SOCIAL ECOLOGY

Current researches in human and social sciences play an important role in the planning and preparation of sustainable development policies. Their results provide better knowledge about the relationships between different human groups and their environments.

These results report the needs and aspirations of each studied community which promotes community participation – an essential factor in the success of developmental projects. The social ecology is one of the disciplines that are part of this type of research, according to the EICOS Program approach.


In order to understand what we call social ecology, one should know that this is an area of research and knowledge which emerged along the last decades and was basically influenced by human ecology, social psychology, sociology and anthropology.

In broad terms, it can be said that social ecology is the study of the interaction of human groups with their environment. This interaction is a determinant in the groups’ identity and in their actions within the environment. Therefore, it is important to study human communities, populations and settlements taking into consideration the cultural dimension as the organizer of the groups’ dynamics. This dynamic is in fact composed by aspects such as social organization, mobility, cultural manifestations (religion, art) and their relationships with the environment’s specific characteristics. We therefore emphasize the cultural dimension of social ecology studies, as opposed to human ecology, regardless of their common origin.

We should note that both subjects are based on a series of studies conducted during the 20’s, where the studied object is placed at the interface between nature and society, in respect to human societies and their behavior in the environment.

During this period, a group of sociologists founded the Chicago School in the USA, to pursue studies on urban sociology which would eventually reconcile ecology and sociology. This reconciliation is marked by the transposition of ecological concepts to sociology. The Chicago group inaugurated a new methodology for sociological research which considers the city as man’s natural habitat. This consideration becomes particularly relevant within the economical and social context of that time. The growing industrialization of the period made Chicago an excellent research laboratory for the subject of man’s social organization and relationships in an artificial environment built by man, therefore a product of human culture. Researches produced by this American group strongly influenced the following generations for at least 40 years. However, the studies on human ecology were marked by a discussion between biologists and culturalists. This discussion was based on an important criticism about the use of ecological concepts in human ecology papers. We should note that when the group under study is a human group, culture produces differentiation. To use vocabulary from a natural science, like ecology, in a human science, may lead to an impoverishment of results and a distortion of the original meaning of the words. According to Pascal Acot, on the one hand man constitutes a biological species which produces culture, and on the other hand, man transforms the natural environment in order to satisfy biological and social needs.

This controversy has given birth to several branches of human ecology studies, grouped by their theoretical tendencies. We could say that social ecology is one of these branches, which postulates that the environment is both the product of human activities and a transforming agent for these activities.

Researches developed according to a socio-ecological approach constitute both theoretical support and means to achieve results in sustainability. They also seek to point out tendencies and know-how capable of supporting sustainable development initiatives which have human behavior as their focus.

Among the concerns of a social ecology which intends to integrate man and environment lies a proposal for an education which will respect endogenous development and local culture. These aspects should be perceived as continually changing processes, characteristic of cultural dynamic itself.

MACIEL, T. M. B. Contribuições da ecologia humana para a psicologia social moderna: perspectivas para uma ecologia social. Arquivos Brasileiros de Psicologia, n. 8. Rio de Janeiro: out/dez, 1998

Notes

1) "Area of research and knowledge which emerged along the last decades and was basically influenced by human ecology, social psychology , sociology and anthropology."
2) "ACOT, P. História da ecologia. Rio de Janeiro, Campus, 1990."