Chapter 1. Introduction: Qu'y puis-je ?

Chapter 2. Research context: Locating this study in the existing literature

Chapter 3. Methodology

Chapter 4. Learning from our failures: Lessons from FairCoop

Chapter 5. Different ways of being and relating: The Deep Adaptation Forum

Chapter 6. Towards new mistakes

Chapter 7. Conclusion


Annex 3.1 Participant Information Sheets

Annex 3.2 FairCoop Research Process

Annex 3.3 Using the Wenger-Trayner Evaluation Framework in DAF

Annex 4.1 A brief timeline of FairCoop

Annex 5.1 DAF Effect Data Indicators

Annex 5.2 DAF Value-Creation Stories

Annex 5.3 Case Study: The DAF Diversity and Decolonising Circle

Annex 5.4 Participants’ aspirations in DAF social learning spaces

Annex 5.5 Case Study: The DAF Research Team

Annex 5.6 RT Research Stream: Framing And Reframing Our Aspirations And Uncertainties


Many of us fear that confrontation with despair will bring loneliness and isolation.
On the contrary, in letting go of old defenses, we find truer community.
And in community, we learn to trust our inner responses to our world and find our power.

- Joanna Macy (2008)
Quelles paroles faut-il semer,
pour que les jardins du monde redeviennent fertiles ?11

- Jeanine Salesse (cited in Bonneuil and Fressoz, 2013, p. 268)

In this chapter, I will present findings from the evaluation process that took place within the Deep Adaptation Forum. Using social learning theory and methodologies developed by E. Wenger (1998, 2009) and E. and B. Wenger-Trayner (2015b; 2020), this chapter will assess patterns of personal change taking place within this network. These findings will be discussed using the metaphor of the social learning space as a cultivated field, involving seeds (elements of personal and collective change), soil (conditions enabling learning to take place), and sowers (people who care for the seeds and the soil).


In July 2018, Prof Jem Bendell published an academic paper on the IFLAS blog of the University of Cumbria, where he taught and still teaches (Bendell, 2018). The paper was titled “Deep Adaptation: A map for navigating climate tragedy.” It had been originally written for the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. It was rejected by the reviewers of that journal, who found unacceptable that the paper didn’t build off existing scholarship – while the paper’s aim was in fact to fill in a gap in such scholarship – and who found it inappropriate, moreover, to “dishearten” readers with its central claim: that the collapse of global civilisation is inevitable, and that it may happen within the coming decade, due to the catastrophic impacts of climate change. In the paper, social (or societal) collapse was defined as “an uneven ending of our normal modes of sustenance, security, pleasure, identity, meaning, and hope” (Bendell, 2020b, p. 4). On the basis of this assessment, Bendell proposed an approach he called the “deep adaptation agenda,” relying on aggressive emission cuts and drawdown (mitigation) efforts coupled with personal and collective attempts at adaptation to the coming changes, based on compassion, curiosity, and respect, which I will introduce in more detail below.

Surprisingly for this kind of work, the self-published paper soon went viral. Within a few months, it had been downloaded several hundred thousand times. Its notoriety further grew as the Deep Adaptation approach was publicly endorsed by leading figures of the Extinction Rebellion movement (Bendell, 2019a; Read, 2019; XR UK, 2019; Bradbrook and Bendell, 2020), and after it was reported on in several major news outlets, such as the BBC (Hunter, 2020), the New York Times (Bromwich, 2020), or Vice (Tsjeng, 2019).

In late 2018, a private sponsor approached Prof Bendell, offering some financial support to launch an initiative building on the wide-reaching impact of the ideas presented in the paper. Bendell agreed, under the condition that the sponsor would have no authority in designing said initiative. Having secured that agreement, he invited several close collaborators to form a Core Team which would help steward this project: the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF). I was one of these people, due to my having provided Prof Bendell with some research assistance during the final stages of writing, as I have described elsewhere (Cavé, 2019a, 2019b).

By early 2020, I decided that DAF could constitute an interesting case study as part of my PhD research. Having obtained approval from the university’s ethics committee, I initiated a participatory action research project within the network. Prof Bendell left the Forum at the end of September 2020, as originally intended. Most of my research happened between April 2020 and April 2022.

1.1 What is deep adaptation (DA)?

In Bendell’s seminal paper and subsequent writings, Deep Adaptation (DA) is presented as “an agenda and framework for responding to the potential, probable or inevitable collapse of industrial consumer societies, due to the direct and indirect impacts of human-caused climate change and environmental degradation.” It “describes the inner and outer, personal and collective, responses to either the anticipation or experience of societal collapse, worsened by the direct or indirect impacts of climate change” (Bendell and Read, 2021b, p. 2).

In contrast to more shallow (or mainstream) forms of climate adaptation, DA encourages conversations that go deeper into the causes and potential responses to climate impacts, at personal, organisational, and societal levels. As a way to structure these conversations, Bendell (2020b, pp. 23–24) suggests relying on the following “4 Rs” (Figure 5):

“How do we keep what we really want to keep?” (Resilience)
“What do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?” (Relinquishment);
“What can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?” (Restoration); and
“With what and with whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our common mortality?” (Reconciliation)

DA is also an ethos (DAF Core Team, 2019b, p. 3), foregrounding the following key values:

compassion: “We seek to return to universal compassion in all our work, and remind each other to notice in ourselves when anger, fear, panic, or insecurity may be influencing our thoughts or behaviours.”
curiosity: “We recognise that we do not have many answers on specific technical or policy matters. Instead, our aim is to provide a space and an invitation to participate in generative dialogue that is founded in kindness and curiosity. Valuing curiosity also invites us to challenge some of the ingrained or ‘invisible’ assumptions that underpin our worldview”; and,
respect: “We respect other people’s situations and however they may be reacting to our alarming predicament, whether they are first learning about impending collapse or already experiencing it.”

These values were first articulated as central philosophical principles meant to govern the Deep Adaptation Forum (Bendell and Carr, 2019), and later were enshrined in the Forum’s evolving Charter (DAF, 2022a).

As an approach, DA has meaningfully informed studies in various academic fields, including urban planning (Miller and Nay, 2022; Pérez, 2022; Zwangsleitner et al., 2022); sociology (Lennon, 2020; Tröndle, 2021); security studies (Trochowska-Sviderok, 2021); education (von Bülow and Simpson, 2021); public policy (Monios and Wilmsmeier, 2020; Carbonell Betancourt and Scarpellini, 2021); philosophy (Schenck and Churchill, 2021; Roderick, 2022); and performance arts (Stevens, 2019). According to a systematic review of the academic literature which I carried out using the Google Scholar search engine (Cavé, 2022c), by the end of October 2022 Bendell’s 2018 “Deep Adaptation” paper had been cited in at least 296 publications, including 138 journal articles, 94 books, 42 theses, and 22 other documents. All were in English save for 15.

1.2 What is the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF)?

Simply put, DAF is the name that has come to designate the various online platforms and initiatives initially established and managed under the leadership of Prof Bendell and/or the DAF Core Team, since March 2019, as vehicles for DA-oriented discussion and action according to the DA ethos. In the next section, I will return to the question of DAF leadership and my involvement in it.

Defining the nature and purpose of DAF has been and remains challenging, in large part due to three factors:

  1. Changes in the entity that the name refers to;
  2. How the project’s form and purpose has evolved over time;
  3. The project’s open-ended nature.

In the following, I will present an outline of some of the main perspectives I am aware of with regards to the DAF mission and purpose, and how it may be described.

As I explain in Annex 5.4, originally the term “Deep Adaptation Forum” was the name of a particular platform, hosted on the software Ning, designed and launched by the DAF Core Team in March 2019 under the leadership of Prof Bendell. This platform was framed as an international online space in which to engage with DA and the topic of societal collapse from the perspective of organisations and professional fields of activity, and as a place in which mutual support and social learning could happen about these topics (Bendell, 2019c). However, the term quickly grew to cover all activities initiated by the DAF Core Team, as a central organisational body, through the platforms and communication channels available to us at the time – including the Ning platform, but also a Facebook group, a LinkedIn group, a YouTube channel, a newsletter, etc. In order to reduce the confusion, the Ning platform was renamed to “the Professions’ Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum” in October 2019.12

Furthermore, DAF’s official framing has also evolved since its creation. While the project was originally focused on initiating conversations within professional fields of activity, a new emphasis on cultivating new forms of relationality gradually came to the fore, which was later complemented with an emphasis on social justice issues (Annex 5.4).

DAF’s original mission statement was first articulated in the Core Team’s “Strategic Overview and Planning” document from August 2019 (DAF Core Team, 2019a), which I view as the first comprehensive expression of DAF’s purpose and strategy, as follows:

The overarching mission of the DAF is to embody and enable loving responses to our predicament, so that we reduce suffering while saving more of society and the natural world. (p.8)

In parallel to these official framings, largely articulated by the Core Team, I also want to honour the perspectives presented by stakeholders less centrally involved in this project. A useful reference point in this regard is “What Is DAF? Five Ws”, a collaborative document summarising the responses of 13 DAF participants to a series of questions raised by a volunteer and answered collectively between November 2021 and December 2021 (DAF, 2022d). These participants included all kinds of constituents mentioned in Section 4 (including myself and another Core Team colleague). Regarding the purpose of DAF, responses were summarised as follows:

To connect people in a space where they can learn to reorient and respond to collapse with love and compassion, discuss freely and accompany one another on an emotional journey and in projects. (p.1)

The nature of DAF itself has been articulated in a variety of ways. From the beginning of the project until the time of writing, DAF remained an unincorporated entity. Legally speaking, it may be defined as a project of the Schumacher Institute, the registered UK charity acting as DAF’s main fiscal sponsor.

In the 2019 “Strategic Overview and Planning” document, DAF is described as “a set of communication platforms that enable collapse-aware people to connect internationally, exchange information, and take positive action” (p.4).

Responses to the “What is DAF?” exercise mentioned above referred to DAF as one, or several, (online) “space(s)” (5 times), a “community” (4 times), and a “network” (4 times). They were summarised as follows:

An intentional, self-organising network (and associated community) comprising platforms, people, content, and events for learning, support and action. (p.1)

My perspective is that DAF can be understood as an international (or transnational) network; an online community; and as a complex landscape (Wenger-Trayner et al., 2015) comprised of various communities of practice, as defined in Chapter 3.

I view DAF as both a learning and an action network, following the typology put forth by Ehrlichman (2021, p. 14):

Learning networks are focused on connection and learning. They are formed to facilitate the flow of information or knowledge to advance collective learning on a particular issue.
Action networks are focused on connection, learning, and action. They are formed to facilitate connection and learning in service of coordinated action.

Both of these aspects are embodied in the various communities of practice that have emerged within this network. For example, the DA Facilitators’ group brings together several dozen participants, in order to form “a ‘share and support’ space for people who are hosting, or would like to host, Deep Adaptation gatherings online. The intention is that we can share practices and approaches that embody the ‘Principles of Deep Adaptation Gatherings’, and support each other in holding these conversations” (DA Facilitators, 2022). The Diversity and Decolonising Circle, dedicated to addressing the main forms of separation and oppression that characterise modern industrial societies, is another such community of practice (Annex 5.3).Together, these various communities form the landscape of practice of the Deep Adaptation Forum (Figure 6).13

At the time of analysis, DAF platforms brought together between 15,000 and 17,000 participants, largely English-speaking and living in North America, western Europe, and Oceania. In addition, more than 16,000 mostly non-English speakers participate through groups affiliated with DAF. I discuss DAF membership in more detail in Section 2.4 of this chapter.

As stated above, I was invited in early 2019 to join DAF’s main organisational body, the Core Team, ahead of the launch of the main DAF platforms. Since then and until the time of writing, I have remained deeply involved in this network. As as a paid Core Team member14, I have had to fulfil the various commitments outlined in the various iterations of my memorandum of understanding; and out of personal interest, I have also been investing much of my time and energy in various DAF initiatives on a volunteering basis.

I decided to include DAF into my PhD research as a case study for several reasons.

First of all, by early 2020 it had become obvious to me that through its activities and the relationships it enabled, DAF was in fact becoming an online community that could potentially bring about forms of radical collective change, although of a very different kind than those aspired to within the other community I was studying – FairCoop. Indeed, DAF was a rare example of a network premised on the perspective that radical societal changes were going to happen due to the magnitude of the global predicament: therefore, equally radical action was needed to stave off the worst of these changes. In particular, I was intrigued by the role that cultivating new forms of relationality may play as part of this collective action. I could feel myself undergoing various changes as a result of my engagement, and I was keen to explore whether such changes were also happening to others – and if so, what (un)learning processes could account for these shifts. I discuss some of these changes that took place for me in Chapter 6.

The ethos embodied by my friends and colleagues in DAF also appeared very much aligned with Action Research philosophy as I saw it (Chapter 3). For example, I could see that we were exploring participatory and emergent forms of governance; that we called attention to the somatic and affective dimensions of the person; that we valued collaborative learning; and that the purpose of DAF was emancipatory. This led me to hope that my research project would appeal to others, who might want to join me as part of a research team – which indeed happened.

Finally, my involvement and good relationships with others in the network granted me easy access to other participants. As a result, I was able to set up individual research conversations and disseminate surveys, but also, with my research partner, organise more sophisticated research processes, such as the Conscious Learning Festival activities (see Annex 5.5).

From the beginning, I have been aware that my involvement in DAF might lead me to overlook or downplay the disheartening aspects that, as any human endeavour, it was bound to present. Therefore, I have strived to balance my partiality to this community – whose membership I feel has become part of my identity – with critical attention to its limitations and shortcomings. My aim in this chapter is not to praise or to romanticise, but to pay as much attention as possible to “the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the broken, and the messed up” in DAF – to use Vanessa Machado de Oliveira’s (2021) expression – so that other networks may learn from this example.

1.3 Research questions

In this chapter, I will focus on answering the following questions:

  1. What are the main “seeds of change” that are being cultivated within DAF social learning spaces? This refers to forms of social learning that appear relevant to DAF participants, in view of the global predicament.
  2. What are the conditions – or the “soil” - enabling these changes to happen, or preventing them from happening? This refers to the social and material conditions that may help these seeds to grow.
  3. What kind of learning leadership – and who are the “sowers” – helping to nurture the soil and to sow the seeds? This refers to the persons within a social learning space who enact the clearest forms of leadership in creating the conditions for learning to prosper, within the network and beyond.

In order to answer the research questions listed above, our research team carried out a social learning evaluation process in three specific and interrelated Research Streams within DAF:

  1. the DAF Diversity & Decolonising Circle (social learning space)
  2. the research team itself (social learning space)
  3. DAF as a whole (landscape of practice)

In this chapter, I will focus on Research Stream #3, which addresses social learning in DAF as a landscape of practice. Research Streams #1 and #2 are respectively presented in Annex 5.3 and Annex 5.5. See more details on these evaluation processes in Annex 3.3.

Social learning in the landscape of DAF

In this section, I will first introduce participants’ aspirational narratives in the DAF landscape of practice; then, I will investigate the seeds of change, enabling soil, and sowers that can be identified within the social learning space. Finally, I will conclude this chapter with a discussion of these results in view of my research questions.

