|Ecology in Development: A Rationale for Three-dimensional Policy (UNU, 1984, 59 pages)|
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.