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A new language to describe our complex world

Karen O’Brien and Ann Kristin Schorre contributed the Norwegian word "Ildsjel" to a new collaborative volume - An Ecotopian Lexicon - a volume of new terms and concepts to help us describe and respond to today's environmental challenges.Read More


Imagining alternative futures requires a vocabulary beyond the English language. A vocabulary that will allow us to passionately discuss today’s world and its environmental and social challenges, adequately express our concerns, feelings,  and ideas, and creatively engage with new possibilities.

In An Ecotopian Lexicon, editors Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy invited 30 collaborators to contribute words from other cultures to the English language, with a view to developing a broader vocabulary for discussing environmental challenges and solutions.

cCHANGE’s Karen O’Brien and her co-author Ann Kristin Schorre contributed an entry discussing the Norwegian concept of ildsjel, an expansion of the English word agency.

O’Brien and Schorre discuss the limitations of the word agency, and outline how ildsjel goes further by incorporating concepts such as passion and commitment for community empowerment. Ildsjeler are able to cultivate solidarity, participation and empowerment. The term applies both to individuals as well as groups and communities. O’Brien and Schorre say, “We need empowering expressions of humanity’s potential to contribute to a healthy world in which all can thrive. Ildsjeler have the capacity to light the fire in others and generate transformations to a more just and sustainable world.”

An original artwork (pictured above) was created by artist Lori Damiano to evoke the essence of the concept. She says, “an ildsjel must get the fire to spread” in order to get enough flow swirling around the community to draw others in. … their footsteps illuminate a previously unmarked path on which the rest of us may find better footing, widen our vision, and become more aware of the impact of our actions.”

In a recent article in The New Yorker about this new volume, Hua Hsu describes An Ecotopian Lexicon as part dream, part provocation. It is an attempt to encourage discussions beyond our own restrictive vocabulary; discussions that move from verbalizing fear and negativity to verbalizing hopeful empowerment through discourse.



An Ecotopian Lexicon is available at the University of Minnesota Press or on Amazon.

Find out more about the book on its website: An Ecotopian Lexicon

Find out more about the artist Lori Damiano here. The image “Ildsjel” was used with the artist’s permission.




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