The value-creation stories created over the course of this study constitute an important source of primary data (Chapter 3). These stories can be read in Annex 5.2. For more details on the collection and co-creation of these stories, please refer to Annex 3.3.

2.1 Participant aspirations

First, we should investigate what have been some important aspirations and intentions that participants have been bringing into DAF, as a constellation of social learning spaces and communities of practice. This requires examining both the intentions of the network founder and other conveners, reflected in the discursive framing surrounding the purpose of DAF as it was launched and evolved; and the aspirations expressed by various network participants through time.

For an in-depth discussion of both aspects, see Annex 5.4.

The purpose of DAF was originally introduced by its founder using two main framings: as a network in which to engage with the DA framework and societal collapse from the perspective of organisations and professional fields of activity; and as a space in which to cultivate new forms of relationality, overcoming separation, and fostering compassion and loving kindness. The former reflected a strategic intention to structure the core of DAF activities around a particular platform, initially named “The Deep Adaptation Forum,” and which later became “The Professions' Network.” However, this platform did not fully live up to its mission. Partly as a result, the second framing gradually grew in importance within official communications in DAF. This relational framing was later complemented with a third one, focused on addressing aspects related to the effects of global systemic injustice.

In parallel, participants engaging in the various DAF platforms expressed an interest in a number of topic areas. While some were very much aligned with either of the two main framings described above, others also voiced aspirations that did not readily fit within either of these topics. In particular, more peripheral participants especially expressed a desire for more local community-building efforts, and wished to find more spaces in which to learn about forms of practical preparedness to societal collapse.

This is not to say that none of these other topics have ever been explored and acknowledged as relevant within DAF's official channels. However, they were originally less central within DAF's official framing, which has gradually evolved to incorporate a greater variety of concerns. Besides, the outcomes of various consultation processes between 2020 and 2022 confirm aspirations for more attention to these areas within the network. These outcomes also show the low interest for forms of intervention within professional and organisational fields on behalf of most participants, in contradiction with the network’s original framing.

The history of these strategic consultations speaks to a continued intention, on behalf of the DAF Core Team, to foster self-organisation and support a wide variety of endeavours throughout the network, following a particular ethos - as opposed to driving participation towards meeting any particular set of goals. However, the complexity of this mode of organisation (which breaks from more conventional social movement or non-profit practices) has been reflected in the difficulty for spontaneous groups to emerge and persist in time.

Another important finding, originating from the results of two surveys investigating participants' aspirations, is that intentions for engaging in DAF vary depending on one's degree of involvement in the network. I will return to this more fully below.

What have been the main forms of social learning have taken place within various DAF spaces to meet some of these key aspirations?

2.2 Seeds of change
2.2.1 New ways of being and relating

A key aspect of the original framing of DAF, as I have shown in the previous section, has been about fostering new forms of relationality.

Within the network, a number of modalities that are directly concerned with this aim have been developed, practised, and promoted, notably within the DA Facilitators online community of practice. In particular, participants in this research project have referred to:

  • Deep Relating (DR), which is “a relational meditation practice, or an approach to being in relationship with another person, or group of people, in a way that is grounded in a deep and detailed awareness of present moment experience” (Bendell and Carr, 2021);
  • Earth Listening (EL), which is a guided collective meditation centred around the stated purpose of “listening to the Earth” and exploring one’s connection with the wider natural ecosystems of the planet; and
  • Wider Embraces (WE), a collective, guided meditation, allowing participants to experience, explore, align and reflect upon different aspects of their being. In this process, one “evoke[s] and explore[s] the physical, the biological, the cultural, the collective and planetary perspectives, which facilitates a greater sense of belonging and alignment between them.” 15

Available effect data regarding DR and EL mostly comes from the Group Reflections Survey (Cavé, 2022d). Through their involvement, participants in the weekly EL circles report having found new ways of being and relating (particularly with regards to other-than-humans and the natural world), as well as more self-understanding and personal healing, and developed more confidence in practising their truth. Similarly, DR participants said they had found more confidence and self-acceptance, more self-understanding and personal growth, as well as finding fulfilment, and that they had become better able to be present with and relate to others. In other words, participants in these two groups appear to have experienced impactful changes in their relational skills and awareness, and in their well-being.

These respondents also mentioned having started new projects or initiatives as a result of their involvement; having found more clarity as to how to shape their home or work life; and having decided to engage more deeply in DAF.

In particular, according to its facilitators, the EL group has been meeting weekly almost every week since it was first convened (in October 2020). As a sign of its success, other groups using the EL method have been initiated over time, in DAF and beyond, by the original group’s facilitators or others who discovered the modality thanks to them.

Interviewees have testified about the impact that practising these modalities had had on their lives. For example, Dana mentioned the profound changes that their engagement with EL had had on them (Story #10). They said they were now speaking to the Earth whenever they went out into the wild. Besides, taking part in EL prompted them to join a course that played a transformative role in their journey towards healing intergenerational trauma.

Asked what they had been learning through their participation in WE, a regular attendee wrote me the following:

I am learning to let go my need for understanding and thinking. I am slowly opening to the feeling of being in a new way, for me. Allowing my ego and many voices to quieten, allowing senses to open and reach out and in for expressions that sometimes are not speakable.”

These testimonies speak to the important affective benefits that participants have drawn from their participation, particularly with regards to their ability to become more focused, and present to themselves and others.

2.2.2 Self-organising

As mentioned in the previous section, encouraging self-organisation within DAF has been an important intention of the Core Team since the network’s creation. This was clearly articulated on the DAF website (DAF, 2020b):

DAF doesn’t follow the typical route of identifying a specific professional / stakeholder group to serve. Instead, it responds to rapidly increasing concerns about the risks of climate-induced societal breakdown and Deep Adaptation, by channelling them into networks of peer support. This leads to projects that may not have been imagined at the outset.

This ambition has been materialised in two main ways:

  1. By creating scaffolding, within the network architecture, allowing for the creation and acknowledgement of self-managed teams or groups;
  2. By providing occasions for participants to articulate their aspirations to one another, and enlist others in the pursuit of common projects or other aspirations.

What seeds of change have been created as a result?

Self-organising scaffolding

Self-organisation scaffolding in DAF has taken three main forms: task groups; circles; and crews. Task groups (TGs) are a mode of organisation introduced through the Ning platform in April 2019. Any platform members could mention their TG idea in a dedicated space on the forum, and invite others to join them. Once three members had agreed to collaborate, they would be invited to sign an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a representative of the Core Team. Following the 2021 Strategy Options Review (see Annex 5.4), a new scaffolding was introduced: circles. Circles are similar to TGs, except that instead of a formal MoU, initiators are invited to a open conversation with the Core Team, leading to a public disclosure of the circle’s remit and intention. Thirdly, to acknowledge the importance of groups self-organising in a more informal way, the concept of crews was introduced in DAF in 2022. Contrary to TG or circles, crews are described as small (from 3 to 7 participants), informal groups, meeting regularly, and which might work on collaborative projects but also simply engage in mutual support or other kinds of discussion (DAF Core Team, 2022d). The concept was borrowed from the Microsolidarity framework (Bartlett, 2022).

A final element of scaffolding is a monthly meeting, co-facilitated by a volunteer and two members of the Core Team (including myself), which aims at enabling mutual support and capacity-building among participants in the process of forming (or taking part in) a crew.

Self-organising events

In order to give more visibility to DAF participants’ respective intentions, facilitate the building of trust and the creation of relationships that may lead to self-managed teams forming, online events using an “open space technology” format are regularly organised in DAF. The first series of online open space events were convened by volunteers (with support from Core Team) as part of the 2020 Strategy Options Dialogue. While these activities were primarily about inviting DAF participants to express their wishes as regards the future of the network (see Annex 5.4), they also led to the building of relationships between attendees that gave rise to certain TGs (such as the D&D Circle).

Thereafter, between July 2020 and July 2022, 10 other open space events were organised, mostly facilitated by volunteers forming part of the Collaborative Action Team – itself a self-organised crew. These events attracted registrations from over 300 different participants, many of whom were not active within DAF.

Is DAF a self-organising network?

In spite of the efforts mentioned above, it appears that few self-organised groups have succeeded in maintaining their efforts in time. Besides, efforts aiming at supporting the creation of more circles and crews have led to little engagement so far. It is therefore tempting to conclude that DAF has failed to become a self-organising network or community – i.e. one in which “complex interdependent work can be accomplished effectively at scale in the absence of managerial authority” (Lee and Edmondson, 2017).

Nonetheless, literature on self-organisation in open sociotechnical networks like DAF (Massa and O’Mahony, 2021) points out that such ways of organising tend to take time to emerge, not least due to most people’s lack of experience in this domain. In this regard, it is worthwhile to consider encouraging signs that the practice of self-organisation may be slowly spreading through DAF.

“[Thanks to] many conversations [I’ve had in DAF]... I’ve learned that our way of doing things [in the Collaborative Action Team] is spreading within DAF. I notice, for example, how the Business and Finance group leaders now announce their events as ‘Zoom sessions in an open space context.’ I’ve also heard of teaming processes being used more deliberately, for instance in the DA Facilitators’ group. Now, DAF feels more self-organised, more adaptive and focused on small collectives.” (Story #11)

The testimony above was provided by one of the DAF volunteers who, together with other members of the Collaborative Action Team, has been most instrumental in spreading self-organising practices – such as “teaming,” i.e. working in small teams – within DAF. He points out how the practice of allowing emergent groups to form using the open space format has also been applied within meetings of various interest groups in DAF.

Other volunteers mentioned having become better at teamwork since joining DAF, such as David (Story #15). Sasha and Wendy, two volunteers who co-founded the D&D circle (Story #3, cycles 10-13; Story #4, cycles 4-6), mentioned how the scaffolding and support provided by the Core Team, and the know-how shared by the Collaborative Action Team, were instrumental to the circle getting started. As for Matthew (Story #12, cycles 4-7), he explained how becoming a DAF volunteer enabled him to encounter collaborators and to co-found the DA Guidance TG.

There are also emerging examples of other generative projects emerging in a self-organised fashion within DAF. Between September 2020 and September 2022, a comprehensive evaluation and evolution of the software infrastructure supporting DAF groups was carried out by a group of over two dozen volunteers and Core Team members, who coordinated their research, testing, and implementation efforts in a self-organised way. The expertise of three participants in the domain of Sociocratic project management, who occasionally stepped in to facilitate these efforts, was critical (which points to the important enabling role of facilitators, which I return to below). Thanks to this project, three new platforms were introduced into the DAF, and an existing one was retired.

In November 2022, a DAF volunteer invited several others to take part in the efforts of a self-organised collective offering support to women in Ukraine who suffered sexual assault (Story #16). Her story shows how the trusting and affectionate connections she had fostered within DAF were critical to this collaboration taking place, as well as her fellow volunteers’ comfort with self-organising.

Overall, it therefore appears that self-organisation – and the skills that support it – are among the seeds that have been consciously, and influentially, cultivated within DAF. While the network remains in the early stages of relying on such practices, their diffusion is taking place and may lead to fuller emergence of circles and crews in the future.

2.2.3 Integrating and transforming difficult emotions

The Collapse Awareness and Community Survey (CAS - Cavé, 2022a) indicates that most DAF participants view societal collapse as a phenomenon that affects (or will affect) the entire world and from which they will not find shelter, and they also think that it has already started. Their predominant affective (somatic, emotional) responses to this assessment include sorrow and grief, as well as anxiety, fear and terror.

In this context, multiple survey results have repeatedly confirmed that DAF plays an important role in its participants’ ability to live with these difficult emotions, and even to transform them.

A large majority of respondents to the DAF 2020 User Survey (DUS – Cavé, 2022b) said they were feeling “less isolated” and “more curious” as a result of their participation in DAF platforms. Many others also reported feeling “more self-accepting”, “less despairing”, “less confused”, “less apathetic”, and “less fearful.” Four in ten respondents also said they had gained confidence in their ability to deal with the future thanks to their involvement.

Over six out of ten respondents to the CAS found some emotional relief and comfort (including acceptance, joyfulness, feeling less isolated, or learning how to better manage their emotions) through their engagement in DAF. In particular, nearly three out of four volunteers actively involved in DAF testified to reaching better acceptance. Nearly three in four CAS respondents had taken practical steps to bolster their personal or family resilience (such as growing food, changing jobs, or moving to a new location); about half of them were engaged in social forms of adaptation, such as local community-building; and nearly half had become involved in moral or psycho-spiritual forms of adaptation, such as being in service to others, engaging in activism, or embracing new priorities in life.

As for respondents to the Group Reflections Survey (GRS – Cavé, 2022c), most of them expressed having reached improved emotional states (such as more self-confidence, personal understanding of one’s needs, or a sense of trust and belonging) as a result of their involvement in DAF groups, particularly EL and DR. Many also found in these groups the inspiration to undertake new personal projects and activities, from anti-racism work to the creation of new educational groups.

Several interviews provided vivid examples of the sense of relief and encouragement that people may experience, upon encountering a community of “collapse-aware” others.

Stuart, for instance, recounted how joining the DA Facebook group helped him to deal with chronic depression, become more open and honest about his emotional state with family and friends, and attach more value to interpersonal relationships (Story #13). This had a transformative impact on his life. Similarly, Matthew found ways to integrate his grief with other aspects of his life through his involvement with DAF, and to better regulate his anxiety (Story #12). Fred said that experiencing deep connection and fellowship with like-minded others in DAF had helped him to pull himself out of his sense of helplessness and hopelessness, and to undertake meaningful new initiatives as a result (Story #7). As for Diana, she mentioned how participating in various events and groups within DAF made her feel relieved and connected; helped her to find generative new ways of engaging with colleagues; and gave her the confidence to finally “come out” about her views on collapse in a public talk, after having kept her views to herself all her life (Story #14).

Therefore, DAF appears to provide many participants with a renewed ability to reach acceptance of the global predicament, to live with the very difficult emotions it may bring, and even turn these into a source of meaningful action in the world. This is another “seed of change” that has been nurtured within the network.

What conditions enabled these seeds to grow and thrive? What elements of “soil” have been most favourable to them in DAF – or, on the contrary, prevented them from flourishing?

2.3 The enabling soil

In order to explore what conditions participants have found most useful to their personal learning, I will first summarise the enabling factors that were mentioned in respondents’ answers to several surveys, as well as those mentioned in various reflective conversations taking place in DAF. Specifically, I will draw from the following data set:

  • Responses to the Group Reflections Survey (Cavé, 2022c), from participants in the Earth Listening (EL), Business and Finance (BF), and Deep Relating (DR) groups;
  • Responses to the Radical Change Survey (RCS – Cavé, 2022c);
  • Responses to the DAF 2020 User Survey (DUS – Cavé, 2022b);
  • The transcript of the Conscious Learning Festival closing call from October 8, 2021 (CLF); and
  • The results of my investigation of social learning taking place in the D&D circle (Annex 5.3)

I will then turn to factors that have been mentioned as disabling. I will draw these from the following sources:

  • Responses to the DAF 2020 User Survey; and
  • Interviews with nine DAF participants.

For both enabling and disabling factors, I will then examine the extent to which this effect data corresponds to contribution data provided within value-creation stories.

