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Human Ecology Theory

Human Ecology Theory


Theories of human interaction should provide a way of making sense of events that have happened in the past, and then allow us to make predictions about what may happen in the future. Human ecology theory is a way of looking at the interactions of humans with their environments and considering this relationship as a system. In this theoretical framework, biological, social, and physical aspects of the organism are considered within the context of their environments. These environments may be the natural world, reality as constructed by humans, and/or the social and cultural milieu in which the organism exists.

Human ecological theory is probably one of the earliest theories of the family and yet, it also contains many new and evolving elements that have emerged as we have begun to realize how the natural and human created environments affect our behavior, and how individuals and families in turn, influence these environments. In human ecology, the person and the environment are viewed as being interconnected in an active process of mutual influence and change.


The Origins of Human Ecological Theory

The origin of the term ecology comes from the Greek root oikos meaning "home." As a result, the field of home economics, now often called human ecology, has produced much of the contemporary research using this theoretical perspective. Margaret Bubolz and M. Suzanne Sontag (1993) attribute the concept of an ecological approach to the work of Aristotle and Plato, and then to the evolutionary theory of Darwin. They trace the word ecology to Ernest Haeckel, a German zoologist who, in 1869, proposed that the individual was a product of cooperation between the environment and organismal heredity and suggested that a science be developed to study organisms in their environment. Early home economists were major proponents of this theory as their field developed in the early twentieth century applying various disciplines to the study of the family. The theory has since been used by sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and economists. This work continues, with the human ecological framework being a major perspective in research and theory development in the twenty-first century.


The Family as a System

The application of systems theory is a basic tenet of human ecological theory. The family is seen as a system, with boundaries between it and other systems, such as the community and the economic system. Systems have inputs that drive various processes and actions, such as the finite amounts of money or time that families possess. They also have throughputs, which are the transformation processes that occur within the system, such as the exchange of money for the provision of an essential service, such as food, by eating in a restaurant. In addition, systems have outputs, which affect other systems, such the production of waste materials, which are byproducts of activity in the family, being returned to the larger environment. There are feedback loops from the end of the system back to the beginning, to provide both positive and negative comment back into the process and allow the system to adapt to change. In an ecosystem, the parts and the whole are interdependent.

Most theorists outline an ecosystem, most particularly a human ecosystem or a family ecosystem, as being composed of three organizing concepts: humans, their environment, and the interactions between them. The humans can be any group of individuals dependent on the environment for their subsistence. The environment includes the natural environment, which is made up of the atmosphere, climate, plants, and microorganisms that support life. Another environment is that built by humans, which includes roads, machines, shelter, and material goods. As Sontag and Bubolz (1996) discuss, embedded in the natural and human-built environments is the social-cultural environment, which includes other human beings; cultural constructs such as language, law, and values; and social and economic institutions such as our market economy and regulatory systems. The ecosystem interacts at the boundaries of these systems as they interface, but also can occur within any part of an ecosystem that causes a change in or acts upon any other part of the system. Change in any part of the system affects the system as a whole and its other subparts, creating the need for adaptation of the entire system, rather than minor attention to only one aspect of it.

There are also systems nested within systems, which delineate factors farther and farther from individual control, and that demonstrate the effects of an action occurring in one system affecting several others. Urie Bronfenbrenner's analysis of the systems such as the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem are an integral part of the theory. The microsystem is our most immediate context, and for most children, is represented by their family and their home. Young children usually interact with only one person until they develop and their world expands. The mesosystem is where a child experiences reality, such as at a school or childcare setting. Links between the institutions in the mesosystem and the child's family enhance the development of academic competence. The exosystem is one in which the child does not participate directly, but that affects the child's experiences. This may be a parent's workplace and the activities therein, or bureaucracies that affect children, such as decisions made by school boards about extracurricular activities. Our broadest cultural identities make up the macrosystem. This system includes our ideologies, our shared assumptions of what is right, and the general organization of the world. Children are affected by war, by religious activities, by racism and sexist values, and by the very culture in which they grow up. A child who is able to understand and deal with the ever-widening systems in his or her reality is the product of a healthy microsystem.

Bubolz and Sontag (1993) outline five broad questions that are best answered using this theory, which is helpful in deciding areas where the theory can make a useful contribution to our knowledge. These are:

  1. To understand the processes by which families function and adapt—how do they ensure survival, improve their quality of life, and sustain their natural resources?
  2. To determine in what ways families allocate and manage resources to meet needs and goals of individuals and families as a group. How do these decisions affect the quality of life and the quality of the environment? How are family decisions influenced by other systems?
  3. How do various kinds and levels of environments and changes to them affect human development? How does the family system adapt when one or more of its members make transitions into other environmental settings, such as day care, schools, and nursing homes?
  4. What can be done to create, manage, or enhance environments to improve both the quality of life for humans, and to conserve the environment and resources necessary for life?
  5. What changes are necessary to improve humans' lives? How can families and family professionals contribute to the process of change?

Research Framework

The studies and concept development based upon human ecological theory range from very abstract to concrete. Bronfenbrenner (1979), one of the first researchers to rely extensively on human ecology theory in studies of children and families, defined an ecological perspective by focusing on development as a function of interaction between the developing organism and the enduring environments or contexts in which it lives out its life. He applies the theory in a practical way to explain quality factors in day care for children, the value of flexible employment schedules for parents, and improving the status of women. Bronfenbrenner argues that the child always develops in the context of family relationships and that development is the outcome of the child's genetic attributes combined with their immediate family and eventually with other components of the environment. This work stands in contrast to many psychological studies that explain individual behavior solely by considering individual traits and abilities.

