November 18, 2011

Defining Human Ecology

Human ecology is an interesting concept—something becoming especially important in the world right now…

But… what exactly is this "Human Ecology!?" 

It turns out to be a bit complicated. Some argue that human ecology is by definition undefinable—whoa. Some firmly believe this because as humans are unique, so should the definition of human ecology be for each of us. Frankly, I think saying this is just an excuse from having to define it. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think human ecology can, and should, be defined, but it would also benefit from our unique contributions.

Here are some of my attempts to define it:

Here is a parsimonious definition, going on a word-by-word basis:

Human ecology is analogous to ecology as used in the scientific sense of the word. Where ecology is defined as the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings, human ecology is this, plus humans.


Human Ecology is the relations of humans and other organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

This definition can then be further extrapolated... 
The definition of ecology implies the recognition of all living and non-living processes, thus human ecology implies the similar recognition of living and non-living processes. By recognizing all these processes, human ecology recognizes all disciplines. Aha! 

So one might stretch this to say that: Human Ecology implies the recognition of an interdisciplinary world.

But, is human ecology the practice of this interdisciplinary approach? If so, how does one practice an interdisciplinary approach? Or, is human ecology merely the study of interdisciplinary approaches? Now you see why it has gotten so complicated. Lets see how others define human ecology. Here is the perspective from several “urban ecologists:”

Boyden (1977), Boyden and Millar (1978), and Vayda (1983) define human ecology as: the discipline that inquires into the patterns and process of interaction of humans with their environments. McDonnell and Pickett (1990) follow that “Human values, wealth, life-styles, resource use, and waste, etc. must affect and be affected by the physical and biotic environments.” They continue by saying that “The nature of these interactions is a legitimate ecological research topic and one of increasing importance.”

Human ecology in action?
Another way to define something is by seeing it in action. What better place to see human ecology in action, than at College of the Atlantic (COA), in Bar Harbor, Maine. This small liberal-arts school yields a single major—human ecology. I recently graduated from this college—hence my interest in the subject matter. Students created a website called HumJournal as a place to post their projects and classwork at COA. Visit the site, and see some examples of human ecology in action.

A graduation requirement for COA is to write a several page paper describing your definition human ecology—also known as the “Human Ecology Essay,” or "HEE."

Here is the challenge: Write your version of the Human Ecology Sentence. How would you define it in just one sentence? Post your response below. It will be interesting to see what trends emerge.

1 comment:

  1. Human Ecology is the study and practice of human's relationship with its environment, and the environments relationship to humans, in the light of understanding humans and the world better.