2.3.1 Enabling factors

Whether asked about their experience of engaging in a large group, such as the DA Facebook group, in smaller groups or circles – like EL or DR – or in DAF at large, participants’ comments on what aspects had been most helpful to their learning displayed a certain amount of consistency. Table 2 summarises the factors mentioned in the data set.








Design of the social learning space

Clarity of purpose and clear principles of engagement




Presence of facilitators and moderators






A stimulating and informative space



Regular meetings within small groups




Relational and somatic processes and modalities






Group culture and atmosphere

A safe space, trust, possibility to make mistakes






A focus on cultivating relationships



Enjoying the company of one’s fellow participants

Finding like-minded others, cultivating belonging




Diversity of participants and perspectives



Helpful and inspiring fellow participants and role models





These enabling factors can be grouped in four main categories, which feed into each over or overlap with one another to a large extent.

Design of the social learning space

Participants valued DAF social learning spaces that had a clear purpose and focus, as well as principles of engagement known to all. DA Facebook group members, for example, frequently mentioned their appreciation for the clear focus of the group expressed in its guidelines document (e.g. it is not about discussing climate news). The presence of moderators – like in the Facebook group – or facilitators – like in smaller groups like EL, BF and DR – helping to keep conversations “on track” was also often positively remarked upon. Clarity of scope and facilitation were also considered helpful in terms of keeping discussions stimulating and informative, and thus for them to function as vibrant learning spaces.

“I found that the [Facebook group] moderators worked hard, and were doing a very good job at modelling certain ways of being. They helped to keep the group civil, kind, and loving.” (Story #13).

Within smaller DAF groups, regular video calls (on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis) tend to be the norm. Several participants valued the feeling of continuity created by such a meeting rhythm, which enables attendees to build strong relationships over time, in space of geographical distance. Both Fred (Story #7) and Dana (Story #10) remarked on the importance of such regular meetings to build relationships, work on difficult emotions, and practice new kinds of relationality.

Relational and somatic processes

It is customary, in most DAF online calls, to begin the meeting with a moment of collective “grounding” or “presencing” meditation (see Annex 5.3). This is followed by “check-ins,” during which every participant shares a few words about their current physical and affective state, and any other comments about what may be going on in their lives. Calls usually end with “check-outs” in which people express how there are leaving the meeting.

David (Story #15) mentioned that following initial annoyance at these “woo-woo” rituals, he discovered their “critical” importance: “First, we have to connect as humans, otherwise the rest of it is useless.” To him, it is a “unique” aspect of DAF that “these practices are part of the culture, and they successfully reveal the humans who are involved.”

Participants who regularly take part in DAF calls, for example as part of their involvement with a particular group, have tended to mention such relational and somatic modalities as particularly useful to their learning. Within groups like EL or DR, most of the meeting time is in fact dedicated to engaging with such processes (Cavé, 2022c). Speaking of his experience as a participant and facilitator within several of these groups, Nando said:

“Such gatherings and experiences have had a deep impact on me. My participation in them has changed how I relate with reality, and it is also changing the way in which I express myself about our predicament - more and more, I stress the need to approach these questions from the point of view of feelings and relating.” (Story #9)

Group culture and atmosphere

DAF participants often mention the importance of psychological and emotional safety within discussion spaces. This sense of trust in other participants is fostered through group agreements16, and various textual reference points laying out the ethos in which discussions should be taking place – such as the DAF Charter, or the Deep Adaptation Gatherings Principles, which invite participants to “return to compassion, curiosity and respect.” Safety is also encouraged by a group culture within DAF which aims at making “everything welcome,” including difficult emotions, and at being forgiving of one’s and others’ mistakes. Moderators, facilitators, and other respected members of the community, play an essential role in modelling such behaviours.

“A culture of being able to name what you're observing is really powerful in any group I think, permission for a member to say, 'I'm noticing...' or 'I feel...' and be able to actually speak it into the space, is really powerful.” (D&D Circle participant)

Another enabling element, referred to particularly by members of the D&D circle and the Collaborative Action Team, is that of encouraging participants to dedicate special care, time, and effort, to sustaining and nurturing interpersonal relationships within the network. On occasion, this may mean setting time aside to work through tensions and conflict, be it happening between oneself and another person, or between other members in one’s group. See Annex 5.3, Section 2.2.4 for an example of a conflict resolution process within the D&D circle.

“The conflict-resolution process that I went through, for some conflict that I was involved in... enabled me to see myself from an outsider’s perspective, and gave me deep insights into how different people with good intentions can approach the same situation.” (Story #4)

Enjoying the company of one’s fellow participants

DAF participants often express their sense of deep gratitude for having found like-minded others, with whom they can share a sense of belonging and community. For many, this is because no one else around them has an interest in the topic of collapse; for some, the sense of belonging may be linked with an even more specific group focus – be it connecting with the Earth in EL, or engaging with issues of systemic injustice in D&D. Enabling factors mentioned above are likely essential in fostering such feelings of community and belonging.

“I feel part of a community of people who are loving and with whom I'm on the same page. This feels extremely rewarding.” (Story #12)

However, this sentiment does not have to mean feeling part of a monolithic, homogenous collective which erases personal differences. In EL as in the DA Facebook group, participants remarked on the insights they gained from encountering a diversity of opinions and perspectives.

Finally, being in the company of others who are trying to be caring and helpful toward one another is also often mentioned as an important enabling factor. Among these important fellow participants, the presence of “key enablers,” in other words “elders” or “mentors” who have been in the network for longer than oneself, or who may have struggled with difficult questions that one is also facing, can also be a source of courage, insights, and inspiration.

“I received important mentoring from Nenad and Kat in the Community Action group that helped get [D&D] going.” (Story #3)

2.3.2 Disabling factors

What conditions may hamper social learning from taking place within DAF groups?

Platform issues

DUS questionnaire respondents, asked to assess the usefulness of two main DAF platforms (the DA Facebook group and the PN), tended to have a more favourable opinion of the former than of the latter (Cavé, 2022b). Their feedback revealed various issues with both of these platforms as mediums of communication. However, their observations focused on different aspects: while PN users mentioned specific limitations with the software Ning, several Facebook users stressed that the platform was problematic for deeper socio-political reasons, including the way it functions as a social media platform.

“I do not find [the PN] intuitive nor easy to navigate or use. If I were on it daily, it would of course be better. But for light periodic use which is all the activity actually warrants so far, it's like a re-learning session every log-in.”

“I wish [DA] wasn't on Facebook. I am considering shutting down my account.”

Other respondents also mentioned limitations that had to do with the social structuring of such platforms. For example, several PN users disliked the “slower” and occasionally “over-philosophical” conversations they encountered on this platform, compared to the liveliness and interaction they found within the Facebook group. On the other hand, users of the latter regretted that too many conversations focused on grief instead of more practical topics.

Beyond this general feedback with regards to the functionality and atmosphere within these two platforms, what more deep-seated organisational issues have DAF participants encountered in the course of their participation?

Organisational issues

In order to better understand what aspects of DAF might prevent social learning from taking place, the RT interviewed nine DAF participants who were actively involved in the network for a while but who eventually decided to withdraw from the network, or to only engage in a more limited way. Feedback shared during these interviews sheds light on several disabling factors they identified within DAF, and overlaps with aspects mentioned in several value-creation stories.

Vision and purpose

One interviewee, Carla*17 mainly engaged in DAF through the DA Facebook group. She came to the conclusion that it was largely a “support group,” lacking “social vigour,” and which did not help to foster the localised forms of community-building she aspired to. She considered that DAF was struggling to build the capacity to enable more practical forms of adaptation to global disruptions, and gave people “no call to action.” Simultaneously, she viewed the network as attempting to cater to a wide-ranging diversity of needs, without enough focus on a core area of activity.

This criticism of DAF as too dispersed in its purpose, and not enough “action-driven,” has been a recurring theme in various parts of the network since its creation. Another DAF volunteer, Patrick*, also a community organiser, regretted the “philosophical” and “open-field” approach to change promoted in DAF, leaving it up to anyone to decide what to do, instead of galvanising specific change in order to pursue the network’s mission of reducing harm.

Ruth* joined DAF and became a volunteer on the PN with the intention of discussing the global predicament from the perspective of the biosphere, or the planet as a whole, from a deep time perspective – and was disappointed to find that most other participants were more interested in “focusing on humans,” and particularly on “their own survival and that of their family.” She also regretted the lack of collaborative efforts and task-orientation within the groups they joined.

As for Nina*, she was involved both in the DA Facebook group, and as a volunteer on the PN. But contrary to Carla, she decided to leave the former because she felt “attacked” in discussions she raised on the topic of spiritual growth, and like Ruth, she found she had “no patience for people who are trying to save themselves or their children.” As a result, she started to meet and discuss her topics of interest locally with a small circle of friends, on a monthly basis, which she found much more rewarding.

These testimonies show some of the tensions that have been running through DAF with regards to the specific purpose or framing of the network, its mode of organisation, and the theory of change promoted by the Core Team.

Power and leadership

Another set of tensions concerns the forms of leadership enacted by DAF Founder Jem Bendell and the Core Team.

For instance, Carla was disappointed when Bendell stepped down from his leadership role18, and felt that DAF had become “rudderless” since his departure. On the other hand, Nina stopped volunteering as a result of disagreements with Bendell, head of the Core Team at the time, whom she felt was overly restrictive of the efforts made by herself and other volunteers in the group she was part of. Another former volunteer, Michael*, also expressed discomfort with Bendell’s influence in the network, and considered the founder was “clinging to DA” as his “personal brand” instead of allowing for more collective interpretations and shaping of the DA framework.

Others mentioned difficulties in working with, or within, the Core Team. DAF participant Dana* (Story #10) was put off by the “rigid norms” perpetuated by the Core Team, and stopped communicating with the team as a result. As for Heather (Story #6), she said she had “lost [her] job” within the team because other team members were “afraid to confront [her]” on certain work issues. Another former Core Team member, Alex*, mentioned they had struggled with difficult power dynamics within the team, which had not been adequately addressed.

From these stories, one can perceive the difficulties that have been faced by the founder and Core Team in attempting to encourage self-organisation and emergent leadership (see Section 2.2), while often failing to deal generatively with issues of power, boundary-setting, and accountability.

The anti-racism and decolonising agenda

Another recurrent point of tension has concerned discussions of matters of social justice, and in particular, the approach of the D&D circle – whose work has been supported by the Core Team since the beginning (Annex 5.3), and which several members of the Core Team have been part of.

For Dana (Story #10), there was “an absence of critical thinking on the topics of anti-racism, decolonisation, and othering” in DAF, which felt “stifling and dull... and ultimately even limiting of human rights.” Both Ruth and Alex also expressed feeling “alienated” by the “lack of nuance” necessary to account for wide-ranging historical and cultural differences from one country to the next.

On the other hand, Amanda* said she had been “impressed and delighted” when she heard that the D&D circle was launched, but felt her trust in the network weaken upon realising the “disconnect” between the circle’s intentions and its actual practice. As for Heather (Story #6), she considered that DAF should go much deeper in the work of addressing racism, colonisation, and white supremacy patterns, and that more groups should be encouraged to do so. Michael agreed, and considered that DAF spaces were often “too cuddly” for people to challenge one another on such issues and develop more “authenticity.”

It is perhaps unsurprising that the topics of anti-racism and decolonisation – at the heart of “culture wars” online and in many parts of the world – have proved divisive within DAF. However, could it be that these issues might have proven less contentious, had these topics been more explicitly associated with the “Deep Adaptation agenda,” and mentioned as part of the early framing of the Deep Adaptation Forum? Indeed, neither Bendell’s seminal “Deep Adaptation paper” (Bendell, 2018), nor his early articles framing DAF’s purpose, made any reference to issues of social justice (Annex 5.4).19 As a result, it appears that the D&D circle invited conversations that were considered unwelcome by many DAF participants – which is not to deny that the circle might have chosen more skilful and nuanced ways of doing so.

2.4 Sowers: Social learning space conveners

In order to grow, the “seeds of change” described earlier require the right kind of “soil,” but also “sowers” who take care of seeds and soil, and help seeds to propagate. What are the leadership characteristics that these sowers (or systems conveners) embody in DAF? What roles do they play in fostering social learning in the network and beyond?

2.4.1 Conveners in DAF: Degrees of active involvement
Participation constituencies

First, let’s examine several broad participation constituencies in DAF. This can be depicted as a series of concentric circles (Figure 7).

An important caveat is that these constituencies tend to be fluid, as a person’s involvement may vary in time. Besides, while certain specific roles in DAF have a clear job description (such as Core Team members, or Facebook group moderators), mostly these broad categories have not been reified so far, which makes it more difficult to have clear statistics on who is actively involved in the network or not. This lack of clearly defined “participation tiers” also allows DAF participants’ perception of these categories to vary. The typology I present below is a reflection of what I witnessed through my participation, and of my readings into the literature about online community management.

At the heart of the graph are Active Participants (AP). This category comprises the DAF Core Team, as well as another two dozen of the most deeply involved volunteers, for instance:

  • Facebook group moderators;
  • Facilitators of regular meetings (such as EL, BF or DR);
  • The Tech Support team;
  • The Editorial team;
  • Etc.

AP, as the core of DAF, tend to be most involved in various projects and initiatives, including regular group calls, and participate in strategic framing events and conversations. According to statistics compiled by 18 DAF Core Team and volunteers in April 2021, these active participants spent on average 30 hours per month volunteering on the network, with about half of respondents volunteering at least 40 hours per month.20

Occasional Participants (OP) may convene meetings and conversations, but tend to be involved in a more sporadic way. They may be actively involved in a DAF circle or group, which they may have convened, but are less eager to take part in framing conversations, or to take on leadership roles regarding the whole network. Some of them are very active discussants on the DA Facebook group. I estimate that up to 200 participants are in this category.

By Very Occasional Participants (VOP), I refer to DAF participants who do not take on any responsibilities as conveners or volunteers, and are present mostly as participants within the Facebook group. On occasion, some may attend certain group calls, but they don’t become regular participants. At the time of writing (August 2022), according to platform statistics, there had been on average about 9000 active members21 in the DA Facebook group, monthly, over the past six months.

What do Active Participants actually do?

AP are the group of people most deeply involved, at any given time, in sustaining, supporting, and enlivening DAF as a community and a socio-technical network. Therefore, although the vast majority of AP are volunteers holding no formal title, they can be seen as the “network leaders” who steward the network and its purpose, and model DAF norms and values. They are also the “sowers” who nurture and propagate the “seeds of change” described above.

What are the main categories of work accomplished by AP, as they help to convene and structure DAF social learning spaces?

A good starting point for this exploration is the four-part typology offered by Ehrlichman (2021, pp. 60–1). A single person or group may take part in several areas of leadership.

Many AP take on the role of Coordinators – i.e. people who “organiz[e] the network’s internal systems and structures to enable participants to share information and advance collective work” and “establish and maintain network operations, support knowledge management, and assist network teams.” In DAF, such people filter and approve new platform membership requests; inform newcomers and moderate conversations in large semi-public groups; maintain the technical infrastructure; edit regular newsletters; help facilitators publish new events on the DAF calendar; etc.