James Garbarino (1997) uses human ecological theory to explain abuse in families, especially toward children. He considers the nature-or-nurture dilemma–whether the powerful influence of the environment can override the conditions of our biology. The interactions between these factors are difficult to research, because often one is held constant in order to assess variations in the other. For example, studying genetically identical twins reared separately to show the effect of nature or nurture on intelligence, or seeing how different newborns react to the stimulus of a smiling human face, are one-dimensional perspectives. Garbarino has collaborated with other authors in 1994 and 1996 in considering the effects of the political environment in Palestine on children's behavior problems.

The model has been used by researchers to investigate problems in various cultural contexts. Bengt-Erik Andersson (1986) shows how different social environments of children in Sweden influence their development, especially environments represented by their peer group, their neighborhood, and whether they had been latch-key children. Amy Avgar, Urie Bronfenbrenner, and Charles R. Henderson (1977) consider childrearing practices in Israel in three different community settings—the communal kibbutz, the cooperative moshav, and the city. The study surveys preadolescents, asking them to respond on behalf of their mother, father, peer, and teacher. It finds that the traditional family structure exerts a major effect on the predicted socialization patterns, although it also notes the effect of the larger society, with significant differences among the three communities.

Sontag and Bubolz (1996) use the ecosystem model to conceptualize the interaction between farm enterprises and family life. The family, the farm, and other components are mutually interdependent and cannot be considered separately. For example, they consider production, as well as decision-making and management activities, from the perspective of both agricultural and home production. Margaret Bubolz and Alice Whiren (1984) use an ecological systems model for analysis of the family with a handicapped member. They show that these families are vulnerable to stress because of the demands placed on them for physical care, attending to emotional needs, and locating and obtaining access to support services. They conclude that the total needs of the family must be considered when policy decisions and programs are devised rather than focusing only on the handicapped family member.


Conclusion

A basic premise of a human ecological theory is that of the interdependence of all peoples of the world with the resources of the earth. The world's ecological health depends on decisions and actions taken not only by nations, but also by individuals and families, a fact that is increasingly being realized. Although the concept of a family ecosystem is not a precise one, and some of the terms have not been clearly and consistently defined, a human ecological theoretical perspective provides a way to consider complex, multilevel relationships and integrate many kinds of data into an analysis. As new ways of analyzing and combining data from both qualitative and quantitative dimensions of interconnected variables develop, this theoretical perspective will become more precise and continue to enhance understanding of the realities of family life.

See also:Family Systems Theory; Family Theory; Home Economics; Neighborhood; Resource Management

Bibliography

andersson, b. e. (1986). "research on children: somethoughts on a developmental-ecological model." forskning-om-utbildning 13(3):4–14.

andrews, m. p.; bubolz, m. m.; and paolucci, b. (1980)."an ecological approach to the study of the family." marriage and family review 3(1/2):29–49.

avgar, a.; bronfenbrenner, u.; and henderson, c. r.(1977). "socialization practices of parents, teachers, and peers in israel: kibbutz, moshav, and city." child development 48(4):1219–1227.

bronfenbrenner, u. (1975). "reality and research in theecology of human development." proceedings of the american philosophical society 119(6):439–469.

bronfenbrenner, u. (1979). the ecology of human development. cambridge, ma: harvard university press.

bubolz, m. m., and sontag, m. s. (1993). "human ecologytheory." in sourcebook of family theories and methods: a contextual approach, ed. p. boss, w. j. doherty, r. larossa, w. r. schumm, and s. k. steinmetz. new york: plenum press.

bubolz, m. m.; and whiren, a. p. (1984). "the family of the handicapped: an ecological model for policy and practice." family relations 33:5–12.

garbarino, j. (1997). understanding abusive families: an ecological approach to theory and practice. san francisco: jossey-bass.

klein, d. m. (1995). "family theory." in encyclopedia ofmarriage and the family, ed. david levinson. new york: simon & schuster macmillan.

klein, d. m., and white, j. m. (1996). family theories.thousand oaks, ca: sage.

sontag, m. s., and bubolz, m. m. (1996). families on smallfarms. east lansing: michigan state university press.

ruth e. berry

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Human Ecology

Human Ecology

HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT

THE ECOLOGY OF HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

HUMAN ECOLOGY AS A FIELD OF STUDY

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Human ecology, the study of the relationships between humans and their environments, is a field with a large scope and complex history. It arose out of multiple disciplinesanimal biology, anthropology, geology, ecology, and sociologyin the early 1900s as scientists struggled to make sense of the impact of humans on the man-made and natural environment and the impact of environments on the social systems of humans. Human ecology is also viewed by many as a methodology or framework for studying human activities and social institutions, often in conjunction with the health and functioning of the natural environment.

HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT

The earliest mention of human ecology can be found in the early 1900s among animal ecologists, who, as a result of studying population trends among plants and animals, suggested that ecological principles also applied to humans and their relationship to the natural environment. Later, biological ecologists and population scientists used similar conceptssuch as ecosystem, environmental niche (the space occupied by an organism in which it can survive and reproduce), feedback loop, stability, and growthto address issues of population growth and environmental destruction; this line of study became particularly prominent in the 1960s and 1970s, as in the 1973 work of Paul Erhlich, Anne Erhlich, and John Holdren. Also in the 1970s, Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) developed an ecological model of human development to understand the reciprocal relationships between individuals and the multiple environments in which they live. Gerald Marten (2001) uses human ecology and complex systems theory as a framework to examine economic systems and other social institutions and their impact on the natural environment. In particular, he discusses human ecology as a tool for resolving issues of sustainable development and environmental problems by understanding the complex interrelationship between human social systems and the ecosystem.

Anthropologists used ecological concepts to study the history and culture of human groups and societies to explain their success, failure, or adaptation. The concepts of equilibrium, movement of resources, sustainable development (meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs), and the adaptation of organizational systems have been applied to the study of families, communities, race relations, schools, workplaces, government agencies, and other social institutions. It was in the study of urban environments that the concepts of human ecology achieved prominence. Sociologists working in this areaPark and Burgess (1920s), Frazier and Sutherland (1930s), and Janowitz (1950s)addressed key issues such as the impact of human settlement on land-use patterns (for example, traffic flow patterns, water and flood management), the intertwined history of industrial development and urban decay, race relations, and white flight to the suburbsin other words, the components of urban and regional planning. The underlying issue is understanding how demands for space and resources influence the development of community and business organizations across rural and urban landscapes, and how the environment influences the structures and strictures imposed by human social systems.

The sociological approach to human ecology was epitomized by the Chicago Schoolan approach to research pioneered most famously by the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago beginning in the 1920s and 1930swhich focused on using theory and field research methods to understand human behavior and organization in the urban environment. Beginning in the early 1920s, scholars such as Ernest Burgess and Robert E. Park employed ecological concepts to explain the development of cities and communities. For example, the POET modelpopulation, organization, environment, and technologywas developed to address the complex relationships between humans, their social organizations, and their environments. One of the architects of sociological human ecology was Amos Hawley (b. 1910), a population specialist and professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who argued that human ecology was the basic social science (1944, p. 405). Hawley is known for his work on the conceptual and theoretical foundations of sociological human ecology (see Hawley 1986) and the associations among population, the social-political-economic environment, and change in developing nations.

THE ECOLOGY OF HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

Human development is a subfield within the larger field of human ecology. In the 1970s Bronfenbrenner developed the ecological theory of human development, which made use of the general principles of ecology, general systems theory, and human development to explain individual differences in cognitive, biological, and social-emotional development in context. Bronfenbrenner conceived of context as a series of concentric circles, with the individual at the center and each circle representing increasingly complex environments, from proximal to distal, that might affect the development of the individual. Lines of influence are viewed as reciprocal within and between environments. For example, the most proximal environment for a child is the family, represented by parent-child interactions, child-sibling interactions, and marital interactions, all of which may influence some aspect of the childs development. Just as humans do not live in isolation from nature, a family does not exist in isolation, but operates in a microsystem encompassing those individuals with whom children and parents have regular and ongoing interaction. The third circle represents larger societal institutions, such as schools, businesses, churches, and local government, and the outer circle (the exosystem, or societal institutions that form larger environments of family units) represents larger structural institutions such as state and federal government and international social systems whose polices and laws may affect families and their natural environments. This theoretical framework explicitly recognizes that individuals do not develop in isolation; interactions with families and social groups influence individual development across the lifespan and across generations.

HUMAN ECOLOGY AS A FIELD OF STUDY

As an academic discipline, human ecology has emerged around the world as a field that brings together various aspects of sociology, economics, home economics, anthropology, gender studies, community development, agronomy, and regional planning. The concepts of human ecology fit into the scientific framework of multiple disciplines, all of which examine some aspect of the interactions between humans and their multiple environments. In a 1994 article William Catton suggests that sociologists must learn to see human social life ineluctably intertwined with other components of ecosystems if human ecology is to understand and address the problems of human societies (p. 86). Although different, not always overlapping strains of human ecology have evolved in multiple disciplines, the central concepts are strikingly similar, whether pertaining to issues of urban and regional planning, the use of natural resources and sustainable development, or the study of individuals and families. Humans and their social systems, from small to large, must be viewed within their larger environments, including the natural environment, to trace the chain of effects through ecosystems and human society, and by understanding more generally how people interact with ecosystems (Marten 2001, p. xv).

Researchers and writers across multiple disciplines agree that human ecology is a valuable framework for studying and understanding the interrelationships between the social systems of humans and the systems of nature. The health of humans, their social systems, and their natural environments may depend on an understanding of this interdependency.

SEE ALSO Anthropology; Anthropology, Urban; Cities; Development; Development Economics; Planning; Social Science; Sociology; Sociology, Rural; Sociology, Urban; Urban Studies; Urbanization

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1979. The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bronfenbrenner, Urie, and Pamela A. Morris. 1998. The Bioecological Model of Human Development. In Theoretical Models of Child Development, Vol. 1 of Handbook of Child Psychology, 5th ed., ed. William Damon, 9931028. New York: John Wiley.

Catton, William R., Jr. 1994. Foundations of Human Ecology. Sociological Perspectives 37 (1): 7595.

