I construe social change broadly. It may be as ambitious as stemming the degradation of some natural resource or redirecting government policies that allocate funds to different scientific fields. But it may also be as local as focusing an audience's attention on certain themes, which is closer to the spirit of this book. I do not provide possible solutions to pressing environmental, scientific, or social problems, or a comprehensive theory of their causes. My more modest goal is to stimulate scientists who deal with ecological complexity, as well as researchers who interpret the ecological-like complexity of scientific change, to become more self-conscious and systematic about the ways they deal with the unruliness of complex situations. This shift would include researchers reflecting critically-that is, in relation to alternative possibilities-on their efforts to modify the social and technical conditions in which their research takes shape.
The way I promote critical reflection on concepts and practice is to introduce questions and themes intended to disturb various conceptual boundaries used by researchers when they focus attention on (supposedly) well-bounded systems and push complicating dynamics or processes out of view. I develop these questions and themes through concrete cases from my own work; these cases open up one to the next in a way that mirrors to some degree the critical reflection I favor. The cases all involve ecological or socio-environmental situations, but their style and content differ according to the intellectual field in which each case is centered-first, theoretical ecology, then philosophy of science, history and sociology of science, and socio-environmental studies, and eventually, facilitation and teaching of reflective practice and critical thinking (from hereon, critical reflective practice).
The sequence of cases should help researchers and students in this wide range of fields appreciate more acutely the limitations of assuming that ecological, scientific, and social complexity can be delimited into well-bounded systems. My hope is that readers will then take steps, on their own and in collaboration with others, to reconstruct the unruliness of complexity without suppressing it, to link knowledge-making to social change, and to wrestle with the potential and limitations of critical reflection as a means to redirect practice. In the words of Raymond Williams (1980, 83), I want to encourage others not to "mentally draw back [and be] spared the effort of looking, in any active way, at the whole complex of social and natural relationships which is at once our product and our activity."
Table of Contents and Full text of Prologue [pdf]
Summary of Themes and Questions Opened up [pdf]
Whenever theory has built on the dynamic unity and coherency of structures or units, we might consider, instead, what would follow if those units were to be explained as contingent outcomes of "intersecting processes." This broad heuristic informs this essay's extensions of Developmental Systems Theory to cases in the sociology of mental illness, social-environmental studies, and social studies of science. I link the three cases in a project of reconceptualizing human agents, in particular agents who are establishing knowledge and engaging in change. I show that viewing agents in terms of intersecting processes is also equivalent to teasing open their "heterogeneous construction," that is, their contingent and on-going mobilizing of webs of diverse materials, tools, people, and other resources.
In the third chapter of On the Origin of Species, Darwin introduced his
concept of natural selection by noting that, given the struggle for
existence, "any variation, however slight and from whatever cause
proceeeding, if it is in any degree profitable to an individual of any
species in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to
external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will
generally be inherited by its offspring" (Darwin 1859, p.61, my emphasis).
That is, all evolution occurs in an ecological context. The structure and
dynamics of evolution's ecological context have not, however, been well
integrated into evolutionary theory. Population genetic evolutionary
theory, most notably, has avoided unravelling ecological complexity by
compressing organism-organism and organism-environment relationships
into the fitness conferred on an organism by its characters. The center
stage in theory could then be occupied by the genetic basis and
differential representation of characters within single species. In turn,
speciation could become a process of genetic divergence, in which the
environment mostly took the role of raising and lowering barriers to gene
In this essay I bring into focus the challenges of making evolutionary theory more ecological. Or, given that ecological dynamics are implicit in any evolutionary theory, I might say, making these dynamics explicit. Writing in the spirit of Lewontin's essays on organisms constructing their environments, I do not present a well formed program of ecological evolutionary theory, but point to the existence of problems. My aim is to provoke further, much needed, discussion.
There are two strands to my argument, which correspond to two interpretations of the quote from Darwin above. Read one way, Darwin was deflecting attention from a major weakness in the conceptual structure of natural selection as a theory of evolutionary change. "Do not ask me," Darwin is saying, "to identify which characters of an organism confer fitness; there are too many indirect interactions and feedbacks to do this reliably. Just take it as self-evident that there must be such characteristics." Suppose instead that we focus attention on identifying such characters, the critera by which nature "selects." In part I I examine the resulting problems and argue that they warrant replacing the metaphor of natural selection; "natural construction" is my proposal. Of these problems, the one that concerns me most here is the non-integration of ecological dynamics into evolutionary theory.