Facilitators “guid[e] participants through group processes to find common ground and collaborate with one another” and “design and lead convenings, hold space for different points of view, and help conversations flow” (ibid). In DAF, a very active online community of practice – DA Facilitators – exists for this very purpose. Many AP are involved within it, and host regular weekly or monthly gatherings that are free and open to all. Some of them occasionally help with resolving conflict among participants. However, all DAF participants are encouraged to convene and facilitate their own online and offline events, as well as project teams. For example, the 2021 and 2022 “Deep Live Gatherings” hybrid events featured local gatherings convened by volunteers around the world to discuss DA-related topics.

Catalysts craft the network’s vision, and inspire action. As part of this role, they help to “organize new project teams, raise resources, and foster new opportunities to expand the network’s impact.” Thus far in DAF, this has been a role mostly embraced by Core Team members, particularly with regards to fundraising, and considerations of overall network strategy. The Holding Group has also played an important role in shaping issues of vision and strategy.

As for Weavers, they “engage with participants to gather input, introduce participants to each other to inspire self-organization, and build bridges with new communities to help the network grow.” This has been a role embraced by members of the Collaborative Action team, who host online open space events several times a year for DAF participants and other interested parties; and by the volunteers who have been hosting yearly strategic community efforts to decide on the future of DAF (see Section 2.2). But weavers have also emerged spontaneously among existing AP to introduce DAF, or the DA ethos and framework, to other networks and contexts.

However, this typology does not cover all roles taken up by AP within DAF. For example, certain groups such as the D&D circle (Annex 5.3), the RT (Annex 5.5), or volunteers editing the DA Wikipedia page, embody certain forms of leadership in the service of the network that do not correspond to any of those above. Other emerging categorisations (e.g. Strasser, Kraker and Kemp, 2022) provide additional insights with regards to corresponding network leadership roles and practices, but space does not allow to address them here.

Suffice to say that the form of leadership promoted within DAF tends to resemble the network leadership proposed by Ehrlichman (2021, p. 59) – i.e. leadership that is “adaptive, facilitative… and distributed.” Indeed, instead of telling people what to do, or “defining rigid structures and rules,” DAF sowers seek to “connect and collaborate” and “nurture a culture of reciprocity” while “sharing credit and acting in the service of the whole” (ibid, p.60). This fluid approach also corresponds closely to definitions of leadership grounded in Critical Leadership Studies, such as the autonomist leadership put forth by Western (2014) – i.e. leadership that anti-hierarchical, informal and distributed, and based on the key elements of spontaneity, autonomy, mutuality, affect and networks; or sustainable leadership, which Bendell, Sutherland and Little (2017, p. 426) define as “a more emergent, episodic and distributed form of leadership, involving acts that individuals may take to help groups achieve aims they otherwise might not.”

2.4.2 What moves us?

What are the specific intentions and aspirations that move people to become or remain active participants in DAF?

Intentions for engaging in DAF as a reflection of one’s depth of involvement

First of all, it should be pointed out that at the time of writing, several active participants received a financial compensation from the network in return for their involvement. Thus far, this has mostly concerned members of the Core Team, like me, as well as a handful of other participants taking care of particular tasks (notably, the administration and development of DAF software infrastructure). All of these participants invoice DAF as self-employed contractors. However, as the pay rate is set to a basic living allowance of GBP100 a day regardless of the role, for a maximum of six to eight days a month, and given that active participants often volunteer as much time as what they are paid for, this financial compensation is unlikely to be a critical incentive for those who benefit from it.

The results of the Collapse Awareness and Community survey (CAS – Cavé, 2022a) shed some light over the motivations of DAF participants. The survey analysed responses from three groups of DAF participants. Although it is impossible to know exactly to what extent respondents’ self-identification corresponds with the typology offered above, due to the survey anonymity, it was distributed in such a way that the following descriptions should be relatively accurate:

  • Group 1 was mostly composed of Active Participants (AP);
  • Group 2 was mostly composed of Occasional Participants (OP); and
  • Group 3 was entirely composed of Very Occasional Participants (VOP).

Figure 8 and Figure 9 present the answers of these different participants to questions about their motivation for being in DAF, and the type of community activities they were most interested in finding within DAF.

VOP said they were keener to be part of a collapse-aware community, in which they could be well-informed, and learn how to prepare for collapse in practical terms. OP were much more intent to be actively involved in common projects and activities (such as online or local community-building); and AP viewed deeply and meaningfully connecting with others, and engaging in the inner work of personal transformation, as fundamental to their engagement.

Both the AP and the OP were keen “To be of service to others,” and - in equal proportion - “To take part in local forms of community-building,” “To connect deeply and meaningfully with others,” and “To engage in the inner work of personal transformation.” AP and OP were also much more interested in “online forms of community-building” than non-volunteers; but they were less keen about topics like “find out how to prepare yourself and/or your family to societal collapse” or “to be well informed and make sense of the topic of societal collapse” than were VOP. “To find a sense of community and belonging” and “To be well informed and make sense of the topic of societal collapse” were the two purposes that most respondents had in common overall.

Asked to prioritise different aspects of DAF as a community, the three groups of respondents displayed different preferences (Figure 9):

  • VOP were overwhelmingly more interested in “being part of a network of people with similar values, interests, and visions of the future”;
  • OP had more widely distributed preferences, with slightly more interest in “being part of a network of people coordinating our efforts for a common purpose”;
  • As for AP, they largely favoured the statement “regularly connecting with people I appreciate in forum discussions, online calls and/or shared projects”.

These broad differences in aspirations, between the three groups of participants in DAF, prompt the following hypotheses:

  1. If these three groups represent successive stages of involvement in DAF – from “very occasional” to “occasional” and finally “active” participation – then participants’ goals and interests may evolve as they transition from one stage to the next;
  2. Alternatively, people with particular mindsets and preferences may tend to become most actively involved in DAF.

Stories from participants who have transitioned from one stage of involvement to the next are informative in this regard.

For example, when David arrived in DAF (Story #15), his intention was only to “reach other people who were considering the issue of potential collapse,” and his interest in this issue revolved mainly around issues of eschatology and spirituality. But following his experience as a moderator on the DA Facebook group, he gradually became intent to find “a new kind of experience, deeper, and more involved in the Forum at large.” He became involved in various other projects and conversations, grew to “[understand] the value of teamwork,” as well as the importance of the relational processes cultivated within DAF. Towards the end-point of his story, David’s aspirations (“to be part of the formation of a truly effective team… to create community...”) appear much more coherent with the main aspirations of other AP than at the beginning.

As for Stuart (Story #13), he joined the DA Facebook group “to discuss matters of civilizational collapse with people, to talk about [his] fears, and find some comfort,” and in order “to learn more.” After a rocky beginning, he found himself acculturating to the group, which brought him much emotional comfort and even helped him overcome an episode of depression. Thereafter, he too became a group moderator. He found that he valued his team members and his interactions with them (“I love the other Moderators. I learn from them, and they improve me as a person”), and his sense of belonging to the team seems to have become an important reason for remaining actively involved in DAF.

David and Stuart both stand as examples of participants who, as they grew increasingly engaged in DAF, saw their intentions evolve and become more representative of those of AP – for instance, wanting to be part of a community of engagement (more than a community of imagination); or becoming more interested in “connecting deeply and meaningfully with others,” “being of service” or “engaging in the inner work of personal transformation” rather than being well-informed. Both of them also seem to have found that a sense of community and cultivating strong relationships have been important reasons for their engagement in DAF over time. Their stories support the first hypothesis above.

However, other AP exemplify the second hypothesis. For instance, Nenad (Story #11) joined DAF with the intention “to support a network” dedicated to fostering “learning experiences” that could bring about transformations in people. Through his participation, he felt he and his collaborators did succeed in supporting positive changes in the organisational culture of DAF. As for him, his intention did not change, although his own learning journey led him to refine his own practice as a “network-weaver.” This is a case of an AP who came into the network with a mindset and preferences which characterise many other active participants.

As can be seen from the other stories presented in Annex 5.2, people become active participants in DAF for a variety of reasons, and each of their trajectories is unique. It is difficult to assess at present whether one of the hypotheses above might be a better reflection of these multiple paths and experiences.

Ideas of (and desires for) radical collective change

Do DAF participants view their involvement in the network as a way to bring about radical collective change? If so, what kind of change do they aspire to?

Results of the Radical Change Survey (RCS – Cavé, 2022c) help us explore these questions.

The questionnaire invited respondents to take it as a given that radical collective change was needed in the world – and to engage in a thought experiment as to what might be the nature of such a change. In response to this framing, two respondents said that they didn’t feel capable of answering the question. For both of them, this impossibility reflected a lack of conviction that they were able to bring about such change. One of them considered the question irrelevant, in part because they thought nothing may prevent generalised collapse from happening, and in part because they did not seem to view pursuing such change as being intrinsically worthwhile. The other respondents were more willing to engage in this thought experiment, regardless of their belief in the possibility of any radical collective change actually taking place.

I consider that respondents aspired to three main types of radical collective change, which I will summarise here (for more details, please see Cavé, 2022c).

  1. Orienting towards connection, loving kindness, and compassion towards all living beings

The predominant theme had to do with a new orientation towards collective and more compassionate ways of being and relating. This involved, first of all, human beings adopting a new way of being in the world, grounded in loving kindness. Respondents also linked this theme with the creation or restoration of fairer communities around the world, and with the importance of working on issues of grief and trauma. Another dimension of this new orientation also has to do with finding a new attunement to other-than-humans and the Earth, as well as a deeper understanding of humanity’s place within the rest of the natural world.

“Individual humans are embedded in the ecosystem and how we relate to each other, as well as make a living cannot be separated. Thus, our understanding of the world, our relationships with others, and the way we make a living must all change, radically and collectively.”

  1. A transformative shift in worldviews and value systems

The second major theme that I identified was about transforming dominant ways of seeing the world and finding meaning. In particular, several respondents noted that this epistemological shift involved truth-telling, in order to reach a recognition of the deep flaws, injustice and destructiveness permeating modern societies, as a result of ignorance, denial and inertia. Respondents also mentioned that this shift in understanding should fundamentally be about modern humans de-centring themselves, and embracing a less arrogant, more biocentric perspective.

“All humans currently engaging in modernity need to unpack our view of how society should be ; assumptions of privileges, assumptions about other human's place in our world - the view or map we have.”

  1. A radical reshaping of political and economic structures

Finally, respondents also referred to deep changes in the economic and political systems that structure modern-day societies. While some of them seemed open to the possibility of such changes being enacted at a global or systemic level, and thus presumably as a result of revolutionary change and new policies, others spoke rather to a renewed reliance on local, autonomous and democratic communities, and a withdrawal from more systemic concerns.

“I’d like to see everyone’s basic needs met. Of course, this presupposes the elimination of capitalism. When I think about the climate predicament, what comes to me is the phrase ‘extend the glide’ i.e., don’t stop flying the plane even though the engines have failed.”

The questionnaire then went on to ask whether participating in DAF might have been part of such change taking place – and if so, how. While some respondents did not think this had been the case, or were unsure, over two thirds of them answered more positively. Most of them considered that DAF had been useful to help bring about the radical collective change they had in mind, and that they themselves had been able to bring about some of this change through their involvement.

They saw this as mainly enabled by:

  • A caring, supportive community;
  • Useful relational modalities practised in the network;
  • A community of like-minded others for one to emulate;
  • The use of the Deep Adaptation framing and ethos;
  • Access to useful information and resources;
  • Encouraging and inspiring fellow participants.

These correspond to a large extent to the enabling elements already identified above.

It is important to note that by and large, when asked to describe how DAF may have helped to bring about forms of radical collective change, respondents have tended to lay a strong emphasis on individual changes they experienced themselves as exemplars (with less emphasis on collective changes).

Another key finding is that several respondents who self-identified as “actively involved” in DAF (and therefore, presumably, best categorised as “AP” in my typology above), did not seem to find the idea of radical collective change relevant, or had nothing to say about what such change might look like. This could indicate that participants may choose to be actively involved in DAF regardless of any wishes or expectations for social change.

Value-creation stories collected in this research provide several examples of AP mentioning aspirations that correspond to forms of radical collective change mentioned above. For instance, Sasha (Story #3) and Wendy (Story #4) described how their involvement in DAF eventually led them to start the D&D circle, and therefore to invite others in DAF enact a transformative shift in their worldviews and value systems. Several interviewees also stated that the DAF social learning spaces that suited them best were those – such as the Practical DA group – focused on “adaptation at the personal, family, and village/community levels.”

Finally, interviews with two former Core Team members show the strong emphasis they placed on the idea of inviting more connection, loving kindness, and compassion, through their involvement in the Core Team:

“I wasn't particularly keen to explore collapse, or what it means to people. My passion is about exploring how to live and be present with one another, right now.” (Interviewee 1)

“I had a sense of very strong alignment between the DA conversation, and what I wanted my life to be about and with which I have years' worth of practice. And that is, fundamentally, about exploring the ways that meaning-making is carried out in relational spaces, and when people are willing and able to be their most tender, vulnerable selves.” (Interviewee 2)

2.4.3 How do sowers view their involvement as a factor of collective change? The role of unlearning

I have described how many AP have expressed a desire for radical collective change, and considered their involvement in DAF as helping to bring about such change – even if on a small scale. For these participants, how do they envision this change taking place thanks to them and DAF?

Results of both the RCS and the GRS questionnaires (Cavé, 2022c) show that the idea of unlearning plays an important role in this regard, for these AP. I have found that in RCS, three main categories of unlearning were mentioned. In decreasing order, these were:

  1. Ways of knowing, imagining, and evaluating legitimacy (epistemological): changes in respondents’ ways of thinking about themselves, others, and the world. This includes a deeper attention to historical and systemic inequalities, and one’s implication in such hierarchies and distributions of power, wealth, and labour. It is also about rediscovering and reconsidering “what and how we know – and how we might know differently” (Machado de Oliveira, 2021, p. 135).
  2. Ways of being, desiring, hoping, relating, and existing in the world (ontological): changes in how one relates to the world and experiences coexistence, and a reconfiguring of one’s understanding of fundamental aspects of reality, self, consciousness, time, space, change, life, and death. It is also about relinquishing certain desires and hopes that may constrain the imagination (V. Andreotti et al., 2018). Overwhelmingly, respondents’ descriptions of this form of unlearning (or their aspirations in this regard) concerned new forms of relationality.
  3. Ways of doing (methodological): changes in respondents’ ways of carrying out certain activities, or to their adoption of new behaviours, without necessarily implying deeper transformations in their self-awareness, value system, or worldview.

For nearly half of RCS respondents, instances of unlearning were explicitly mentioned as part of the process by which they viewed themselves as contributing to bringing about some of the radical collective change they aspired to, through their involvement in DAF. Therefore, for these respondents – who were mostly actively involved in DAF – the unlearning they were experiencing (or had experienced) appeared to play an important role within their theory of change: they viewed DAF as a network that enabled people to relinquish unhelpful ideas, worldviews, ways of relating or behaviours, and thereby to take part in a process of collective change.

It also seems that through this process of unlearning, these respondents experienced a greater sense of agency in helping to bring about this change, as in their replies, they emphasised their own involvement in creating radical collective change within DAF (although they often qualified this emphasis by stating that this change had happened on a small scale).