Ehrlich, Paul. R., Anne H. Ehrlich, and John P. Holdren. 1973. Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

Hawley, Amos H. 1944. Ecology and Human Ecology. Social Forces 22 (4): 398405.

Hawley, Amos H. 1950. Human Ecology: A Theory of Community Structure. New York: Ronald Press.

Hawley, Amos H. 1986. Human Ecology: A Theoretical Essay. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Marten, Gerald G. 2001. Human Ecology: Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development. London and Sterling, CA: Earthscan Publications.

Micklin, Michael, and Harvey M. Choldin, eds. 1984. Sociological Human Ecology: Contemporary Issues and Applications. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Katherine Jewsbury Conger

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Human Ecology

Human Ecology


Human ecology is the interaction between humans and their environment, particularly the living ecosystems on which human life depends. An ecosystem is all the living organisms in a habitat, such as the fish and algae in a pond or the trees and earthworms in a forest, and the physical factors that support and affect them, such as sunlight and precipitation. Humans collect or grow food and fuel resources from Earth's ecosystems and are part of the Earth's food chains, where plants fix energy via photosynthesis, then animal herbivores consume the plants, and animal predators consume the herbivores. In the wake of global industrialization and a great increase in human population size, people are having an ever greater impact on the function and structure of the Earth's ecosystems. Humans are clearing much of the world's forest land, damming many of the world's rivers, and managing a majority of the Earth's most productive soils for agriculture.

Although science and engineering can develop new technologies that damage the environment, scientific research can conversely provide new environmentally friendly technologies for controlling pollution, collecting energy, and improving crop yields. Scientists studying ecosystems guide human interactions with the environment by documenting and monitoring human-initiated disturbances that result from, for example, the harvesting of timber, the catching of fish, or the building of cities, and they test new methods of restoring damaged ecosystems.

The world's religions also encourage human respect and care for ecosystems by providing explanations for natural phenomena and by discouraging destructive human activities and attitudes. The myths of Pacific Northwest Indians, for example, describe the cycle of salmon returning from the sea to spawn in rivers. The First Fish ceremony, held at the beginning of the salmon runs, temporarily halts all salmon harvest, thereby allowing some fish to escape and lay their eggs. Religious rituals or teachings can guide planting times and soil-conserving fallow on farm fields. Some Christian and Jewish farmers follow biblical instructions to provide a Sabbath year for the land to allow the soil to recover from crops. Islamic law provides guidance in managing wells, irrigation, and grazing lands. Religion may also protect the environment by discouraging greed and waste, and by encouraging respect for all creatures. The Jewish law found in the Torah, for example, prohibits wanton destruction of natural features, such as trees. Buddhists carefully replace insects and worms disturbed by plowing agricultural fields.

Religions may also designate ecosystems or species as sacred or provide them with special status, thus reducing over-harvest and conserving ecosystem components, such as predators. Native Hawaiian religion, for example, identifies some large sharks as family deities, thereby prohibiting their capture. Australian aborigines learn to respect plants and animals by adopting them as clan totems. Christian Ethiopian monks allow wildlife to remain undisturbed on their monastic grounds. Many religions identify scared trees or groves that may not be cut, or holy springs or rivers that may not be polluted.

Although they are frequently portrayed as opposites, both science and religion guide human environmental decision-making by identifying the best management alternatives, and encouraging human respect for, care of, and right relationship with the Earth's ecosystems.


See also Biological Diversity; Christianity, History of Science and Religion; Ecofeminism; Ecology, Ethics of; Ecology, Religious and Philosophical Aspects; Ecology, Science of; Ecotheology; Islam, Contemporary Issues in Science and Religion; Judaism, Contemporary Issues in Science and Religion

Bibliography

cooper, david e., and palmer, joy a. spirit of the environment: religion, value, and environmental concern. london: routledge, 1998.

kinsley, david. ecology and religion: ecological spirituality in cross-cultural perspective. upper saddle river, n.j.: prentice hall, 1995.

susan powers bratton

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human ecology

human ecology The study of the relationships between individuals, social groups, and their social environments. Systematic study of human (or, as it is sometimes termed, ‘social’) ecology was initiated by Robert Park and the other Chicago sociologists who applied concepts taken from plant and animal ecology in their development of urban ecology.

In its later forms (see A. Hawley , Human Ecology, 1950
) human ecology rejects any simple application to human societies of the competitive and evolutionary mechanisms by which biologists explain the distribution of species in varying physical environments. Instead it is ‘a logical extension of the system of thought and the techniques of investigation developed in the study of the collective life of lower organisms to the study of man’. This involves examining how human groups produce particular patterns of social relationships when adapting to their environment. Adaptation exhibits basic characteristics thought to be inherent properties of any social system: namely, human interdependence, and functionally differentiated social institutions, including dominant institutions performing certain key functions. Under normal circumstances social change is limited to that required to restore equilibrium conditions. Ecologists such as Hawley sought ecological explanations of human behaviour and culture as well as of spatial patterns (see his The Changing Shape of Metropolitan America, 1955, and Urban Society, 1971
).

Human ecology is often claimed as a general approach, useful for the study of social life in a variety of disciplines, including social anthropology, human geography, and urban economics. Its direct influence on contemporary sociological thought is limited, although its has obvious affinities with structural-functional theory, notably in its emphasis on the adaptive mechanisms by which social equilibrium is maintained, seeing these as an inevitable basis for social existence, and largely discounting the more radical possibilities for social change occurring through human agency. See also URBAN ECOLOGY.