A second, more charitable and forward looking, reading of the passage
quoted is that Darwin foreshadowed an integrated ecological-evolutionary
theory. In this spirit, part II of this essay reviews approaches to
theorizing ecological organization, with the goal of identifying a) ways
evolutionary theory fits into them (explicitly and implicitly); and b) more
precisely the shape of the challenge of integrating ecological dynamics
into evolutionary theory. I conclude that to meet the challenge of
integrating ecology into evolutionary theory, natural constructionists
would need to be recognize that ecological complexity is more "unruly"
than it is structured or "system-like."
This essay reformulates Levins' analysis of model building in ecology and
evolutionary biology so as to identify several points where decisions are
required that are not determined by nature for example, the range of
competing models compared. These decisions are an unavoidable part of
modeling, which invites us to examine what else modelers are responding
to, what reactions are taking place at these "sites of sociality." It seems
that scientists "select their problems, define their categories, collect
their data, and present their findings so that, simultaneously, the models
can be seen to represent their subject matter, the modelers can secure the
support of colleagues, collaborators and institutions, and they can enjoin
others to act upon their conclusions;" scientists are weavers of
"socio-ecological webs." ( full text pdf version)
Since the mid 1980s the institutions through which non-privatized, common resources are managed have been examined by a growing number of social-environmental researchers. Actual agents, it emerges, often do better than those envisaged in Garrett Hardin's influential 1968 paper on the "tragedy of the commons." Where commons research revolves around the question "What can agents do?," my interest in the complexities of both environmental and scientific change leads me to ask a complementary question, "What social change can researchers affect or facilitate with their various understandings?" The relevant understandings concern not only the situations that commons researchers study, but also the social situations in which the researchers are embedded. I contrast simple formulations of well-bounded systems with work that attends to "intersecting processes" or dynamics among particular, unequal agents whose actions implicate or span a range of social realms. "Critical heuristics" are introduced as a means to address tensions among these two poles. The resulting multi-part framework is intended to apply to environmental and scientific analyses and to analyses from social studies of science and technology. The ultimate goal of this essay is to stimulate further work on what agents can do-but not alone or through their accounts of the world alone-to contribute self-consciously to the on-going restructuring of the intersecting processes in which particular knowledge-making and social changing agents are situated. ( full text version, pdf)
All ecological theorizing and all circumstances studied in ecology can be
viewed as "situated." Diverse intersecting strands shape the social
situations in which research can be undertake, and a similar complexity of
intersecting processes constitute the objects and situations it studies. To
illustrate and support this perspective, this essay reinterprets a simple,
but very influential model of environmental degradation, Garrett Hardin's
"tragedy of the commons." I want to make plausible the idea that when any
phenomenon is analyzed as a coherent system -- and this is what Hardin's
model does -- this analysis can be reinterpreted in terms of the
specialness of the circumstances selected to be studied and in terms of
other "rhetorical" work done in making the phenomenon appear
system-like. The conventional strategies in science gives priority -- in
method, theoretical development, and aesthetics -- to posing simple
principles behind complex appearances. A lot of new thinking can be
opened up by inversion of this relationship, by recognizing that simple
models should be read as entailing complex social constructions.
Social Darwinising-the reading of social meanings into and back out of
biology-is facilitated by the basic conceptual structure or explanatory
form of natural selection, one that seductively shortcuts the difficulties
of explaining not only social but also biological phenomena. The conceptual
scheme simply invites Darwinists to interpret what they see as something
that is here because it triumphed through selection; they can accordingly
flatten and squeeze history and function to fit. Moreover, the scheme
entices Darwinists to promote what they would like to see, e.g.,
consolidation in the banking industry, as coming about because it is
favoured by a natural, inevitable and right process of selection. In these
ways Darwinian explanations about our behaviours and societies weigh
heavily upon our imagination of social possibilities. In building my
argument I employ Darwin's classic, On the Origin of Species, which
provides a clear and multi-layered framework for appreciating what Darwinism entails.
Population size or growth and environmental degradation are not related
in any direct way. Focussing on the poor in rural societies, we show that,
in order to understand the degradation of their environments, one needs to
analyse the dynamics linking changes in the labour supply, the social
organisation of production, technology, and the environment. Implicated in
the maintenance, breakdown, or reorganisation of local institutions of
production are the differentiation in any society or community, its social
psychology (of norms and reciprocal expectations), and larger economic
structures. In contrast, what we call neo-Malthusian environmentalism
points to aggregate regional, national or global statistics and to
calculations of ultimate bio-physical limits. We argue that these give
very little insight into the social/ economic/ environmental dynamics of
Noting the persistent appeal of both the science and the politics of neo-Malthusian environmentalism, we interpret them as underwritten by both moralistic and technocratic conceptions of social action. The logical consequences of this discourse are unintended and undesirable effects, which contribute, contrary to the intentions of most environmentalists, to coercion and violence in the name of the environment. ( full text version)
From the cover: "A fascinating look at how the culture of today's life sciences affects our culture.