I would also emphasise that for these respondents, epistemological and ontological forms of unlearning seem to have been prevalent. In other words, they viewed processes of orienting towards loving kindness and compassion, and transforming worldviews, as most relevant from the point of view of radical collective change.

How might such forms of unlearning come about for participants in DAF?

Responses to the Group Reflections Survey (GRS – Cavé, 2022c) are worth considering in this regard. They throw some light onto DAF participants’ experience of engagement within three different social learning spaces in the network: the Earth Listening circle (EL), the Business and Finance group (BF), and the Deep Relating circles (DR).

For two of these groups (EL and DR), nearly all respondents mentioned experiencing very impactful personal changes, and most of these changes were connected with relational and epistemological forms of unlearning. For example, they spoke of finding new ways of being and relating with other-than-humans and the natural world; becoming better able to be present with and relate to others; and developing more self-understanding and self-acceptance.

“I've been led to engage very deeply with my own history of sexual trauma, which Earth Listening also showed me to be an obstruction to my ability to connect to the Earth and to hear well. My body is my 'ear' to hearing the Earth and if that 'ear' is numb, dismissed, or self-absorbed, my listening is less sensitive.”

Importantly, EL and DR meetings are centred on the practice of particular relational modalities – respectively, exploring one’s connection with the wider natural ecosystems of the planet, and being in relation with other people in a way that is grounded in a deep and detailed awareness of present moment experience. Besides, the participants in the sessions organised by the EL and DR groups meet two to four times more frequently than those attending BF meetings, and have two to three times more regular participants than the latter. In view of the contrasting reports from these three groups, it therefore seems that more frequent meetings, featuring relational modalities, and bringing together a wider group of committed participants, correlate with a sense of deeper social (un)learning.

Finally, a majority of respondents from the EL and DR groups also said that their involvement was prompting them to want to contribute more to DAF as a community. For nearly half of them, their participation was also enabling them to reach more clarity as to the nature, and style, of their political or professional activities, and/or had made them want to start new personal projects or educational endeavours. Consequently, these respondents considered that their participation in these groups had been both a source of deep unlearning – corresponding to the radical collective change mentioned by RCS respondents – but also as a source of empowerment to action. This confirms the positive link that emerged in RCS, mentioned above, between respondents’ experience of unlearning and their sense of personal agency.

Examples of the above can be found in the value-creation stories of several members of the D&D circle (Stories #1, 3, 4, and 5), who established clear causal links between their involvement in this small group, experiences of epistemological (and at times, ontological) unlearning, and the desire to undertake new activities on topics of anti-racism and decolonisation. The stories of Nando (#9) and Dana (#10) also speak to the ontological unlearning they experienced through their attendance of the EL circle, which also led them to get involved in new endeavours (e.g. writing articles, or attending a new course).

In summary, from the data above, I conclude the following:

  1. Many “sowers” (or AP) in DAF understand their own experience of (epistemological and/or ontological) unlearning as part and parcel of bringing about forms of radical collective change, thanks to DAF.
  2. Those in this case tend to experience a greater sense of personal agency in creating this change.
  3. Meeting frequently to practice particular relational modalities, within the context of a group of committed participants, may facilitate both this experience of unlearning, and provide an enhanced sense of agency.

These findings correspond with several of those that emerged from the CAS questionnaire. According to the latter, AP mentioned several critical reasons to be involved in DAF, which distinguished them from VOP (and, to a lesser extent, from OP):

  • “to be of service to others,” which I interpret as reflecting a sense of agency and ability to contribute;
  • “to connect deeply and meaningfully with others,” which may reflect the importance of practising new forms of relationality in the network; and
  • “to engage in the inner work of personal transformation,” which I view as reflecting an intention to engage in deep forms of (un)learning.

Interestingly, however, only 30% of AP were interested in “discussing societal collapse from the perspective of political change,” which is an important dimension of radical collective change. Besides, most of them clearly viewed “Regularly connecting with people [they] appreciate in forum discussions, online calls and/or shared projects” as their priority for being in DAF, ahead of “being part of a network of people coordinating [their] efforts for a common purpose.”

This confirms that while many AP aspire to forms of radical collective change, and see their participation in DAF as helping to bring those about to some extent, for most of them the intention to facilitate these changes may not constitute their primary reason for engaging in DAF (or for becoming increasingly involved). Instead, it appears that for many (and perhaps most) sowers, being at the service of the network they steward, and frequently interacting with their fellow participants as part of a “community of engagement,” is the most important driver.

Finally, like OP and VOP, AP showed little appetite for “discussing societal collapse from the perspective of [their] professional activity.” This is another sign that the first main framing that was originally articulated for DAF by the network founder – i.e. “DAF as a space in which to discuss collapse from the perspective of organisations and professional fields of activity” – has been superseded, as the dominant reason for most AP to remain engaged in DAF, by the second framing, i.e. “DAF as a space in which to cultivate new forms of relationality, overcoming separation, and fostering compassion and loving kindness.”

Discussion and conclusion

I will now attempt to answer the questions raised at the start of this chapter:

  1. What are the main “seeds of change” that are being cultivated within DAF social learning spaces?
  2. What are the conditions – or the “soil” - enabling these changes to happen, or preventing them from happening?
  3. Who are the “sowers” helping to nurture the soil and to sow the seeds? And what kind of learning leadership do they enact in doing so?

I will address the first question by discussing the affective and relational aspects that participants have mentioned as constituting major areas of learning and change in DAF, and will connect these aspects to literature on transformative social change. Then I will turn to self-organisation as both a critical enabling condition for these changes, and a locus of leadership. I will conclude by discussing DAF’s relevance to socio-political change from a decolonial perspective.

3.1 Personal and collective changes

A recurring criticism of networks and movements that consider seriously the possibility of societal collapse is that they lead people to hopelessness, and therefore, to abandon all drive to create social change. For example, scientist Michael E. Mann views DA as a “doomist” and “disabling” framing (Hunter, 2020), dissuading people from taking part in political processes to demand systemic changes in the face of climate change, and thus reinforcing ongoing trends towards “inaction” and “disengagement” (Mann, 2021a, 2021b). Others have called DA “demotivating” (Nicholas, Hall and Schmidt, 2020).

As I pointed out earlier, several personalities involved in the launch of Extinction Rebellion (XR) acknowledged the complementarity between their approach and the DA framework, and even the impetus that DA brought to their action (e.g. Bendell and Cavé, 2020; Bradbrook and Bendell, 2020). And this action has been very impactful: indeed, “XR have greatly contributed to the increasing attention paid to climate change by citizens, policymakers and other actors” (Berglund and Schmidt, 2020, p. 97). Therefore, it is tempting to dismiss on this basis any arguments that DA is counterproductive for generating political pressure on topics like climate change.

However, since this chapter explores the extent to which a network like DAF may be helpful to bring about radical collective change, it is important to consider whether the data collected in my research validates these criticisms.

As I show above, results from all three surveys and several interviews overwhelmingly show that respondents became better able to live with the difficult emotions they experienced with regards to the global predicament, and were feeling less isolated, less despairing, and less fearful as a result of their participation in DAF groups. Besides, a clear majority of CAS respondents (Cavé, 2022a) had decided to change their lives as a result of their engagement with the topic of collapse (including on practical, social, psycho-spiritual, and moral dimensions), and the respondents most deeply involved in DAF were much more likely to have taken action. These results confirm those obtained in a different survey (Bendell and Cavé, 2020), which indicated that people are more likely to lead in their community if they anticipate societal collapse. These results are also consistent with the results obtained in another qualitative research project on DA carried out in Germany (Tröndle, 2021), which found that none of the respondents were driven by apathy by their anticipation or experience of collapse. Indeed, they tended to be involved in various forms of activism or social change-oriented endeavours, and to draw a sense of inspiration and empowerment from their participation in a community of like-minded people.

Several of the research conversations I carried out confirmed the importance of experiencing belonging and community as a way to generatively engage with difficult topics such as that of societal collapse.

However, my research data also indicates that many participants do not view taking part in DAF as a form of activism. For example, most CAS survey respondents were not interested in discussing societal collapse from the perspective of political change, although more seasoned participants did express a sense of strong curiosity in this topic (Cavé, 2022a, Section 6.1 and 6.2). But this does not mean that DAF participants do not engage in activism elsewhere: over 12% of respondents to the DUS survey said they were involved in various activist groups and movements (Cavé, 2022b, Section 4). This seems to show that most participants do not consider DAF as a political-change-oriented network, and yet are yearning for such change. Correspondingly, a clear majority of respondents to the RCS survey aspired to various forms of radical collective change, but only a minority among them viewed DAF as facilitating the “radical reshaping of political and economic structures” to which they aspired (Cavé, 2022c).

Therefore, what emerges from my research is that while engaging with the topic of societal collapse may be a source of difficult emotions, this in itself does not seem to be a cause for apathy – particularly when one can benefit from feeling part of a community of like-minded others. Smaller affinity groups appear particularly well suited to mutual support and encouragement, as the example of the D&D circle clearly shows. In fact, most of my survey respondents and interviewees appear involved in various prosocial activities and endeavours, which can include political activism. However, few of them consider DAF the conduit for this activism taking place. In the opinion of a Core Team member, who is also a long-term DAF participant:

“Many, many of our people [DAF participants] are strident and engaged ‘activists’ - they just do it in different forums. So I do my marches / protests / campaigning with Fuel Poverty Action / CATJ [Christian Action for Tax Justice] / FoE [Friends of the Earth]. Meanwhile, DAF is where I come for the inner work.”

Whether DAF groups will grow more closely involved in efforts aiming at generating political change, as advocated by some (Bendell and Read, 2021a), remains an open question. But at the time of writing, dominant aspirations in the network, particularly among more deeply involved “sowers,” are concerned with more onto-epistemological dimensions of collective change: “Orienting towards connection, loving kindness and compassion for all beings” and “A transformative shift in worldviews and value systems” (Cavé, 2022c). I will now turn to discuss these aspirations.

The need for inner transformations

Increasingly, scholars from various fields are calling for a widespread collective reorientation towards a relational onto-epistemological paradigm as an essential response to the global social ecological predicament (e.g. O’Sullivan and Taylor, 2002; Spretnak, 2011; Escobar, 2014, 2020; Lange, 2018; Walsh et al., 2020; Walsh, Böhme and Wamsler, 2021; Woiwode et al., 2021; Williams, 2022). Like French writer and public intellectual Alain Damasio (2022), they point out the societal and political implications of our ways of being in the world:

The current political crisis, in Western countries, is one of our relationships to each other. There is a growing anaesthesia to the modes of attention and availability that we nurture with others, including all living beings…. Therefore, the first step of establishing what could be termed a ‘polytics of life’ is to reactivate our capacities to relate – in all forms and with all our strength. Indeed, contrary to what the liberal doxa pretends, one is not freed through individual independence, but through interdependences and relationships: through what these allow and weave between us in terms of fertile possibilities.22 (p.28)

Similarly, Woiwode and colleagues (2021) argue that “the current multiple crises are due to an alienation from ourselves, others, and the natural world” (p.845).

In response to this growing awareness, the work of systems theorist Donella Meadows (1999), in particular, is now frequently cited in the sustainability field (e.g. Abson et al., 2017; O’Brien, 2018; Fischer and Riechers, 2019; Ives, Freeth and Fischer, 2020; Woiwode et al., 2021) in support of a renewed focus on the transformation of people’s inner worlds, as the deepest (and least explored) leverage point to shift social systems (Figure 10).

From this perspective, a strong case can be made in favour of shifting mind-sets (including value and belief systems) towards a relational focus, in order to favour an ontology, epistemology, and ethics (Walsh, Böhme and Wamsler, 2021) recognising that

all entities in the natural world, including us, are thoroughly relational beings of great complexity, who are both composed of and nested within contextual networks of dynamics and reciprocal relationships. We are made entirely of relationships, as is the whole of the natural world. (Spretnak, 2011, p. 4)

Such transformations, under the form of expanded consciousness (Fazey et al., 2018; Wamsler, 2020), do not preclude political or practical action. On the contrary, they should inform action in these domains, in recognition of the fact that the mainstream, dominant technocratic responses to current challenges are unable to recognise that these challenges are adaptive, not just technical – in other words, that addressing them actually requires new beliefs, values, and worldviews (O’Brien, 2018).

The importance of focusing on relationships and a relational ethos as a primary locus to enact social change is also becoming increasingly recognised within activist circles and in social movements. For example, activist and scholar adrienne maree brown (2017) draws on the seminal work of leadership theorist Margaret Wheatley (Wheatley, 1999; Wheatley and Frieze, 2006) as she places the long-term transformation of relationships at the heart of her theory and practice of emergent strategy:

Focus on critical connections more than critical mass—build the resilience by building the relationships. (p.37)

As for the participants in the arts, research and social movements collective Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures (Stein, V. Andreotti, et al., 2020), they argue that “it is the quality of our relationships (to all beings) that determines the political possibilities that are viable in any particular context” (p.60) and thus stress the importance of “nurturing different kinds of configurations in order to open up the possibility for a politics that could uphold the integrity of our relationships and the responsibilities that follow from them” (p.61).

In view of the above, to what extent can DAF groups be viewed as fostering the emergence of more relational worldviews and ways of being in the world?

A relational framing

As presented in Annex 5.4, an important part of the framing of DAF since its creation has been an emphasis on fostering new forms of relationality in response to the global predicament. Turning to love, and overcoming the mindset of separation based on the “othering” of other people and the natural world, was described as a fundamental aspect of “collapse-transcendence” – i.e. “the psychological, spiritual and cultural shifts that may enable more people to experience greater equanimity toward future disruptions and the likelihood that our situation is beyond our control” (Bendell and Carr, 2019).

According to the title of the blog post cited above, this focus on relationality constituted “a philosophy for the Forum.” However, the Forum itself was initially about “collapse-readiness,” referring to “the mental and material measures that will help reduce disruption to human life – enabling an equitable supply of the basics like food, water, energy, payment systems and health” (ibid.). Indeed, DAF was presented as enabling this “outer adaptation” to societal collapse23 through fostering collapse-readiness in various organisations and professional fields of activity, which was the original purpose of the online platform called “the Deep Adaptation Forum” (see Annex 5.4 for more details).

Nonetheless, DAF’s official framing gradually evolved, and increasingly featured the cultivation of new forms of relationality as a central purpose for the Forum. This may be due, in part, to the lacklustre performance of the Professions’ Network, as a platform dedicated to bringing about the collapse-readiness mentioned above; and to the emergence of the DA Facilitators community of practice as an important component of the DAF landscape. Indeed, facilitators have been offering a number of free online gatherings on a regular basis, several times a week, particularly since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that “new ways of being and relating” emerged as an important type of social learning experienced by study participants, especially through their participation in regular group processes such as Earth Listening or Deep Relating. This includes relating to oneself, to others, and to other-than-humans or the planet at large (Cavé, 2022c). Many participants reported experiencing greater well-being as well as various affective benefits from their experience of these relational modalities.

