant, whose ecofeminism argued that the domination of nature was intimately linked to unequal gender relations. We end with the anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin, who maintained that the root cause of environmental crises were the dual evils of hierarchy and domination within human societies, relations which he argued were then projected onto the natural world.


Matthew Humphrey is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Nottingham. He specialises in three areas of political theory in particular: (i) the theory of environmental politics; (ii) analytical political philosophy and theories of justice; and (iii) theories of ideology.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Humphrey, M. (2019, September 29). Ecologism - E. F. Schumacher and Small is Beautiful [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Humphrey, M. "Ecologism – E. F. Schumacher and Small is Beautiful." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 29 Sep 2019,