Social Ecology

views updated

Social ecology

Social ecology has many definitions. It is used as a synonym for human ecology , especially in sociology; it is considered one form of ecological psychology; and it is the name chosen for the mix of approaches taught at the University of California, Irvine, as well as the radical revisionism of Murray Bookchin .

In her 1935 critique of the ecological approach in sociology, Milla Alihan clearly preferred the label "social ecology." In a book on urban society in the mid-forties, Gist and Halbert discussed the social ecology of the city, and Ruth Young examined the social ecology of a rural community in the journal Rural Sociology in the early 1970s. A bibliography for the Council for Planning Librarians went so far as to define social ecology as a "subfield of sociology that incorporates the influence of not only sociology but economics, biology, political science, and urban studies," and Mlinar and Teune, in their Social Ecology of Change, clearly considered it a part of sociology.

The Program in Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine has been defined by Binder as "a new context for psychology," but it includes major subprograms in community psychology, urban and regional planning, environmental health , human ecology, criminal justice, and educational policy. He concluded by defining social ecology as the study of "the interaction of man with his environment in all of its ramifications." In a later article, Binder and others divided the ecological psychology into an ecological approach, an environmental approach, and social ecology itself, which they then enlarged into "a new departure in environmental studies" at Irvine.

Bookchin is equally ambitious, claiming to have "formulated a discipline unique to our age," and defining social ecology as integrating "the study of human and natural ecosystems through understanding the interrelationships of culture and nature." For Bookchin, social ecology "advances a critical, holistic world view and suggests that creative human enterprise can construct an alternative future: reharmonizing people's relationship to the natural world by reharmonizing their relationship with each other." He goes on to claim that "this interdisciplinary approach draws on studies in the natural sciences, feminism, anthropology, and philosophy to provide a coherent critique of current anti-ecological trends and a reconstructive, communitarian, technical, and ethical approach to social life." Social ecology "not only provides a critique of the split between humanity and nature ; it also poses the need to heal them." Bookchin established an Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont, which organizes conferences, publishes a journal, and offers, in conjunction with Goddard College, a graduate program leading to a Master of Arts degree in Social Ecology.

Social ecology, then, is defined in a variety of ways by different individuals. In general use, the term remains ambiguous.

See also Bioregionalism; Ecology; Economic growth and the environment; Environmental economics; Environmental ethics; Environmentalism

[Gerald L. Young Ph.D. ]



Alihan, M. A. Social Ecology: A Critical Analysis. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1964.

Bookchin, M. "What is Social Ecology?" In The Modern Crisis. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1986.

. The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1990.

Emery, R. E., and E. L. Trist. Towards a Social Ecology: Contextual Appreciation of the Future in the Present. New York: Plenum Publishing Corporation, 1973.

About this article

Social Ecology

Updated About content Print Article Share Article