In the D&D circle, strong bonds of trust and belonging have been consciously cultivated during regular calls and storytelling among participants, and through the willingness to engage in conflict transformation processes. Most of the experiences of personal transformation mentioned in the circle have to do with various forms of relationality, including:

  • understanding one’s own implication in global systems of oppression (relation to society or the world);
  • finding unprecedented psychological safety in the presence of others (relation to the group);
  • overcoming one’s internalised oppression and feeling empowered as a result (relation to oneself).

As pointed out in this case study (Annex 5.3, Section, prioritising mutual care and the building of relationships has been a central theme within the life of the D&D circle. This is another reflection of the commitment to fostering relationality within DAF.

Fostering social and ecological consciousness

This recognition of the importance of relational dimensions of being, in DAF participants, may be a sign of the development of the ecological consciousness called for by O’Sullivan and Taylor (2002).

According to these authors, modernity has led to the dominance of instrumental consciousness, which mainly values what humans can accomplish by objectifying the self, others, and the rest of the living world, as tools or resources. This instrumentalising tendency leads to a “deeply truncated” vision of the self, which rejects or disregards “the quality of our relationships to each other and to our context, our inherent capacities to heal, renew, and evolve, and our worthiness simply to sojourn as an integral inhabitant of the earth” (p.11). This view has caused suffering, alienation, a disregard for the cultivation of the spiritual life, and is at the root of the current social and ecological predicament.

From the perspective of an ecological consciousness, on the other hand, “there is no sense of the person without the sense of community” (p.13): the personal self is formed by co-constituted relationships. The intimate sharing of one’s conscious understanding and lived experience with others is “inherent in what it means to be human,” and one has a “wider sense of connection with all the powers of the world” – including other species (ibid.). For these authors, addressing the global predicament requires developing social configurations that foster the emergence of such an ecological consciousness. DAF groups, which centre the use of relational modalities and the cultivation of relationships, may constitute such social configurations.

This seems to correspond to the experience of world-view transformation – i.e. “a fundamental shift in perspective that results in long-lasting changes in people’s sense of self, perception of relationship to the world around them, and way of being” (Schlitz, Vieten and Miller, 2010, pp. 19–20). This entails more than minor conceptual alterations in one’s understanding of the world, but rather deep onto-epistemological changes: “transformation involves epistemological changes in how [people] know what they know. It is not only behaviour that changes, but also the motivational substrate from which that behaviour arises. It is not only a change in what people do, but also in who they understand themselves to be at an ontological level” (p.20). While stressing that such transformations are not necessarily prosocial (for example, a traumatic experience may result in more fearful and narrower views of the world), the authors conceptualise how transformative experiences can lead to expanded social consciousness – that is, higher levels of conscious awareness that one is part of a larger whole, and of an interrelated community of others. This is correlated with more compassionate and service-oriented behaviours, as people are “inspired to act as agents for positive change in their immediate communities and beyond” (p.22).

Describing five nested levels of social consciousness that one may reach, Schlitz and colleagues allude to several capacities that appear necessary in this process. First, they show how developing criticality with regards to how one’s lived experience and subjectivity are shaped by ideology and hegemonic power relations, as well as other social, cultural, and economic factors, is an important first step in this process of expanding social consciousness. They also stress the necessity to develop a capacity for self-reflexivity, as a key to increased cognitive flexibility. Greater self-reflexivity, in turn, can help one become more aware of and attentive to the consciousness of others, and therefore, to build emotional connection and the capacity for empathy, which may lead to the desire to improve the well-being of others. While this desire may initially manifest as a unilateral mission to save others, expanded social consciousness may eventually bring people to realise the limitations of this approach, and to embrace ways of engaging with the world that are collaborative rather than prescriptive.

The authors consider that empowering conversations and storytelling are essential in this regard. Such conversations can be facilitated by modalities that enhance collaborative social consciousness, by surfacing group collective intelligence and wisdom - for example, using Open Space Technology, or Bohmian Dialogue Groups.

To what extent does DAF enable its participants to undergo generative world-view transformations? While interviewees have reported noticeable onto-epistemological shifts in how they view and relate to themselves, others, and the world, assessing the long-lasting quality of these shifts has not been possible through the present research methodology, and would require further investigation. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that of the six factors that Vieten, Amorok and Schlitz (2006) identify as critical to facilitate long-term behavioural shifts, following a transformative experience, several seem present within DAF – for instance, the presence of a like-minded social network or community, and a shared language and context.

In any case, it is important to note that aspects of the ethos and relational modalities that are put into practice within several DAF groups do focus on developing several of the elements that Schlitz and colleagues view as fundamental to expanded social consciousness.

For example, Bendell and Carr (2021) mention how practices of DA group facilitation centre the development of critical consciousness, particularly in terms of discerning when one’s thoughts or behaviours perpetuate systems of oppression and destruction (criticality); how they encourage embracing radical uncertainty, and even to view the self itself as a fluid and uncertain phenomenon (self-reflexivity and cognitive flexibility); and how they make space for the vulnerable expression of feelings, particularly around one’s sense of loss and grief, as a way of relating that encourages deeper compassion and understanding of others and their inner world (emotional connection). These principles are particularly foregrounded in the practice of Deep Relating, which itself is a modality influenced by Bohmian dialogue, designed for the authentic expression of private experience in a group context. Deep Relating invites participants to “a critically conscious engagement with the stories we participate in” and to surface “unconscious patterns within dominant discourse” (p.14).

Therefore, Deep Relating can be considered a practice that enhances collaborative social consciousness. The use of Open Space Technology is also well-established in DAF (see above). And practices such as Wider Embraces or Earth Listening, which aim at exploring directly one’s connectedness with other-than-human, planetary or even cosmic dimensions of existence, may also be helpful in furthering the development of social and ecological consciousness.

According to Schlitz and colleagues, “shifts in consciousness need not wait for random life-changing experiences, but can be invited through intentional practice” (ibid, p.31). As noted earlier, participants in Earth Listening (EL) and Deep Relating (DR) groups – which are regularly convened to practice the relational modalities presented above – tend to report important experiences of onto-epistemological unlearning, and their testimonies seem to correspond to expressions of expanding social consciousness. It is also worth remembering that respondents to the RCS survey considered that “orienting towards connection, loving kindness and compassion towards all living beings,” and “a transformative shift in worldviews and value systems” were the most relevant forms of radical social change they were hoping to see taking place, which speaks to the importance of these aspirations within DAF.

A majority of GRS respondents from the EL and DR groups also stated that their involvement was driving them to want to contribute more to DAF as a community. Thus, it appears that their sense of personal agency in bringing about the expression of more compassion and loving kindness, as well as the transformation of worldviews, has been enhanced by their regular participation in these groups. This speaks to a “desire to engage actively in improving the well-being of others and the world,” described by Schlitz and colleagues (p.26) as another important marker of expanded social consciousness. The same prosocial desire transpires from the various social justice initiatives launched by the D&D circle.

Therefore, several elements indicate that the focus on intentionally cultivating new forms of relationality within DAF, be it through the general ethos of the network or through specific practices used in various DAF groups, may be enabling participants to develop or expand their social and ecological consciousness. For this reason, this case study provides an illustration of practices that can be implemented in order to help bring about a collective reorientation towards a relational onto-epistemological paradigm as an essential response to the global social and ecological predicament.

Two caveats should be raised, nonetheless. First, most of the participants I interviewed were actively involved in DAF (and could be classified as “Active” or “Occasional participants” following the typology presented in Section 2.4). They tended to value relational process much more than the more peripheral stakeholders (“Very occasional participants”) who answered my surveys, and who tended to be more interested in practical forms of adaptation to the threat or experience of societal disruptions (Annex 5.4). Therefore, it would be important to consider the extent to which the relational framing promoted by more active participants is influential in areas of DAF less involved in online events, such as the DA Facebook group, or the affiliated groups.

Secondly, most of my interviewees stated that their involvement in DAF (or even their “collapse awareness”) was the result of a gradual personal journey, taking place over several years and integrating various influences, towards realising the depth of the global predicament. In other words, they experienced learning about DA as a confirmation of what they felt they already knew, instead of as a sudden revelation. This has been noted in another study involving “deep adapters” (Tröndle, 2021). It is thus possible that the same is true for them about the importance of relationality, and that they only found in DAF a place in which to embody a counter-cultural world-view they had already adopted. For those in this case, the network might have been less of a transformative space, and more of a support structure for a transformation having already taken place. Further research would be needed to clarify this matter.

Relationality in practice

As I mentioned earlier (Chapter 2), prefigurative groups seek to embody in their practice itself those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture and human experience that are ultimately desired for the whole society. In view of the above, I contend that a relational focus is at the core of the prefigurative practice of DAF groups, and the cultivation of relationality appears to be an essential “seed of change” growing within the network.

What does this mean, in practice? What kinds of generative changes may a relational focus bring about? How may personal, inner transformation connect with political and practical action in the world?

Several examples emerged in my research that speak to these questions. First of all, the value-creation stories make it clear that for many DAF participants, strong relationships cultivated within DAF have been instrumental to the integration and action-oriented transformation of the difficult emotions experienced while contemplating the state of the world and our global predicament (see for example stories #2, #7 or #10 in Annex 5.2). So relationships, in and of themselves, have been a source of great value for many of us in the network.

As the example of the D&D circle shows (Annex 5.3), foregrounding relationships has also been essential to the group’s ongoing collaboration, and to our collective capacity to transform conflict, which has enabled us to engage in the various endeavours championed by our group. More recently, the collaborative efforts initiated in support to women in Ukraine among several DAF participants were clearly catalysed by the strong mutual trust that had been cultivated between them (Annex 5.2, Story #16).

While the above may appear to be only small instances of collective change enabled through relationality, they are redolent of the widespread, self-organised mutual aid actions that took place in various “caring geographies” (Springer, 2020) around the world, following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, embodying responses motivated by a clear relational ethos (Travlou, 2021; Chevée, 2022).

This topic leads us to another aspect of DAF’s prefigurative practice: that of self-organisation, to which I now turn.

3.2 Enabling soil and sowers: DAF and self-organisation

In this chapter, learning to self-organise was discussed as one of the “seeds of change” that have been cultivated within DAF. I will now discuss the extent to which these self-organising processes, and the actors supporting them, may have played an enabling or disabling role with regards to the collective processes of learning and change within the network.

In discussing learning governance as a factor affecting the learning capability of a social system, Wenger (2009) argues that the interplay of two main governance processes has a strong impact on this capability:

  • stewarding governance “derives from a concerted effort to move a social system in a given direction” and is “a process of seeking agreement and alignment across a social system in order to achieve certain goals” (p.13); in contrast,
  • emergent governance is the product of “a distributed system of interactions involving local decisions” (ibid.), negotiated in various learning spaces and disseminated by their participants.

Both types of governance are useful for social learning. While the former fosters the recognition of interdependence and the capacity for joint action, the latter ensures the possibility of unforeseen, innovative ideas emerging from local interactions. Therefore, “it is the combination of the two [processes] that can maximise the learning capability of social systems” (p.14).

Besides governance, Wenger also emphasises the role of accountability structures within social systems. A leaderless social learning space might be characterised by horizontal accountability, as participants are, by definition, accountable to one another through their engagement in joint activities; whereas vertical accountability would be much more present, for example, in an organisation relying on a hierarchical decision-making structure since people “lower down” must report to others “higher up.” Just like the two forms of governance presented above, both forms of accountability can be artfully articulated within a social system to maximise social learning capability, through both emergent and stewarding governance: horizontal accountability, based on negotiation and mutual expressibility, is vital to social learning spaces for peer engagement to be genuine; as for vertical accountability, based on compliance (for example, in the form of commonly agreed rules and agreements), it can help facilitate governance processes across a complex social system.

Wenger suggests that this should take the form of “interwoven learning experiments” (p.16). This refers to experiments taking place in semi-autonomous learning spaces without any forced homogeneity, yet with supporting structures in place that can help the results of these experiments to spread beyond their local setting. In this regard, Wenger therefore proposes that social systems may benefit from a centralised role or body which would provide stewarding governance with the specific aim of fostering learning capability.

To what extent does this theory of learning governance help explain the learning capability of DAF as a complex landscape of practice?

As mentioned previously (Section 2.2.2), from the creation of DAF, an emphasis was put on the network aiming to enable the emergence of peer support structures within a DA ethos, instead of directing collective efforts to achieve certain goals (DAF, 2020b). This intention was premised on the impossibility of knowing what might constitute the “right answers” to the global predicament, as the latter was recognised as occurring due to an epistemological crisis – in other words, current dominant worldviews are unhelpful for anyone to know the “way forward”:

The anticipation of societal collapse is therefore to acknowledge a crisis of epistemology and a collapse of the hitherto dominant ways of seeking to know the world…. DA is primarily a container for dialogue that begins with an invitation to unlearn, to let go of our maps and models of the world and to not prematurely grasp at any new ones. That can be difficult because a habit of needing fact, certainty and right answers means people are often uncomfortable being with uncertainty or ‘not knowingness’. (Carr and Bendell, 2021, pp. 176–7)

The ethos of the DA concept and spaces at present is not to colonize people’s own explorations of the topic and to welcome ‘unknowing’. (Bendell and Read, 2021a, p. 303)

This helps to account for the strong focus on promoting self-organisation within the network, in the form of self-convened groups and projects, rather than DAF aiming to achieve certain specific goals, or to materialise a specific vision. It also explains the attention brought to developing alternative ways of relating in groups, particularly within the DA Facilitators community of practice, in order to enable more participants to grow more comfortable with uncertainty and “maplessness” (Carr, 2021).

In discussing DAF governance, it is necessary to touch on the role of the DAF Core Team (CT), which I have been part of from the creation of the network and up to the time of writing. This role is defined as being largely about supporting “the aims, ethos, and policies of DAF” as well as “other emerging areas of work and priorities” (DAF, 2022b) – rather than setting strategic goals. During the first year of the network’s activities, the CT relied strongly on stewarding governance to pursue certain strategic objectives, decided with little consultation of other stakeholders, although feedback was invited on the documents laying out these objectives (e.g. DAF Core Team, 2019a). But gradually, the CT only offered recommendations for focal action areas, on the basis of the outcomes of wide-ranging community consultation processes taking place on an annual basis (see Annex 5.4, Section 2.1 for details).

In this way, the CT came to provide a layer of governance in accordance with that described by Ehrlichman (2021, pp. 181–182), according to whom core teams “coordinate the work, activities, and resources of the network in partnership with other network leaders… to support greater contributions and aligned action among participants” but “do not hold formal authority over other network members. Core teams make recommendations, but final decisions ultimately rest with the network as a whole.”

The CT therefore shifted its role from a focus on stewarding governance to emergent governance. It also favoured horizontal accountability across the network, by encouraging the creation of self-directed social learning spaces. But this is not to say that the CT relinquished all processes of vertical accountability: for example, it supported a participatory process leading to the co-creation, in March 2021, of the first version of the DAF Charter24 which itself is an instance of vertical accountability, among other network policies – such as the Safety and Wellbeing Policy (DAF Core Team, 2021).

Overall, has the CT succeeded in fostering learning capability in DAF, by acting as a centralised body providing stewarding governance while allowing the emergence of “interwoven learning experiments” (Wenger, 2009, p.16)?

