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human ecology

  The extension of concepts drawn from ecology to the social realm: ecology deals with the relationships between organisms and their environment, and so human ecology studies the relationships between people and their social and physical environments. Steiner and Nauser (1993, p. xxiii) defined the term as \'look[ing] at human lifespaces and at the interplay occurring in those spaces between human beings and the biophysical environment\'. Dangana and Tropp (1995, p. 19) wrote:

Human ecology is concerned with relationship to the global environment. This vast field includes the patterns of development of past and present human societies as they have sought, by regulation and adaptation, to come to grips with a changing world throughout geological and historical time.The term has a long history and its use highlights some of the important changes in geography during this century. Steiner and Nauser (1993, p. xxiii) note that although \'geography originally set out from the background of a philosophy which stressed the importance of a holistic view of regions and landscapes\', it has become internally segmented and divergent. This has meant importing ideas from other disciplines to create sub-disciplines such as urban geography and social geography (cf. urban ecology). Steiner and Nauser (1993, p. xxiii) add that \'geography tends to import theories and methods from the neighbouring disciplines, whereas the latter are largely unconcerned with developments in geography\'. This situation has changed to some degree, but the comment remains valid.

The term came to geography via sociology, when a University of Chicago geographer, Harlan Barrows (1923), defined geography as \'the science of human ecology\'. This definition gave the term a different sense than that used by the Chicago school of sociologists, who included Park, Burgess, Thomas and Wirth; they imported concepts and analogies from ecology (such as community, competition, disturbance, climax equilibrium and invasion and succession: cf. Social Darwinism) to develop theories and models on human society but were not explicitly concerned with interrelationships with nature. Sociological human ecology has since tended to downplay the urban spatial focus of the Chicago School. Hawley (1986, pp. 2-3) wrote that in contrast to Park\'s emphasis on measures of distance, the \'more fruitful lesson to be learned from the work of plant and animal ecologists [is that] a workable relationship with the environment is not achieved by individuals or even species acting independently, but by their acting in concert …\'.

Barrows\' focus was on human adjustment to physical environments and promoted a nomothetic aspect to geography\'s character that the Chicago School sociologist, Robert Park, would have denied the discipline. The term \'human ecology\' was not firmly established in geography thereafter, however, although it appears later in geographies of environmental hazards (see also hazards, human-made). Its use increased during the early 1970s, following the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (known as Stockholm \'72) and has been extended into fields such as design (Papanek, 1984) and economics, which, as currently practised, has been termed \'errant human ecology\' (Rees and Wackernagel, 1994). The term has also been used by biologists, e.g. Ehrlich, et al. (1973), to refer to the dwindling naturalness of environments. The contemporary inter-disciplinary journal Human Ecology claims to provide \'a forum for papers concerned with the complex and varied systems of interaction between people and their environment\'; the named subject areas from which papers are encouraged are anthropology, geography, psychology, biology, sociology and urban planning.

The recent use of the term in geography has been limited. This may be a result of various interacting factors, including the term\'s vagueness through use in many disciplines and its connotations with ideas that were popular earlier in the twentieth century. Concern about systems analysis, and its use in limits to growth work in the early 1970s, coincided with Chorley\'s (1973) attack on human ecology as a futile attempt to regain something natural. Almost simultaneously, David Harvey\'s Social justice and the city (1973) heralded a move away from both systems analysis and human ecology to Marxist geography. (PM)

References Barrows, H. 1923: Geography as human ecology. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 13: 1-14. Chorley, R. 1973: Geography as human ecology. In R. Chorley, ed., Directions in geography. London: Methuen and Co., 155-69. Dangana, L. and Tropp, C. 1995: Human ecology and environmental ethics. In M. Atchia and S. Tropp, eds, Environmental management: issues and solutions. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 19-29. Ehrlich, P., Ehrlich, A. and Holdren, J. 1973: Human ecology. San Francisco and London: W.H. Freeman. Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. London: Edward Arnold. Hawley, A. 1986: Human ecology: a theoretical essay. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Papanek, V. 1984: Design for the real world: human ecology and social change, 2nd edn. London: Thames and Hudson. Rees, W. and Wackernagel, M. 1994: Ecological Footprints and Appropriated Carrying Capacity: Measuring the Natural Capital Requirements of the Human Economy. In A.-M. Jannson et al., eds, Investing in natural capital: the ecological economics approach to sustainability. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 362-90. Steiner, D. and Nauser, M. 1993: Human ecology: fragments of anti-fragmentary views of the world. London and New York: Routledge.

Suggested Reading Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal. New York and London: Plenum Press. Steiner and Nauser (1993).



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