What Is Human Ecology?

Human ecology is an emerging practice which is about developing a set of competencies. It is more a way of being that a content- filled discipline like those we are accustomed to.

The principal competencies are researching, learning, designing and communicating.

While we can all begin to develop these competencies there are those who are more interested in its occupational, or professional application and they may view it as a meta- and a trans - discipline (explained below).

That human ecology has no no real content takes some getting used to. Until now we've been familiar with subjects and disciplines for which we can acquire a text book and begin to learn the content. For example, if it is chemistry then the text-book may contain the periodic table of elements and how they behave with one another in different conditions along with the formulas and known rules. So you know what is is you have to learn. Furthermore the rules in chemistry are consistent and predictable; so water always has 2 molecules of oxygen to 1 of hydrogen and that remains true on Mt.Everest, under the sea, or out of your house tap. However, once the subject of study is human beings then there is always the unknown as well as the unpredictable. Not only do we change our minds and preferences but we can be influenced, change (political) sides, and be affected by moods and events from one day to another.


As a meta-discipline human ecology may 'go with' other forms of investigation, providing access to factors unreachable by a single discipline. This can be seen in an example: - a National Park has conflict between various user groups. The Park engages a human ecologist to work with various disciplines and interest groups including farmers at the boundary of the Park, foresters, tourist operators, visitors to the Park, a company seeking mining rights, hydrologists who want to protect the Park’s water table from nearby irrigation farms, animal rights groups, State Government and National Park employees.

Because of the range of conflicting interests a process is required which can ‘go with’ the various differing viewpoint. In this case the State Government, as the ultimate authority, requires a range of skills including research, conflict resolution, effective and diplomatic communication and education. The task of the human ecologist will be to design strategies which fulfill a number of criteria including: (a) participation by all stake-holders, (b) resolution of conflict (c) avenues for feed-back, questioning and critique and (d) an agreed outcome.

The importance of a meta-discipline may be appreciated by considering
the sheer complexity of the human relational world with its wide range of conflicts and world views. Clearly there are challenging situations mankind has so far failed to resolve, however as we overcome a sense of alienation and begin to really understand our inter-relatedness then there may well be room for new ways of dealing with complexity and these ways must involve multiple ways of knowing, thinking and behaving and thus will require a unifying human ecology to operate.

Trans -discipline.

As a trans- or across- discipline, human ecology can encompass other disciplines. Individual disciplines have over time developed jargon, methodology and reporting means which others cannot always readily understand. It has been a moot point for some years that various university faculties can produce graduates who cannot effectively communicate with one another when they meet in the market and work place. It is a sad testament to the universities’ resistance to change that this ‘cocooning’ still occurs.

In today’s world there are many matters which are too complex for any single discipline to encompass. Climatology is one such area of complexity for it involves geologists, physicists, geographers, climate data recording centers, oceanographers, modelers, mathematicians and computer analysts. Thus a common language is required in order for the various disciplines to effectively work together. This is the role of trans-disciplinary human ecology for it can ‘span’ the various specialties and provide a common language for research and reporting.


What makes for a human ecologist?

In simple terms a human ecologist is one who employs the competencies described in learning in order to interact with a human group or with an enviromental situation. These competencies are carried out in the context of appropriate ways of thinking; that is critical thinking (seeking and questioning assumptions), scientific thinking (utilising a scientific methodology), ecological thinking (thinking from the perspective of the animal(s) or flora involved), systems thinking (working with wholes and not parts) and so on. There is no limit to ways of thinking, for example circumstances might require feminist thinking (in a question of sexual equality), or parental thinking (in a matter involving the care of small children).

An important point is the involvement of others. While there is no strict order in applying the competencies it is helpful to involve others as early as possible. Therefore, when the question is clarified or the research project is clear the first questions are generally "who can help this project? who wants to be involved with me? what human resources are available and how can I access them?.."

Again behaving like a human ecologist is more about a way of being rather than applying a strict methodology. Being open and being available to involving others are high on the list.

If you have a project then you are invited to use the competencies described in learning including the free ssm and strategic questioning downloads.

Critical Mass

This term refers to the numbers required for change to occur. When only a hand full of people knew that the world was round no change occurred and the mainstream view remained in the belief that the earth was flat.

Just now only a handful understand this emerging awareness of inter-relatedness; yet this will change and as each individual joins so the critical mass comes closer.

Why don't you join? You can show your support for this project in a number of ways and you can begin to develop the competencies on the Learning page.