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ecology, human

ecology, human See HUMAN ECOLOGY.

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Human Ecology

Human Ecology

Resources

Human ecology is the study of the reciprocal interactions of humans with the environment. Key aspects of human ecology are demographics, resource use, environmental influences on health and society, and environmental impacts of human activities. All are intimately linked, because increasing human populations require more resources, the exploitation and use of which cause increasing environmental damage. However, certain patterns of resource use are more destructive than others. An important goal of human ecology is to discover the causes of pathological interactions between humans and the environment that sustains them and all other species. Once this destructive syndrome is clearly understood, it will be possible to design better pathways toward the development of sustainable human societies.

Human demographics studies changes in human populations, and the factors that cause those changes to occur. The central focus of this important topic is the remarkable increase that has occurred in the size of the human population during the past several millennia, but especially during the past several centuries. The population of humans exceeded well over six billion by the early 2000s; this is probably more individuals than any other species of large animal has ever been able to maintain. The growth of the human population has been made possible by technological and cultural innovations that have allowed a more efficient exploitation of environmental resources, along with advances in medicine and sanitation that have reduced death rates from epidemic diseases.

Humans and their societies have an absolute dependence on environmental resources to provide energy, food, and materials. Some resources, such as metals and fossil fuels are present in a finite supply that diminishes as they are used. Other resources, such as forests, hunted animals, agricultural soil capability, and clean air and water, are potentially renewable, and could support sustainable economies and societies over the longer term. Resource degradation is one of the most important aspects of the environmental crisis, and it is a formidable obstacle to the achievement of a sustainable human economy.

Human ecologists study environmental overex-ploitation, so that potentially renewable resources can be utilized sensibly. One reason is the desire of individuals, corporations, and societies to gain short-term profits and wealth, even if this occurs at the expense of longer-term, sometimes irreversible damage to resources and the environment. The problem is complicated by the nature of ownership of certain resources, in particular common-property resources from which self-interested individuals or companies can reap short-term profit through overexploitation, while the costs of the resulting damage to the resource and environmental quality are borne by society at large.

Human ecologists are also concerned with other environmental effects of human activities, such as pollution, extinction of species, losses of natural ecosystems, and other important problems. These damages are critical because they indirectly affect the availability of resources to humans, while degrading the quality of life in various other ways. Just as important is the damage caused to other species and ecological values, which have intrinsic (or existence) value regardless of any perceived value that they may have to humans.

Human ecologists are attempting to understand the various linkages between humans and the ecosystems that sustain them. This is being done in order to understand the causes of damage caused by human activities to the environment and resources, and to find ways to mitigate or prevent this degradation before the scale and intensity of the environmental crisis becomes truly catastrophic.

See also Biodiversity; Population, human.

Resources

BOOKS

Bates, D.G. Human Adaptive Strategies: Ecology, Culture, and Politics. Allyn and Bacon, 1997.

OTHER

University of Alberta, Department of Human Ecology. Welcome to Human Ecology <http://www.hecol.ualberta.ca> (accessed November 29, 2006).

Bill Freedman

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Human Ecology

Human ecology


Human ecology may be defined as the branch of knowledge concerned with relationships between human beings and their environments. Among the disciplines contributing seminal work in this field are sociology, anthropology, geography, economics, psychology, political science, philosophy, and the arts. Applied human ecology emerges in engineering, planning, architecture, landscape architecture, conservation , and public health. Human ecology, then, is an interdisciplinary study which applies the principles and concepts of ecology to human problems and the human condition. The notion of interactionbetween human beings and the environment and between human beingsis fundamental to human ecology, as it is to biological ecology.

Human ecology as an academic inquiry has disciplinary roots extending back as far as the 1920s. However, much work in the decades prior to the 1970s was narrowly drawn and was often carried out by a few individuals whose intellectual legacy remained isolated from the mainstream of their disciplines. The work done in sociology offers an exception to the latter (but not the former) rule; sociological human ecology is traced to the Chicago school and the intellectual lineage of Robert Ezra Park, his student Roderick D. Mackenzie, and Mackenzie's student Amos Hawley. Through the influence of these men and their school, human ecology, for a time, was narrowly identified with a sociological analysis of spatial patterns in urban settings (although broader questions were sometimes contemplated).

Comprehensive treatment of human ecology is first found in the work of Gerald L. Young, who pioneered the study of human ecology as an interdisciplinary field and as a conceptual framework. Young's definitive framework is founded upon four central themes. The first of these is interaction, and the other three are developed from it: levels of organization, functionalism (part-whole relationships), and holism. These four basic concepts form the foundation for a series of field derivatives (niche , community, and ecosystem ) and consequent notions (institutions, proxemics, alienation, ethics, world community, and stress/capacitance). Young's emphasis on linkages and process set his approach apart from other synthetic attempts in human ecology, which were largely cumbersome classificatory schemata. These were subject to harsh criticism because they tended to embrace virtually all knowledge, resolve themselves into superficial lists and mnemonic "building blocks," and had little applicability to real-world problems.