On a formal level, the CT has undeniably supported some of the transversal processes (cutting across dimensions of governance and accountability) which Wenger argues are critical to maximise learning capability (ibid., p.17) – most notably, the creation of autonomous social learning spaces and communities of practice, such as the D&D circle and other groups (see Section 2.2.2). Another example might be the public acknowledgement of the learning citizenship exercised by DAF volunteers through the activities of the Gratitude Month in August 2022 (DAF Editorial Team, 2022), and the publication of a “Credits” page on the DAF website, listing the names of contributors wishing to do so (DAF Core Team, 2022b). At the time of writing, the CT had also supported two editions of the Conscious Learning Festival, organised by the research team I initiated in DAF (Annex 5.5).

In practice, however, it is worth noting that at the time of writing, few self-organised groups have succeeded in meeting regularly over time. To a certain extent, this may be due to the lack of familiarity, on behalf of many DAF participants, with the relational mindset and forms of leadership that are promoted in DAF:

For [people] who have worked exclusively in hierarchical organizations their whole lives, shifting into a network mindset can take some time, given how it contrasts with Western assumptions of how change happens through deliberate planning and control. … Hierarchical leadership is directive and consolidates control. Network leadership is facilitative, generating connections between others and decentralizing power such that people can organize without a top leader. (Ehrlichman, 2021, pp. 38–39)

The CT might adopt new practices in order to better support emerging initiatives and catalysing new learning – for example, setting up an innovation fund, which is a “small pool of money that provides seed funds or incentive funds to encourage self‐organization and collaboration” (Holley, 2013, p. 150), or engaging in joint events and partnerships with aligned networks and organisations. Such practices would likely require more robust sources of funding than are available at the time of writing.

It should also be pointed out that several people have also encountered issues in working directly with CT members and/or DAF founder Jem Bendell, which prevented them from further engaging in the network (Section 2.3.2). Therefore, individuals assuming leadership roles in DAF have occasionally played a disabling role in other stakeholders’ learning.

More fundamentally perhaps, the perception that DAF gives people “no call to action,” and that it is overly “philosophical” and “open-field,” have been recurring criticisms voiced within the network (Section 2.3.2). Using Wenger (2009)’s theory outlined above, these criticisms can be interpreted as calls for more stewarding governance: indeed, for many DAF participants, the network’s mission of “enabling and embodying loving responses to collapse” requires more alignment and coordination in order to bring about more practical, on-the-ground initiatives that may reduce the social, political, and ecological impacts of collapse. Perhaps these statements also express a desire for more attention to “collapse-readiness,” as compared to the focus on “collapse-transcendence” which has grown more central in the network since its creation, as exemplified in the attention to doing “inner work” and cultivating relational processes (as discussed in the previous section).

Finally, from a purely pragmatic perspective, it may be that DAF’s current governance model, characterised by its focus on emergence, will prove unsustainable, due to the difficulty of securing funding for efforts involving relational (as opposed to transactional) ways of organising, whose outcomes are impossible to predict – a difficulty acknowledged by other practitioners (Jay, 2022; Starter Culture, 2023).

In this regard, it may be that systems of governance that are distributed but preserve more elements of vertical accountability and concentration of decision-making power, could be more reassuring to funders.


It may be useful here to summarise the main findings presented so far in Section 3.

I have argued that in DAF participants’ view, the network’s relevance to radical collective change is most clearly articulated in terms of “Orienting towards connection, loving kindness and compassion for all beings” and “A transformative shift in worldviews and value systems,” and that these aspirations are coherent with the relational framing that has grown dominant within the network. As a result, various groups and modalities encourage the cultivation of this relational paradigm in several parts of the DAF landscape of practice, and many participants have attested to deep experiences of social learning taking place in these social learning spaces. While these practices display the potential to foster long-lasting world-view transformations towards expanded forms of social and ecological consciousness, a longitudinal study would be required to confirm this aspect.

On the organisational level, there are signs showing that an increasing number of active DAF participants are growing more proficient with the emergent governance promoted in the network, through self-organised practices scaffolded and disseminated by certain participants. However, self-organisation has not grown to its full potential in DAF yet. Most importantly, it appears that the choice, on behalf of the Core Team, not to promote more directionality (or stewarding governance) in the network has been experienced as disorienting to many, particularly with regards to the current emphasis on inner work and relationship-building. While this governance is a reflection of the prefigurative aspect of DAF, it may be all the more troubling to those participants who are more intent on enacting practical or political changes, and regretting the absence of guidance in this regard. Similarly, this relational, inward-oriented focus makes it more challenging for the network to resource itself financially.

In the next subsection, I will close this chapter with a discussion of DAF’s relevance to socio-political change using a decolonial lens. This will enable me to transition to a deeper exploration of this approach in Chapter 6.

3.3 Considering DAF from a decolonial perspective

Thus far, this thesis has been rooted in a pragmatic and constructivist approach (Chapter 3). Accordingly, my posture as a researcher has been to foreground the voices and narratives of all participants in this research. I have refrained from critically engaging with this content, but instead strived to enhance its credibility through a commitment to multivocality and member reflections on my findings, in a spirit of “collaboration and reflexive elaboration” (Tracy, 2010, p. 844).

However, the remainder of this study will now give more space to another research stream which unfolded simultaneously for me, even while I carried out my case studies on FC and DAF. This intellectual process became increasingly central to my understanding of the topic of radical collective change. I am referring to a decolonial approach to personal and collective change.

This perspective was entirely foreign to me as I began my thesis, which explains why neither my case studies nor the social learning evaluation methodologies that I deployed are particularly “decolonial.” It was during the last two years of my research, even as I was starting to write my thesis, that this approach gradually became too important a part of my understanding and reflection for me not to acknowledge it and seek to integrate it within this thesis. This was largely a result of my involvement in the DAF D&D circle (Annex 5.3), and thus constitutes an example of social learning taking place within an online community.

Therefore, as part of my commitment to producing movement-relevant research (Chapter 1), I will now offer some reflections which may “defy the ‘common-sense assumptions’” (Bevington and Dixon, 2005, p. 191) of the participants I have engaged with throughout this research, particularly in DAF, and take a closer look at the socio-cultural lenses characterising my own perspective – including its limits, impacts, and implications.

3.3.1 A community of privilege?

The Deep Adaptation paper (Bendell, 2018) was written by a white, British, middle-class university professor, who spent most of his career in the environmental field. It was intended for publication within a scholarly journal, to be read by other sustainability academics – mainly in the global North.

It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the people who gathered to discuss the implications of this paper, and came to form the Deep Adaptation Forum community, tend to hail from similar socio-economic and cultural backgrounds as Prof Bendell. From my experience, at the time of writing, a typical active participant in DAF is white, Western, over 40 years old, middle-class, holds a university degree, and has a history of involvement in the environmental field. This profile is very similar to mine, although I am younger.25 This may help explain why I felt comfortable choosing DAF as a research site, rather than other social contexts in which my positionality may have been less welcome.

In what ways may the socio-economic and demographic positionality of DAF participants affect the potential for radical collective change to take place thanks to this community?

Firstly, circumstantial evidence suggests that the language in DAF spaces and DA(F) publications often comes across as academic and abstruse (e.g. Mowdy, 2021), which I have also heard from several Forum participants. This likely constitutes a challenge in terms of epistemological access to, and participatory parity within, DAF spaces (Muller, 2014; Garraway, 2017). In other words, people unfamiliar with such language may feel discouraged from participating in DA conversations, or even silenced by other participants’ rhetoric. This could especially affect members of marginalised communities (Samaržija and Cerovac, 2021), and thus stand as one explanatory factor for their relative absence from DAF groups (Annex 5.3).

Even more importantly, perhaps, the DA rhetoric itself has been experienced as exclusionary by people from different socio-cultural and economic backgrounds.

The original framing of DA as articulated in Bendell’s seminal paper was undeniably more focused on the threat of future disruptions to a way of life considered “normal” by people from demographics like the one outlined above, and made little space for consideration of similarly frightful disruptions experienced by less privileged people (and other-than-humans) in the present or in the past. Until 2022, the “About” page of the DAF website cited the following excerpt from the paper:

The term social or societal collapse is used here to refer to the uneven ending to our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning. (DAF, 2020b)

Neither the DA paper, nor this webpage, considered whose perspective was encapsulated within the word “our.” In the words of two volunteers curating a page about the “invisibilised voices on collapse” on the DAF website (Virah-Sawmy and Jiménez, 2022),

The current means of sustenance and security that some of us experience, and which we previously referred to, have not been equal or even existent for most of the world. In fact, they are built upon centuries of injustices that have led to the cyclical collapse of societies. The global majority has repeatedly experienced societal collapse in one way or another.

Accordingly, DAF’s early-day framing did not bring attention to these topics, although this began to evolve in 2022 (Annex 5.4). Prof Bendell has also called for more humanitarian action and transnational solidarity efforts (Bendell, 2020a; Bendell and Read, 2021a). However, the difficulties experienced by the D&D circle to raise funds for such efforts (Annex 5.3), as well as the first-hand experience of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in the Forum facing the denial that racism and colonialism have anything to do with climate change (Sabic and Virah-Sawmy, 2023), point to the difficulties of championing these ideas within a context in which this awareness was only belatedly brought to the fore. I want to fully acknowledge my own responsibility for this situation, as someone who has been involved in leadership roles since the start of the network.

Besides, as discussed earlier in this chapter (Section 3.2), neither the DA paper nor the foundational texts of DAF advocated for any particular course of action with regards to how the “DA agenda” (Section 1.1) ought to be applied. As a result, there was no explicit call to dismantle capitalist social structures and other systems of oppression, to redistribute wealth, or enact reparations for historical harm – although the DAF founder did advocate for similar measures in later texts (Bendell, 2022). Consequently, DA(F) spaces have been perceived as apolitical venues for privileged participants to offer solace to one another over the anticipated loss of their way of life, at the expense of much-needed radical reforms of the social order (Foster, 2021). Some commentators have even suggested that anxiety about the impacts of climate change is often an expression of white fragility or racial anxiety (Ray, 2021). In view of the difficult emotions experienced by many DAF participants, and the community’s demographic makeup, this critique is an important one to address – I return to it below.

Finally, on a psycho-social level, it is also possible that in centring “loving responses” to global socio-ecological crises as its mission, in a spirit of “curiosity, compassion, and respect,” DAF rhetoric may be viewed as discouraging the expression of certain affects – especially anger or outrage – that are widely elicited by these crises, and presumably more within demographics with less privilege (and far more exposed to injustice and inequalities) than the typical DAF participant. Together with the points mentioned above, this could leave many less privileged people feeling alienated by DAF rhetoric.

The positionality of DAF spaces – as mostly white, Western, educated, and middle-class spaces - is not in itself problematic, in my view. However, I consider that radical collective change requires facing the denial of systemic, historical, and ongoing violence and of complicity in harm (as I will develop more at length in Chapter 6). And I doubt the possibility of doing so without forming relationships of solidarity with those who have historically suffered the most from the harmful aspects of modernity-coloniality. Therefore, for generative change-oriented initiatives to emerge thanks to DAF, it seems important to reduce the obstacles that may stand in the way of such relationships being formed. In the process of working on these obstacles, DAF itself may become more “diverse” as a result, but it would be very risky to make this the primary aim of such efforts, considering the long and harmful history of tokenistic “inclusion” of representatives from marginalised groups into spaces dominated by more privileged people (Elwood, Andreotti and Stein, 2019).

What are some ways in which DAF might reduce the alienating effects of its framing and rhetoric?

3.3.2 Towards decolonial love

First of all, and evidently, the language used in DAF publications and within the community itself needs to be more accessible, and avoid centring the experience of its more privileged constituents. As mentioned elsewhere (Annex 5.4), such efforts were underway at the time of writing. I will bring more attention here to the place of “loving responses” within DAF rhetoric, and consider to what extent can this notion be expanded to bring more attention to matters of social justice.

Let us return to the relational theory of change that came to the fore within the DAF framing shortly after the start of the community (see Annex 5.4 for details), and which became an essential philosophical foundation for the Forum. According to this framing, a key raison d’être for DAF groups and spaces was to enact “collapse-transcendance,” or “the psychological, spiritual and cultural shifts that may enable more people to experience greater equanimity toward future disruptions and the likelihood that our situation is beyond our control” (Bendell and Carr, 2019). Participants were invited to foreground a relational mindset and to overcome their cultural indoctrination into a mindset of separation, in order to counteract the violent and xenophobic socio-political tendencies that were likely to become dominant within a context of societal collapse (see Section 3.1.2 above). Simultaneously, facilitated relational practices such as Deep Relating aimed at encouraging reflexivity and criticality in order to start dismantling the psychological patterns feeding the mindset of separation (leading to “othering”) that underlies all systems of oppression (Bendell and Carr, 2021).

In this way, the dominant framing within DAF focused on “loving responses” as a strategy to foster cooperative and non-oppressive forms of social change in uncertain times. It finds echoes in the work of community educator Sarah Jaquette Ray (2020), who recommends adopting an attitude of “curiosity, flexibility, and respect” (p.99) and cultivating “compassionate curiosity” (p.110) to build alliances between social groups around climate change action, and constructively harness climate anxiety in non-polarizing ways. But importantly, Ray centres the need to “make climate change a social justice issue and recognizing that our position in society—our relative access to power and privilege—affects the way we frame and feel about these issues” (p.106) – which is a perspective that emerged only belatedly in DAF (Annex 5.4). She also explicitly validates feelings of anger in the face of injustice and oppression, but calls for cooperation and community-building in spite of these strong emotions:

That is the real challenge—to hold space for both righteous anger and curious compassion. (p.109)

For DAF groups and spaces to become more welcoming of participants from marginalised groups motivated by aspirations for socially just political change, it may be important to give more space to righteous anger and people’s passion for justice. Such containers are often part of certain methodologies utilised in DAF, such as the Work that Reconnects (Prentice, 2003). In the words of Black feminist Audre Lorde (1984, p. 133),

I’ve suckled this wolf’s lip of anger and I have used it for illumination, laughter, protection, fire in places where there was no light, no food, no sisters, no quarter.

As pointed out by Christine Hentschel (2022), rage and anger “can be visionary and creative” and “transformed into care, consolation, solidarity, and justice” (p.6). These affects should not be invisibilised rhetorically by the intention to overcome othering.

Going further, Nelson Maldonado-Torres (2016) considers that the struggle to transcend ontological separation, and the omnipresent paradigm of war that is a hallmark of modernity-coloniality, requires both love, and rage – “as a form of negation that is inspired and oriented by the positive attitude of love” (p.23). Rejecting liberal romantic notions of love, he considers Chela Sandoval (2000)’s concept of decolonial love as a critical part of decolonisation as a political and social project. In Sandoval’s words:

[decolonial love is] a ‘breaking’ through whatever controls in order to find ‘understanding and community’… as a set of practices and procedures that can transit all citizen-subjects, regardless of social class, toward a differential mode of consciousness and its accompanying technologies of method and social movement. (Sandoval, 2000, p. 139)

Building on Frantz Fanon (1952) and Gloria Anzaldúa (2009), Maldonado-Torres (2016, p.22) views decolonial love as key for human beings to recover their agency as “node[s] of love and understanding,” beyond the matrix of coloniality; and for love and rage to scar the wounds of modernity-coloniality, and create new bridges “linking people who have been split apart” (Anzaldúa, 2009, p.313).

