Small is Beautiful : The Legacy of E.F.Schumacher – review

Small is Beautiful in the 21st Century: The Legacy of E.F.Schumacher, by Diana Schumacher, Green Books, 127 pages, ISBN 978-1900322751, RRP £8.00.

This concise yet comprehensive book, published to commemorate the centenary of Schumacher’s birth, is both an exploration and celebration of the legacy of his pioneering work and philosophy.  The author, Diana Schumacher, is well-placed to write such a book, being both his daughter-in-law and the co-founder of many organisations linked to his work (eg.The Schumacher Society and the New Economics Foundation) as well as an author and influential thinker in the field of ethics, ecology and the environment.

The opening chapter is a brief account of Schumacher’s life and ideas, including his growing spiritual awareness that led to his embrace of the Christian Faith and his being received into the Catholic Church a few years before his death. The emphasis is clearly on an overview of his ideas rather than a detailed biography. The chapter that follows is a more detailed exploration of the origins and work of The Schumacher Society, formed after his death in 1977, mainly at the instigation of Satish Kumar.  Some of the better-known activities of the Society include ‘Resurgence’ magazine, the Bristol Schumacher Lectures, Green Books  and Schumacher College, Dartington.  The Society also co-operates with other organisations and individuals with whom it has a mutual interest, such as the Institute for Sustainable Systems in Bristol. Another is Go Zero and the The Converging World which seek to address issues around waste and resource justice based on Contraction and Convergence principles.

Chapter 3 describes Schumacher’s involvement with the Third World and the concept of Intermediate Technology as a solution to the eradication of poverty and the promotion of sustainable development. Many of these ideas were inspired by Buddhist studies and Gandhi’s philosophy. Many current projects have resulted from these concepts, predominantly under the auspices of the Schumacher Centre for Development and the Jeevika Trust, both operating in India.  Chapter 4 outlines Schumacher’s  lifelong interest in organic agriculture, local production and the importance of people’s connectedness  with the soil.  He became President of the Soil Association in 1972 and did much to enhance it’s reputation and widen it’s influence.  The present-day Transition Town Movement, although founded after his death, owes much to Schumacher’s thinking.

Chapter 5 details the formation, development and current work of the Centre for Alternative Technology – including renewable energy technologies, low-carbon building, water and waste, organic food production and education and training in ecology.  It’s connection with Schumacher is seen in the parallels with Intermediate Technology work in developing countries, combined with a general philosophy on sustainable futures.  Schumacher was a trained economist and chapter 6 examines his contribution to the new economics that finally took root in The New Economics Foundation which is founded on the premise of steering economics towards sustainability,  social justice and ethics. The penultimate chapter of the book looks at Schumacher’s ideas for transforming industrial work in the First World, with particular emphasis on humanisation and co-operation in the workplace.  The Scott Bader Commonwealth is used as a successful example of such an approach.  Unfortunately, as the author points out, many of Schumacher’s ideas, whilst being readily embraced by the Third World, have not found favour in the First World, which has been to the detriment of both.

The concluding chapter of this fascinating book assesses the relevance of Schumacher today and outlines how his holistic approach  could address some of the major global issues of our time – food security, peace, resource depletion, climate change – that pose a challenge to the whole of humanity and the Planet.  However, the conclusion is that it will take a major shift in consciousness, probably brought about by extreme necessity, to effect the change that is needed.  Some of this is already happening, such as in the field of renewable energy and international climate agreements, but the sense of urgency is still there.  For those of us familiar with Schumacher’s writing, this is a timely reminder of just how radical and forward- thinking his ideas were.  For those who have not read ‘Small is Beautiful’ I would recommend that you use this as a ‘taster’ and then get a copy of the original. Diana Schumacher has produced a well-written and accessible book that deserves a place on the shelf of every Christian ecologist to both inspire and inform.

Linda Wickham



Author: poppy | Date: 6 June, 2012 | Category: Book Reviews | Comments: 1

Comments on "Small is Beautiful : The Legacy of E.F.Schumacher – review"

John Gooch:

October 9, 2012

Some how the first world needs to have an intermediate career structure to encourage people who are not normally employed to contribute to the problems of this mortal life, instead of considering the black market as a way to trade. People are looking for excuses to hold back China and Computerized devices that compete in the markets for work that is human employment for the rest of the planet.

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