In laboratories all over the world, life-even the idea of life-is changing. And with these changes, whether they result in square tomatoes or cyborgs, come transformations in our social order-sometimes welcome, sometimes troubling, depending on where we stand. Changing Life offers a close look at how the mutable forms and concepts of life link the processes of science to those of information, finance, and commodities.
The contributors, drawn from disciplines within science and technology studies and from geography, ecology, and developmental biology, provide a range of interpretive angles on the metaphors, narratives, models, and practices of the life sciences. Their essays-about planetary management and genome sequencing, ecologies and cyborgs-address actual and imagined transformations at the center and at the margins of transnational relations, during the post-Cold War era and in times to come. They consider such topics as the declining regulatory state, ascendant transnational networks, and capital's legal reign over intellectual property, life-form patents, and marketable pollution licenses.
Changing Life argues that we cannot understand the power of the life sciences in modern society without exploring the intersections of science and technology with other cultural realms. To that end, this book represents a collective attempt to join the insights of science and technology studies and cultural studies. As a work of cultural politics, it makes a contribution to changing life in a context of changing social order."
Contributors: Simon Cole, Cornell U; Paul Edwards, Stanford U.; Scott
Gilbert, Swarthmore College; Herbert Gottweis, U of Salzburg; Yrjö Haila,
U of Tampere, Finland; Saul Halfon, Cornell U.; Rosaleen Love, Victoria U of
Technology, Melbourne, Australia; and Richard Schroeder, Rutgers.
Science has a central role in shaping what count as environmental
problems, evident especially in the success of planetary science and
environmental activism in stimulating awareness and discussion of global
environmental problems. I advance four propositions about the special
relationship between environmental science and politics: 1) In the
formulation of science, not just its application certain course of action
are facilitated over others; 2) In global environmental discourse, moral
and technocratic view of social action have been privileged; 3) Global
environmental change, as a framework for science and political
mobilization, is vulnerable to surprises from unintended outcomes,
unpredicted conflicts, and unlikely coalitions. These stem from different
nations and differentiated social groups within nations having different
interests in causing and alleviating environmental problems; and 4)
Despite this vulnerability, globalized discourse in many ways is
facilitating for many planetary scientists and environmental activists;
reconstruction of environmental discourse requires more than the
reconceptualization of science and politics I introduce.
I develop these propositions through a reinterpretation of The Limits to Growth study of the early 1970s and extensions of this to current studies of climate change and its human/social impacts; examples illustrating the vulnerability of global formulations of environmental issues, and a review of some of the developments in the 1980s that facilitated this form of science and politics.
I finish by reflecting on my own counter-exemplification; the four broad brush propositions can be read as attempts, like the frameworks they critique, to cut through the unequal and heterogeneous practical and conceptual facilitations of science and political mobilization. Without eliminating this contradiction, I reformulate the propositions as useful heuristics or accusations with which one can work to expose more of that heterogeneity. ( full text versionpdf)
Committed to the idea that scientists, like all individuals, are utility
maximizers, Diamond has reviewed the literature on the reward
structures of science and what they explain about the behavior of
scientists. Before science studiers begin to act as if there is much for
them in the economics of science, economists ought to follow the lead of
science studies and subject claims of knowledge and relevance to
sophisticated philosophical, historical, cultural and political analyses. A
fruitful two-way dialogue might then ensue.
I explore heterogeneous constructionism, my term for the perspective that
science in the making is a process of agents building by combining a
diversity of components. Issues addressed include causality and
explanation; transcending both realism and relativism; scientists as
acting, intervening, and imaginative agents; explanations that span many
levels of social practice; counterfactuals in the analysis of causal claims;
and practical reflexivity. An analogy from research on the social origins
of depression and a sketch from my own experience in socioeconomic
modeling are used to motivate and render more concrete the form of
heterogeneous constructionism I am advocating.