Generally, comprehensive treatment of human ecology is more advanced in Europe than it is in the United States. A comprehensive approach to human ecology as an interdisciplinary field and conceptual framework gathered momentum in several independent centers during the 1970s and 1980s. Among these have been several college and university programs and research centers, including those at the University of Göteborg, Sweden, and, in the United States, at Rutgers University and the University of California at Davis. Interdisciplinary programs at the undergraduate level were first offered in 1972 by the College of the Atlantic (Maine) and The Evergreen State College (Washington). The Commonwealth Human Ecology Council in the United Kingdom, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences' Commission on Human Ecology, the Centre for Human Ecology at the University of Edinburgh, the Institute for Human Ecology in California, and professional societies and organizations in Europe and the United States have been other centers of development for the field.

Dr. Thomas Dietz, President of the Society for Human Ecology, defined some of the priority research problems which human ecology addresses in recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Environmental Research. Among these, Dietz listed global change, values, post-hoc evaluation, and science and conflict in environmental policy . Other human ecologists would include in the list such items as commons problems, carrying capacity , sustainable development , human health, ecological economics, problems of resource use and distribution, and family systems. Problems of epistemology or cognition such as environmental perception, consciousness, or paradigm change also receive attention.

Our Common Future, the report of the United Nation's World Commission on Environment and Development of 1987, has stimulated a new phase in the development of human ecology. A host of new programs, plans, conferences and agendas have been put forth, primarily to address phenomena of global change and the challenge of sustainable development. These include the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative published by the Ecological Society of America in 1991 and extended internationally; the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development; the proposed new United States National Institutes for the Environment; the Man and the Biosphere Program's Human-Dominated Systems Program; the report of the National Research Council Committee on Human Dimensions of Global Change and the associated National Science Foundation's Human Dimensions of Global Change Program; and green plans published by the governments of Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Austria. All of these programs call for an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to complex problems of human-environmental relationships. The next challenge for human ecology will be to digest and steer these new efforts and to identify the perspectives and tools they supply.

[Jeremy Pratt ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Jungen, B. "Integration of Knowledge in Human Ecology." In Human Ecology: A Gathering of Perspectives, edited by R. J. Borden, et al., Selected papers from the First International Conference of the Society for Human Ecology, 1986.
. Origins of Human Ecology. Stroudsberg, PA: Hutchinson & Ross, 1983.

PERIODICALS

Young, G. L. "Human Ecology As An Interdisciplinary Concept: A Critical Inquiry." Advances in Ecological Research 8 (1974): 1105.
. "Conceptual Framework For An Interdisciplinary Human Ecology." Acta Oecologiae Hominis 1 (1989): 1136.

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Human Ecology

HUMAN ECOLOGY


Ecology in its most inclusive sense is the study of the relationship of organisms or groups of organisms to their environment. It perceives all life as a system of relationships that has been called the "web of life," of which every species forms a part. Human ecology is a branch of general ecology. It holds the view that humans, like all other organisms, are related to each other on the basis of a "struggle for existence" in an environment with finite limitations for supporting life. Struggle includes all activity (whether in competition, conflict, or cooperation) to survive and reproduce within these constraints.

Like every other species, humans must find a niche in their largely self-constructed web of life in order to gain a livelihood. In doing so they must make use of the resources and submit to the constraints imposed by the environment in which they find themselves. Unlike classical economics, which tends to view this process as one of individual adaptation, human ecologists insist on adaptation as a group: a collective phenomenon in which the main players are households, families, neighborhoods, and communities.

Environment

The environment is a sweeping concept that is defined to include all forces and factors external to an organism or group of organisms. The organism is responsive to the environmental conditions that are relevant to its needs and makes use of its existing technology. However, since the environment exists independently of any individual or species, it has no propensity to favor the needs of one organism or group of organisms (including humans) in preference to others. Consequently, in the short run humans must adapt to the conditions of the existing environment. In the long run they may modify ("build") the environment in ways that make life more secure and enjoyable. This too is a type of adaptation.

Because humans have genetic mental and physical capabilities for adaptation that far exceed those of any other animal, they are able to devise tools to assist in the exploitation of the environment in their struggle for survival. Furthermore, they have an unmatched ability to store past experience in memory and in a variety of records and possess a constructive imagination to guide their adaptive efforts. The magnitude of these differences from other animals is so great that it becomes the basis for a separate discipline of human ecology.

The exposition of human ecology as a distinct social science discipline is closely linked with the work of the sociologists Amos Hawley (b. 1910) and Otis Dudley Duncan (b. 1921).

All branches of ecology concur that adaptation is a group rather than an individual struggle. Membership in a compatible group is a condition of survival. Human ecology not only subscribes to this view but makes it a basic principle. In this view populations that occupy a particular sector of the environment (a habitat) adapt by organizing territorially delimited human communities. This is accomplished through the use of tools and technologies that derive from human ingenuity and cumulatively learned capabilities. The relationship of a population to its habitat is generally conceived as one of balance between human numbers and the opportunities for living.

Classical ecology sees three or four variable factors involved in the process of adjustment to the environment. Hawley postulates three: (1) population size, (2) the material or resource environment, and (3) the organization of the population. Within the third category Duncan distinguishes between social organization and technology to formulate the fourfold POET acronym of the "ecological complex": Ecological adjustment is a function of population, organization, environment, and technology.

