Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Toward a human macroecology

“Students will view human ecology from the complementary perspectives of biogeography and macroecology, showing patterns across space and time, and system dynamics, focusing on ways energy, materials, and information are processed and transformed in social systems.” From the Perspectives in Human Ecology course syllabus

In fact, we have looked at human ecology through several lenses: life history, biogeography, and systems theory. A glance through a photography magazine shows the power of different perspectives, often achieved using different lenses: magnifying, light-filtering, UV illuminating, and so on. Are the perspectives through which we’ve viewed human ecology truly complementary? Can we layer them to produce a distinct, penetrating vision of the human condition?

More specficially, do such seemingly disconnected patterns as the decrease in stature with population density (R. Walker), the latitudinal cultural diversity gradient (Collard & Foley), the organization of Balinese water temple networks (Lansing & Kremer), the demographic transition (Moses & Brown), and the scaling relations of cities (Bettencourt et al.) share a common currency? If so, what is the underlying economy of human nature?

In what ways is human macroecology, to name our overarching approach, a productive perspective, as Turchin would say? Does it clarify and reveal patterns and connections that other perspectives do not? What is its scope? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How might we improve it or alter it? And what are its evolving frontiers?

Finally, given Ginzberg’s caveats about natural laws—that we should not expect them to be exceptionless, inevitably predictive, and even explanatory or discerning of cause and effect—are there candidate “laws of human ecology?”

Contribute your thoughts to the blog, and come prepared to discuss them in class tomorrow.

Looking forward to our synthesis….


1 comment:

Fred Whiteman said...

As I've been reviewing the readings, the big question that jumps out at me is: What is the purpose of human macroecology? So far, my answer is:
1) Form overarching laws that apply to human evolution, biogeography, and behavior,
2) Determine what laws that hold for other natural systems apply to human systems, and if there are any that do not, and
3) Save the world.

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