Any classification into types can clarify our view of the whole while, at
the same time, distracting our attention from hybrids and the processes
by which they are formed and sustained. In this light, the recent review by
Sismondo, which teases out some of the multiple meanings given to the
term 'construction,' and his subsequent exchange with Knorr Cetina, should
leave us troubled. Many of us are interested in the processes of science in
the making, in which scientific theories, materials, tools, language,
institutions, and wider social relations are being co-constructed, and are
trying to analyse the diverse 'resources' drawn upon by agents in such
co-construction processes. Sismondo's classification makes little space
for that strand of social studies of science, focussing as it does on the
type of thing being produced, not the processes of their production. Knorr
Cetina does not take issue with him on that account. She applauds his
review as an overdue clarification of constructivisms (constructionisms)
and, after a brief plug for philosophers to become more sociological,
centres her response on defending a conceptual claim about
representations preceeding existence. If clarification means providing
distinctions we should work with, we should be less satisfied with
Sismondo's taxonomy. I feel like a misfit, and so, I suspect, do the many
who have over the last decade been attracted to ideas such as 'ecologies
of knowledge,' 'intersecting social worlds,' 'heterogeneous engineering,'
and actors' 'networks' of resources. This note, however, does not criticise
Sismondo just for the omission of a major category of constructivism, but
argues that, from the perspective of what is omitted, his classification
scheme breaks down. The distinctions do not hold in practice and
Sismondo's conclusions about reconciling social studies of science with
philosophy and about politics are not justified.
Scientific analyses of ecological and social-ecological relations can be
read, not only as representations of reality having greater or lesser
empirical adequacy, but also as rhetoric about social action desired by the
scientists in their given contexts. The task we set ourselves in this essay
is to examine different approaches to understanding social-ecological
relations, drawing upon the related themes of the constructedness of
nature(s) and the contextuality of science.
What we see is that the different approaches can be located along one major axis. At one pole lie views and approaches that construct from ecology and from society natural units, "systems" in the strong sense of having clearly defined boundaries and coherent internal dynamics governing their development, structure and stability, and their adaptation to external influences. (Although system can be used more loosely to designate simply a collection of many interacting elements, we confine ourselves to strong view; in our view it is from this that most theory derives.) Observers can thus locate themselves outside the systems studied, and seek generalisations and principles affording a natural reduction of complexity. At the other pole, amplifying the epigraph from Wolf on the fluidity of societies, we find analysts grappling with historically contingent situations resulting from intersecting processes, in which boundaries and categories are problematic, levels and scales are not clearly separable, and structures are subject to restructuring. Differentiation and change, not adaptation or equilibrium, characterises these situations of "unruly complexity." Control and generalisation are difficult and no privileged standpoint exists; in fact, the boundary between scientist and engaged participant can hardly be maintained (Taylor 1990, 1992a). (We add more aspects to the systems-intersecting processes contrast as we proceed.)
We want to reinforce and stimulate interest in work that moves us towards the second pole, the "social analysis of ecological change," as we call it, and to highlight the more subtle science it provides. It is not at all easy to make sense of diverse intersecting processes without affording one side of persistent dichotomies, such as global-local, nature-society, individual-environment, and science-interpretation, a privileged position over, and abstracted from the other. But, to the extent that people take on this task, social analysis of ecological change promises to contribute significantly to the development of social theory more generally. Of course, no end-point or mature version yet exists for us to point to; instead people have been taking many directions, with greater and lesser self-consciousness of the theoretical challenges entailed, and in recurrent tension with system-like tendencies and the demands for objective accounts that still dominate science.
We tease out various dimensions of the tension between approaches based on systems and those unravelling intersecting processes, evident in divergent answers to questions such as: What do peasants and indigenous peoples know about their environment? What knowledge are they able to put into practice? How do we come to know these things about them? How is human rationality -- economic, ecological and otherwise -- rhetorically constructed?; likewise, human-environment adaptation, traditional societies and primitiveness? How do local social-environmental situations intersect with larger political economic processes? Can ecological and social dynamics and, similarly, material and cultural processes, be theoretically integrated? Our discussion of these issues provides a critique of systems approaches (dominant in the post war decades, but still popular today) and, at the same time, indicates the openness of the intellectual terrain facing theorists of intersecting processes. That is, notwithstanding the somewhat polemical paragraphs we allow ourselves at the end of this essay, there is no simple moral in the social analysis of ecological change, nor is there likely to be.