Because demography is the study of population, there is much overlap in subject matter and research between human ecology and demography. Demography tends to be concerned with the renewal processes of large human population aggregates such as nation-states. Human ecology tends to focus on the detailed socioeconomic composition of population and its distribution over environments. It is an eclectic or "holistic" discipline that borrows freely from the theories and empirical research of such disciplines as sociology, evolutionary biology, economics, geography, demography, political science, and the physical sciences, integrating them with its own distinctive viewpoint. Some have characterized this viewpoint as social Darwinian.

Spatial Aspects of Ecological Organization

An important activity of all studies of ecology, particularly human ecology, is the portrayal by means of maps, graphs, and statistics of the distributions and densities of population in space. Mistakenly, some have defined human ecology solely or primarily as the descriptive study of spatial variations and patterns. However, the use of mapping and spatial analysis in studies of human ecology is guided by the more profound desire to understand ecological organization, interaction, and environmental adaptation. Ecology posits three basic factors to explain spatial patterning:

  1. Interdependence among persons. People who depend on one another daily must be closer together than are those who exchange services less frequently.
  2. Dependence on the physical environment. To gain its livelihood, a community must have access to raw materials, water, agricultural products, and other essential goods. In primitive situations this dependence is on the local habitat, and in more advanced societies it involves a wider sphere, via adjoining communities and particular ones located far away.
  3. Friction of space. Technology facilitates the movement of goods, people, services, information, and money over substantial distances. Travel and transport of materials and persons from their place of origin to a desired destination require both time and energy, imposing "frictional" costs. The efficiency of transportation and communication measures this friction. Time and transport costs become important factors in determining the location of all types of firms and organization and also of private residence. Reduction in friction permits their wider scatter.

Urban, Rural, and Metropolitan Ecology

As commerce and industry develop, the larger centers (towns) become more dominant over settlements in the surrounding territory, and people travel there to exchange products and services. Such "central places" developed along convenient transportation points: rivers, seashores, or areas where favorable resources existed, at the intersection of routes (breaks in transportation). With advancing technology and population growth, the number of such dominant cities (to which the term metropolis is commonly applied) has multiplied manyfold. Moreover, as central places expand, they tend to spill over their legal boundaries into the adjacent territory, giving rise to increasingly diverse outlying satellite urban places and residential areas collectively known as suburbs or metropolitan rings.

Each city center interacts continuously with an extensive territory beyond its legal boundaries. The territory over which a particular center exercises dominance through a geographic division of labor is its hinterland. The intensity of interaction between the center and a point in the hinterland diminishes with distance from the center. The total community area may be divided into a primary area (daily commuting, retail shopping, intense interaction) and a secondary area of lesser dominance where many services are performed by local (subdominant) centers. The term metropolitan area (central city and its suburbs) is assigned to the former, and the term metropolitan hinterland to the latter. The outer boundary to this hinterland cannot be defined precisely; it is a zone within which the sphere of influence of one center is counterbalanced by the competing influence of an adjoining center, which varies for each of a wide range of indicators.

Under conditions of advanced technology manufacturing enterprises have considerable freedom in choosing a location. Location near the central business district may be unimportant for such an enterprise, particularly if its product is distributed nationwide or internationally. In contrast, retail and personal service enterprises are population-sensitive: They must locate near the sites where the people who consume their products and services live or work. More specialized units of this class, such as department stores, and stores selling narrower ranges of goods (jewelry, musical instruments, expensive clothing), as well as firms providing specialized financial, legal, or other professional services, seek a highly accessible location such as the city center or large outlying shopping centers. Single-purpose units such as filling stations, grocery stores, drugstores, laundries and dry cleaners, restaurants, churches, schools, and health facilities tend to settle in the neighborhoods to provide their clients with easy access.

Some very large metropolitan areas are renowned for serving a worldwide clientele, dominating other metropolitan centers. Familiar examples are New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Other large cities may be dominant within a nation or region. Still other metropolitan places may serve much smaller regional areas but provide linkages to the broader national and international network.

Although in industrialized countries a disproportionate share of the population may live in metropolitan areas and suburbs, by far the larger share of the physical environment consists of sparsely settled nonmetropolitan and rural areas. Some human ecologists cover all such categories; others tend to specialize, being primarily urban, suburban, or rural in their focus.

Ecological Change

A universal ecological process is temporal change, an irreversible alteration of an existing pattern of ecological relationships. Although most ecological processes tend to produce equilibrium and balance between interacting organizations and groups, change in ecological organization (whether as a result of small cumulative increments or sudden and drastic "shocks") is ever present. Change may come from alterations in population, the environment, technology, or social organization.

The principal mechanism of ecological change is nonrecurring spatial mobility. Recurrent mobility–habitual routine round-trip movements–produces little change. In fact, it promotes stability and equilibrium. One-way journeys (migration) signal ecological change. By studying the causes of migration, ecologists seek to study both the underlying causes and the resulting adjustment that occurs. It is important to know not only why migrants think they have moved but also the environmental conditions or characteristics that are present in cases where migration occurs and are lacking in cases where migration is absent or rare. The causes of migration may be categorized as "push" and "pull" factors: in their simplest forms, an excess of numbers in the area of origin and underpopulation in the area of destination.