But how may decolonial love be enacted in practice? Yomaira Figueroa (2015) proposes carrying out decolonial reparations. These involve both “a recognition of structural, gendered, and intergenerational violence and a move away from its normalization” (p.46): beyond “the oft-used positivistic calculation of debts or apologies owed,” such reparations represent transformative, “intergenerational and collective acts of love” based on an “understanding of (and an accounting for) the longue-durée of colonialism” (ibid.). Material reparations for historical injustice and structural violence are a useful first step, but they must be accompanied with “a commitment to transforming both the ideologies and structures of coloniality” (ibid.).

I suspect that enacting decolonial loving responses through the praxis of decolonial reparations may constitute a fertile avenue of exploration and political engagement for DAF groups, and other communities with similar demographics. It could enable a deeper acknowledgement of systemic harm, of our complicity in it, and pave the way for more generative engagement with the struggles of marginalised groups and communities. This may involve giving space to the expression and witnessing of anger, rage, and other affects of resistance (Flowers, 2015) within appropriate containers, while preserving compassion, curiosity and respect as central values guiding the “intergenerational and collective acts of love” advocated by Figueroa (2015). Besides, Figueroa also shows how reparations can be seen as an essential ingredient of any process of reconciliation (Figueroa, 2015) which is an important theme in the Deep Adaptation agenda (Section 1.1).

Concrete forms of reparations could include, for instance, pressuring governments to carry out debt cancellation in Global South countries (Táíwò and Bigger, 2022), or to allow for cross-borders freedom of movement (Mbembe, 2018; Ouassak, 2023) as critical climate justice and adaptation measures; or demanding reparations for slavery and the transatlantic slave trade (Caricom Reparations Commission, no date), and the restitution of cultural artefacts and human body parts that were stolen by the European colonial powers in Africa, and which are exhibited in galleries or archived in Europe’s museums and libraries (Ferdinand, 2021). At a more personal or community level, reparations might also be envisioned as decolonising solidarity practices (Boudreau Morris, 2017; Kluttz, Walker and Walter, 2020), through unconditional (material and political) solidarity with Indigenous struggles, critical reflexion on how to decolonise the solidarity effort itself, and “taking active steps towards building ‘right’ relations, with a commitment to both naming and righting the material, epistemic, cultural and political injustices of present and past” (Kluttz, Walker and Walter, 2020, p. 56).

Let us now turn to the question of eco-emotions as a key topic of discussion within DAF spaces.

3.3.3 Eco-emotions and the need for constructive action

As I have shown (Sections 2.3.1 and 3.1.1), relational and somatic processes play an important role in DAF groups, and help many participants to better integrate within their lives the difficult emotions arising from their awareness of socio-ecological crises. In studies as in popular usage, such difficult emotions are often grouped under broad labels such as eco-anxiety (e.g. Rehling, 2022), ecological grief (e.g. Cunsolo and Ellis, 2018) or solastalgia (e.g. Rehling and Sigston, 2020). Scholars (e.g. Pihkala, 2022b) have discussed the lack of conceptual clarity within this emerging field, and pointed out that this complex experience may involve feelings of frustration, overwhelm, guilt, grief, fear, numbness, uncertainty for the future, a sense of disrupted place-based attachments, existential concerns around meaning and loss, as well as anger or betrayal, pre- and post-traumatic stress, or even love and wonder (e.g. Hamilton, 2022; Pihkala, 2022b, 2022a; Rehling, 2022).26 I will use the term eco-emotions to refer to the above, following Panu Pihkala (2022b).

In view of the relatively privileged socio-cultural and economic background of most DAF participants, does spending time processing one’s eco-emotions constitute an indulgence that comes at the expense of political organising, as some have suggested (Meadway, 2022)?

First of all, it is important to note that eco-emotions are far from being the preserve of privileged white demographics. Research suggests that disadvantaged communities – especially racialised people - in Global North countries are as likely, or more likely, to be affected by such emotions, due to their stronger exposure to environmental impacts of all kinds (American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica, 2017; Ballew et al., 2020; Tremblay, 2022); indeed, a study that surveyed 10,000 young people around the world found that 75% of those in Global South countries such as Nigeria, India, or the Philippines felt the climate crisis was negatively impacting their ability to function on a daily basis, in contrast to countries less impacted by climate disasters such as the UK, where 45% of respondents felt negatively impacted (Hickman et al., 2021). Indigenous communities around the world have been shown to be particularly strongly affected by eco-emotions, as a result of physical ecological losses, disruptions to their environmental knowledge and loss of identity, as well as anticipated future ecological losses (e.g. Durkalec et al., 2015; Oakes, Ardoin and Lambin, 2016; Cunsolo and Ellis, 2018; Rehling and Sigston, 2020). In other words, eco-emotions evidently have a huge impact on the communities most exposed to ecological crises globally, due to structural inequities and injustices. This points to the need for mental health support systems offered to those who often have the least social and economic access to such support (Bauck, 2023).

Why is it, then, that more privileged (or White) demographics have been denounced (Ray, 2021) as most concerned about finding relief for their eco-anxiety and other eco-emotions? This perception may be due in part to asymmetries of epistemological access to scientific and medical discourse on topics such as “eco-emotions,” on top of easier access to means of communication about these issues (Browne, 2022). Other demographics may lack the vocabulary to discuss such topics, or feel stigmatised when they do (Bauck, 2023).

Nonetheless, concerns that eco-emotions in dominant groups may bring about about xenophobia and even forms of fascism (Ray, 2021; Ouassak, 2023) seem warranted: scholars have shown that anxiety can be a source of defensive routines that undermine collective efforts toward generative change (Mnguni, 2010; Norgaard, 2011). How to avoid this?

Psychologists have shown that eco-emotions are part and parcel of living with the awareness of socio-ecological crises, and can in fact be harnessed for positive change (Nairn, 2019; Wardell, 2020; Kurth and Pihkala, 2022). But in order for this to happen, these emotions must be properly engaged, if possible through group or community interventions (Rehling, 2022), and not ignored by rushing into problem-solving, which is what contemporary cultures drive most of us to do (Pihkala, 2022a). Many scholars (e.g. Hufnagel, 2017; Verlie, 2019; Hamilton, 2022) have argued for constructive engagement with one’s emotions by means of practical workshop activities. Jo Hamilton (2022) shows that this may enable one to develop emotional reflexivity – or the embodied and relational awareness of (and attention to) the ways that people engage with and feel about issues, the actions they take, the stories and worldviews they inhabit, and their perceptions of individual and collective agency. She explored approaches that may contribute to a “‘deep determination’ and ongoing resource to act for environmental and social justice, and to live the future worth fighting for in the present” (p.1). However, this requires the possibility to keep engaging with these practices regularly, as part of social settings that offer a locus for action, or “climate change engagement for the long haul” (p.16).

This corresponds with the results of the process of eco-anxiety and ecological grief charted by Pihkala (2022a), on the basis of a wide-ranging interdisciplinary review. A key insight of this model is that once a person has gained awareness of the depth and scale of socio-ecological issues, coping and adjusting to this awareness (and, hopefully, reaching a stage in which one can live with it skillfully) requires grieving, taking action, and distancing oneself from one’s eco-emotions. Thus, if any of these dimensions are lacking (for example, if one neglects to engage with their emotions), a person is likely to eventually experience burnout or other forms of breakdown.27

I draw two conclusions from these studies. First of all, they validate a foundational premise of DAF – i.e. that developing emotional reflexivity is in fact an essential aspect of learning to live with one’s awareness of socio-ecological crises; and furthermore, that this “inner work” enables one to take generative action as a result of this awareness (see also Section 3.1.2 above). Secondly, they point to the critical importance of finding, in one’s everyday life, occasions to actively engage on these issues in parallel to this inner work – which is “needed… for ethical, practical, and psychological reasons” although “various forms of action can be more or less helpful either in relation to alleviating the ecological crisis or advancing human well-being” (Pihkala, 2022a, p. 28).

Thus, in the case of online communities like DAF, participants will likely benefit from leadership that catalyses various forms of collective action, as well as group structures and processes favouring critical discernment in doing so (I will return to these aspects in Chapter 6). And considering that more vulnerable communities and other-than-humans have long been on the frontlines of ecological and societal collapse (Virah-Sawmy and Jiménez, 2022), and suffer more heavily from physical, mental, and community health issues (American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica, 2017), it seems ethically necessary that any action – including local community-building – be taken first and foremost in a spirit of solidarity with these other inhabitants of the Earth. The decolonial reparations discussed above may constitute such forms of action.

3.3.4  Beyond the nature-culture dualism

Finally, I will touch upon certain philosophical underpinnings of DA and DAF, and examine how these (implicit or explicit) ontological and epistemological foundations may benefit from being examined critically.

Decolonial scholars, such as Kothari and colleagues (2019), point to anthropocentrism as an early cause of the current planetary socio-ecological crises, due to "the ancient monotheistic premise that a father ‘God’ made the Earth for the benefit of ‘his’ human children... At least in the West, it evolved into a philosophic habit of pitting humanity against nature, and gave rise to related dualisms such as the divide between subject versus object, mind versus body, masculine versus feminine, civilized versus barbarian. These classic ideological categories legitimize devastation of the natural world, as well as the exploitation of sex-gender, racial, and civilizational differences." (p.xxii).

Indeed, the philosophical split between nature and culture (humans-nonhumans) is one of the most distinctive markers of the modern-colonial mindset (Escobar, 2020). Anthropologists such as Descola (2015) have shown that the very notion of “nature” is overwhelmingly absent from any onto-epistemologies other than the modern one.

So going beyond anthropocentrism and the nature-culture dualism (along with other modern-colonial binaries) can be seen as an essential task, in order to explore ways of engaging with socio-ecological crises that do not reproduce the ways of being and knowing that led to these crises. What elements of DA(F) discourse and philosophy are helpful in engaging with this task, or on the contrary, stand in the way of doing so?

Deep ecology and biocentrism

Deep ecology (Næss, 1973) is an influential environmental philosophy which has, as a foundational premise, the belief that “humans must radically change their relationship to nature from one that values nature solely for its usefulness to human beings to one that recognizes that nature has an inherent value” (Madsen, 2023). In recommending a “shift from an 'anthropocentric' to a 'biocentric' perspective” (Guha, 1989), this school of thought enables a recognition that human existence is inseparable from that of other-than-humans, and foregrounds a relational ontology (Walsh, Böhme and Wamsler, 2021).

There are indications that deep ecology is one of the philosophical roots of DA. This includes explicit references from the DAF founder:

A ‘Deep Ecology’ perspective invites a non-anthropocentric account of the relationship between ‘humans’ and nature. (Bendell and Carr, 2021, p. 6)

The biocentric perspective that deep ecology invites can be seen as a step forward in remedying the “philosophic habit of pitting humanity against nature.” However, this perspective has also been criticised for perpetuating the nature-culture dualism central to the modern-colonial paradigm: indeed, as is evident from the passage above, “nature” still features as an entity distinct from “humans.”

Moreover, in deep ecological writings, the former tends to be valued over the latter (Perez de Vega, 2014), which in itself can be problematic. Critics (e.g. Bookchin, 1987) have pointed out that deep ecology’s biocentric orientation, by regarding humans as “an outsized threat to non-human life on the planet” (Spanne, 2021), lended itself to misanthropic and even eco-fascist tendencies – especially in view of calls for substantial decreases in human population to address (perceived) issues of “natural resource consumption.” Others have also criticised the movement for its focus on defending “pristine wilderness,” and overlooking how this preservationist perspective may come at the expense of marginalised communities such as Indigenous peoples, who may be displaced from their lands to create national parks (e.g. Guha, 1989).

The reader may notice several references to “nature” or “the natural world” in previous sections of this chapter, be it in participant testimonials, or even in my own words – in spite of my conscious intention to avoid reproducing the nature-culture dualism. This points to the great difficulty of doing so, when the very language we use is so steeped with such binaries. Moreover, most of these references likely carry, implicitly, the deep ecology frame of “nature as something pristine, beautiful, wild, to be protected.” Considering the problematic aspects of such a frame, it seems important to carry out more conscious efforts on the level of discourse within prefigurative communities like DAF - while recognising that the issue is less about individuals becoming more virtuous, and more about enacting cultural change. Ultimately, the aim should be to embrace an ecology that relinquishes the idea of “nature” itself (Morton, 2009). In the words of Slavoj Žižek (2007), “The first premise of a truly radical ecology should be, ‘Nature doesn't exist.’.”

A decolonial ecology

Beyond the nature-culture dualism, deep ecology has also been criticised for its apolitical view of systems change. This has led scholars to recommend integrating its relational ontology with frameworks - such as that of social ecology - that recognise the class-based struggles of marginalised people:

Radical social ecology investigates the material, social, and spiritual conditions of an ecological society by pursuing the elimination of human’s domination of nature via the elimination of human’s domination of humans. It connects ecological issues to a broad array of interconnected social issues. (Walsh, Böhme and Wamsler, 2021, p. 79)

Similarly, Malcolm Ferdinand (2021) acknowledges the value of deep ecology’s gestalt ontology, which centres the interrelatedness of human and other-than-human existence. But in order to avoid homogeneising “humans” and their diverse histories, he calls for “a relational ontology that recognizes that our existence and our bodies are made up of encounters with a plurality of human beings and a plurality of non-human beings.” (p.231) On this foundation, Ferdinand proposes a decolonial ecology as “an ecology of struggle... a matter of challenging the colonial ways of inhabiting the Earth and living together” (p.175). Like Fatima Ouassak's (2023) pirate ecology, decolonial ecology establishes colonisation, racism, gender discriminations, but also speciesm, as processes integral to the ecological crisis:

[D]ecolonial ecology turns the degradation of social life, the extractivism of Negro skins, and environmental racism into the primary targets of ecological action. Yes, antiracism and decolonial critique are the keys to the ecological struggle. (Ferdinand, 2021, p.179. Italics in the original)

[T]he collective and urgent issue at stake here is the overthrow of the slave-making inhabitation of the Earth, which enslaves human and non-human animals… Antislavery and decolonial emancipation also involves decolonizing our modes of consumption and our relations to non-human animals. (Ferdinand, 2021, p.224-5)

As mentioned previously, there is much to do in order for this perspective to permeate DAF spaces more fully. This is especially important to avoid forms of discourse that flatten “humanity” into an undifferentiated subject causing societal or ecological collapse, which obscures the historical processes that have brought about such crises and the very different impacts created and suffered by various demographics (most obviously, European colonists as compared to colonised peoples; or middle-class people from the global minority as compared to working-class people from the global majority).

As these last remarks indicate, the social learning evaluation I carried out in DAF led me to adopt a critical, decolonial stance that was difficult to accommodate using the Wenger-Trayner evaluation methodology, which is values-agnostic. Therefore, in order to further my reflection on these matters, I turned to another field of literature and practice. In the next chapter, I will explore more fully how the decolonial approach has come to inform my idea of radical collective change, and how it helps to assess the relevance of both FairCoop and DAF in this regard.