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rise of human ecology
A framework for discussion
The choice of material
The aim of this monograph
The rise of human ecology
During the 1970s anxiety about the environment not only deepened but changed in quality and emphasis. Compared with the 1960s, less attention is now given to population growth and more to energy demands. More significantly, there is a growing tendency to make correlations between the quality of the environment and the quality of human life. Ecological, economic, and social decline are more often discussed as though they are inter-related (although the relationship is rarely well argued). Environmental problems now engage a greater mix of disciplines and professions than a decade ago, and in each group of specialists there is a greater awareness of other disciplinary orientations to similar problems and (dare we hope?) a new readiness to enter into genuine dialogue across disciplinary and professional boundaries.
This trend in the great ecological debate that began in the 1950s manifests itself in both scientific and political forums in the form of an evolving concern with "the human factor" in ecology and development. This concern is evident in popular literature on economic development and resource management from various parts of the developing and the developed world, and is reflected in the changing relationship between the so-called "basic" and "applied" approaches to research and in the background dialogue between the natural and the social sciences. But although the ideals of resource management are now somewhat more tempered by considerations of human interests and local perceptions (than, say, in the fifties), and applied ecology is more and more commonly understood to include a measure of social science, little progress has yet been made in the determination of acceptable standards in potentially conflicting policy areas, such as ecology and human wellbeing in relation to each other, let alone in integrating these concerns generally. However, in spite of the occupational divisions and other vested interests that constrain such intellectual reorientation and hamper the associated reformulation of problems and reorganization of scientific effort, a supra-professional and supra-disciplinary specialization has begun to develop, and a degree of integration of these newly related interests is already discernible. The fact that it is not yet possible to put a generally accepted name on it - though "human ecology" is often pressed into service, and for want of a better term is sometimes used in what follows - shows that its identity is barely formed and its independence scarcely viable. But there seems little doubt that it is gathering momentum and therefore warrants careful attention. This essay is concerned with some of the assumptions from which it is developing, and with its direction and significance.
A framework for discussion
The term "ecology" was introduced by Haeckel in 1869. His purpose was to focus attention on relationships, especially relationships with the environment, rather than on organisms and species. The coinage was taken from the Greek for household (oikos) and suggested a broader interdisciplinary perspective on phenomena in context. In practice, it has proved very difficult to cover the structure of the "house," as well as the relationships of all the occupants with it and with each other, in one analysis. Ecology has, by and large, been natural ecology at its broadest. Where human activities have been included in the subject matter of ecological studies (for the most part a recent development), they have been studied naturalistically, or as though they were a function of natural processes, rather than an integral part of a larger universe.
Dissatisfaction with this situation has been growing for some time, but little progress has been made in the direction of improvement. This essay seeks to show a way- perhaps not a new way, but one that has not yet been shown sufficiently clearly. Ecology is conceived here three-dimensionally, as the integrated study of three independent but interrelated types of process: natural. social and cultural. These three adjectives are already known to the general reader, but their exact meaning may not be clear. Or, even if they appear only too familiar, their connotations may still be vague and confusing. The significance of the distinctions between them should become clearer in the course of this essay, but in the meantime it may suffice to distinguish them by the following glosses. Briefly, "natural" comprehends physical and biological; "social" denotes phenomena that derive from the combination of demographic variables and the stochastic interaction of human individuals in the ad hoc and ad hominem arrangements they make as they run their daily lives; and "cultural" refers to the meanings that govern and move people as they interact.
We generally think that the natural dimension of research covers all animate and inanimate relationships except insofar as they are upstaged by social or cultural factors. If we cannot predict natural relationships, we believe that our failure is due to an inadequacy in our science, or (more likely) to the intrusion of human activity, which is inherently unpredictable; we believe interaction in the natural dimension to be inherently predictable. The social dimension of research is like the natural in that it depends primarily on observation. But, despite the mathematical sophistication of demography, which covers an important component of the social, it differs from the natural in that on any significant scale it defies prediction. It may be regarded as the product of the interaction of the natural and the cultural. Finally, the cultural is the most intractable. To understand it, it is necessary to enter people's minds, and distinguish from their individual psychologies the symbols, concepts and stories that grow and develop and change according to unique principles as a common heritage.