The problem of overpopulation has long been a central concern of human ecologists. It exists in places where the number of persons in a given habitat is perceived to be excessive in relation to the opportunities for life and livelihood. Overpopulation may come about through sustained rapid population increase. However, it can also result from a temporary or long-term reduction in the food supply, the exhaustion of a natural resource, or the closing of a major local source of employment.

Some of these symptoms seem to be manifest in a substantial share of the world's living spaces, caused at least partially by the nature of global economic organization and regional disparities in fertility and population growth. Migration is technically a solution to overpopulation but raises other problems: It may be seen as threatening population balance in areas where a high level of prosperity has been achieved. Overpopulation may diminish as the conditions that generate it are corrected. A new phenomenon–underpopulation, or failure to maintain replacement–is also of interest to students of human ecology. Explaining this phenomenon, as for many other topics of human ecology, requires study of collectively held beliefs, opinions, and expectations.

Human Ecology and Collective Beliefs

In its classical formulation human ecology strongly discounted the influence of individual psychological phenomena on group behavior. More recently, there has been agreement that collective beliefs–beliefs shared by a large segment of a group–may underlie ecological changes that cannot be satisfactorily explained by environmental, organizational, or technological factors alone. Dominant beliefs about religion, economic organization (capitalist, collective), and status (class) exclusiveness as well as racial-ethnic preferences and antagonisms are examples.

See also: Central Place Theory; Cities, Systems of; Lösch, August; Rural-Urban Balance.

bibliography

Anderton, Douglas L., Richard E. Barrett, and Donald J. Bogue, eds. 1997. The Population of the United States. New York: Free Press.

Blau, Peter M., and Otis D. Duncan. 1978. American Occupational Structure. New York: Free Press.

Bogue, Donald J., and Elizabeth J. Bogue, eds. 1976. Essays in Human Ecology. Chicago, IL: Community and Family Study Center, University of Chicago.

Duncan, Otis D. 1983. Metropolis and Region. New York: AMS Press.

Duncan, Otis D., Howard Schuman, and Beverly Duncan. 1973. Societal Change in a Metropolitan Community. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Hawley, Amos H. 1950. Human Ecology: A Theory of Community Structure. New York: Ronald Press.

——. 1979. Societal Growth: Processes and Implications. New York: Free Press.

——. 1986. Human Ecology: A Theoretical Essay. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Donald J. Bogue

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Human Ecology

Human ecology

Human ecology is the study of the reciprocal inter-actions of humans with their environment. Key aspects of human ecology are demographics, resource use, environmental influences on health and society, and environmental impacts of human activities. All of these subjects are intimately linked, because increasing populations of humans require more resources, the exploitation and use of which cause increasing environmental damages. However, certain patterns of use and abuse of resources and environmental quality are clearly more destructive than others. An important goal of human ecology is to discover the causes of pathological interactions between humans and the environment that sustains them and all other species. Once this destructive syndrome is clearly understood, it will be possible to design better pathways towards the development of sustainable human societies.

Human demographics is the study of changes in human populations, and the factors that cause those changes to occur. The central focus of this important topic is the remarkable increase that has occurred in the size of the human population during the past several millennia, but especially during the past several centuries. The population of humans exceeded six billion in 1999; this is probably more individuals than any other species of large animal has ever been able to maintain. The growth of the human population has been made possible by technological and cultural innovations that have allowed a more efficient exploitation of environmental resources, along with advances in medicine and sanitation that have reduced death rates associated with epidemic diseases.

Humans and their societies have an absolute dependence on environmental resources to provide energy , food, and materials. Some resources, such as metals and fossil fuels , can only be mined because they are present in a finite supply that is diminished as they are used. Other resources, such as forests , hunted animals, agricultural soil capability, and clean air and water , are potentially renewable, and if sensibly used they could support sustainable economies and societies over the longer term. However, humans commonly overexploit potentially renewable natural resources, that is, they are mined as if they were nonrenewable resources. This common syndrome of resource degradation is one of the most important aspects of the environmental crisis, and it is a formidable obstacle to the achievement of a sustainable human economy.

An important activity of human ecologists is to discover the reasons for this habitual overexploitation, so that potentially renewable resources could be utilized in more sensible ways. Mostly, it appears that resource degradation is caused by the desires of individuals, corporations, and societies to gain shorter-term profits and wealth, even if this occurs at the expense of longer-term, sometimes irreversible damage caused to resources and environmental quality. The problem is complicated by the nature of ownership of certain resources, in particular common-property resources from which self-interested individuals or companies can reap short-term profit through overexploitation, while the costs of the resulting damage to the resource and environmental quality are borne by society at large.

Human ecologists are also concerned with other environmental effects of human activities, such as pollution , extinction of species, losses of natural ecosystems, and other important problems. These damages are critical because they indirectly affect the availability of resources to humans, while degrading the quality of life in various other ways. Just as important is the damage caused to other species and ecological values, which have intrinsic (or existence) value regardless of any perceived value that they may have to humans.

Human ecologists are attempting to understand the various linkages between humans and the ecosystems that sustain them. This is being done in order to understand the causes of damage caused by human activities to the environment and resources, and to find ways to mitigate or prevent this degradation before the scale and intensity of the environmental crisis becomes truly catastrophic.

See also Biodiversity; Population, human.


Resources

books

Bates, D.G. Human Adaptive Strategies: Ecology, Culture, andPolitics. Allyn and Bacon, 1997.


Bill Freedman

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