None of these three dimensions is independent of or comprehensible apart from the others. But since none is determined by or fully dependent on the others either, and since each moves in a different tempo, it is essential to separate them for analytical purposes in order to avoid the common forms of reductionism which imply that a political movement or a change in values is predictable in the same way as, for example, the evaporation of water.
In what follows it is assumed that the only way to ensure adequate attention to each of these three dimensions of reality and human experience is to differentiate them explicitly from the start. Only if we first argue each separately in its own right will it eventually be possible to arrive at a balanced and integrated solution of ecological and socio-economic problems in development.
The choice of material
Development is conceived here generally to include all modern planning and project implementation which is designed to increase productivity, to modernize traditional systems, and to raise living standards, especially in the Third World, irrespective of the possibility of direct benefits to the investor or donor. The argument for the differentiation of three dimensions in this context should ideally be made on the basis of a careful evaluation of accumulated experience. However, to attempt to review all the ecologically oriented work in the natural and social sciences and its application in development over the last decade would be over-ambitious. The same objective may, perhaps, be achieved by narrowing the focus to a sample of areas of research and application which have been especially important during this period. Because of the impact of the Sahelian drought on ecological thought, I have chosen to concentrate on work generated by the special problems of arid and semi-arid lands - the world's dry lands - and especially desertification. Within that corpus, I am mainly concerned with questions raised by the growing demand for attention to the human factor. The argument is illustrated with cases from South-west Asia, where I have had considerable field experience. They are also appropriate on the more objective criteria of length of historical record and density of population, as well as economic and general human significance.
The aim of this monograph
This combination of theoretical, topical and geographical focus integrates the social and natural science approaches to problems of ecology in development in South-west Asia. Permits coherent treatment, in an argument of reasonable length, of (1) some of the major areas of accumulation of ecological knowledge and insight in relation to development, (2) the changes of emphasis in ecological interests among planners, (3) the development and integration of theory (especially the efforts to straddle the boundaries of sociological and ecological understanding), (4) the changing perceptions of man's relation to nature, and (5) the underlying moral problems of management and welfare. The changes of orientation in each of these arenas over the last decade are treated below not simply as another stage of progress to confirm our faith in the perfectibility of man, but as a function of a larger historical process of increasing awareness and communication, the beginnings of which would have to be sought at least as far back as the Industrial Revolution.
The argument and the data presented here have grown together over the past five years or so during my association with a number of different projects, especially the Turan Programme (see below, chapter three); and the final result, whatever its faults and deficiencies, demands the acknowledgement of assistance and inspiration from a variety of sources. Published and other written sources which I have consciously used are of course cited and listed at the end. But apart from reading I have benefited incalculably from interaction with scientists and planners from a wide range of backgrounds in the contexts of work with the Department of the Environment (Tehran), the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (Jodhpur), and various projects sponsored by UNESCO's Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and the United Nations University (UNU). Among individuals, I am particularly grateful to Douglas J. Merrey and Stephen Sandford, both for help and discussion and for allowing me to use their work on the Punjab (Pakistan) and on Turan (Iran) respectively to support my argument in chapter three. The associates of the Turan Programme have influenced my thinking in many cases far beyond the immediate implications of their personal work in the field, and I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all of them, and especially to Lee Horne and Mary Martin with whom I have worked most closely. Both of them read through the penultimate draft and made detailed comments which helped me to eliminate many inconsistencies and infelicities.
More generally, during the last five years or so as I developed the ideas reflected here, I believe I have learned most from Drs. J.A. Mabbutt, H.S. Mann and J.P.S. Uberoi, in the disciplinary, administrative and epistemological dimensions of my interests. My ideas have been worked out in discussion with students and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and some of the material was included in a paper presented at The Regional Seminar on Alternative Patterns of Development and Life Styles in Asia and the Pacific sponsored by UNEP and ESCAP in Bangkok, August 14 -18, 1979, and another at the Anthropology Department Seminar at Yale University in February 1982. I am grateful for all the opportunities for stimulation and edification afforded by these connections, though I may not always have known how to make the most of them. I hope the resulting essay, despite its imperfections, will succeed in reflecting without too much distortion the growing global awareness of human nature especially in its social and cultural dimensions - in relation to the physical and biological bases of life.
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