A few notes on the scope of what follows: Our orientation is towards Anglo-American studies of rural and Third world situations, and so our discussion spans fields such as anthropology, human ecology, range ecology, geography, environmental history, and social studies of science. The range of fields in a "social analysis of ecological change" should, however, be extended sometime to cover urban and industrial environmental analyses; similarly, a comparison with non-Anglo-American studies would be valuable. Even within the scope just defined, the citations are intended to provide key entry-points only; our goal is not exhaustive coverage of the literature, but to motivate the interpretive themes or dimensions laid out above. With this agenda, the review follows more or less a historical sequence, which helps us to locate the origins of the different approaches, trace their development, and convey a sense of momentum or progress towards the intersecting processes view. ( full text version)
By 1973 the semi-arid Sahel region of West Africa had experienced five
years of drought and developing crisis. Many pastoralists (livestock
herders) and farmers were in refugee camps, their herds decimated and
their crops having failed again. Western commentators at the time
focussed not only on famine relief but on the causes of the crisis and on
prospects for the regions' future. Some saw the Sahelian drought and
famine as a forerunner of further widespread population-resource crises
to come; almost all agreed that the ecological resource base of the Sahel
region had been seriously damaged. Once emergency relief was underway,
discussion turned to longer term measures needed for recovery and for
prevention of future disasters. The U.S. Agency for International
development (USAID) funded a one-year, $1 million project at
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to evaluate long-term
development strategies for the Sahel and the bordering "Sudan" region. One
component of the project was a study of nomadic pastoralists. These
livestock herders spend part of each year moving with their livestock over
the range in search of pasture, a migration necessary because rainfall in
the Sahel is patchy in distribution and varies greatly from year to year,
dramatically affecting the location of good pasture. After a three week
visit to the region a graduate student at MIT, whom I shall call "M", with a
background in systems analyses of population and ecological issues,
constructed and reported on a sequence of three system dynamic models
"for understanding the ecological and social dynamics of the pastoral
system." M's models of pastoralists included many factors and
mathematical relationships. Yet he summarized his findings simply, in
terms of the "tragedy of the commons" (Hardin 1968): Each herder with
access to common rangeland follows the same logic: "I will receive the
benefit in the short run from increasing my herd by one animal; everyone
will share any cost of diminished pasture per animal; therefore I will add
another animal to my herd." Overstocking and overgrazing was thus
inevitable. Soil degradation and eventual desertification could be avoided
only if all the pastoralists replaced their individual self-interest with
"long-term preservation of the resource base as their first priority,"
perhaps requiring them to enter ranching schemes that privatized or
strictly supervised access to pasture. The central task of this essay is to
reconstruct M's modeling work. M's models, I claim, were shaped by his
employing a range of resources, which included: the available computer
compiler; available data; the short length of time both in the field and for
the project as a whole; the work relations within the MIT team; the
relationship of the United States and USAID to other international
involvement in the region; the terms of reference set by USAID and the
agency's contradictory expectations of the project. The task of
interrelating the diversity of such resources raises serious
methodological and conceptual challenges, which the counterfactual
method developed in this paper begins to address. I also explore a parallel
between M's work, the practices of the pastoralists themselves, and my
reconstruction. We share the task of addressing ecological and social
complexity together. At all three levels socio-ecologies have to be
Philosophical discussion of pictorial representation lags well behind
analyses of verbal and textual propositions. The special issue of Biology
& Philosophy, for which this essay is an introduction, aims to stimulate
philosophers, and also historians and sociologists of science, to direct
their attention towards the role and special characteristics of pictorial
representations in biology, in particular, diagrams, graphs, and printed
pictures. After reviewing the essays in the issue, we discuss two
additional areas that are insufficiently explored in the essays and
accompanying references: the historical development of conventions of
pictorial representation in science, and the intertwining of visual and
Diagrams refer to the phenomena overtly represented, to analogous
phenomena, and to previous pictures and their graphic conventions. The
diagrams of ecologists Clarke, Hutchinson and H.T. Odum reveal their
search for physical analogies, building on the success of World War II
science and the promise of cybernetics. H.T. Odum's energy circuit
diagrams reveal also his aspirations for a universal and natural means of
reducing complexity to guide the management of diverse ecological and
social systems. Graphic conventions concerning framing and translation of
ecological processes onto the flat printed page facilitate Odum's ability
to act as if ecological relations were decomposable into systems and
could be managed by analysts external to the system.
Ecologists, particularly those who consider socially generated effects in
the environment, grapple with complex, changing situations. Historians,
sociologists and philosophers studying the construction of science
likewise attempt to account for (or discount) a wide variety of influences,
which make up what historian Charles Rosenberg has called "ecologies of
knowledge" (Rosenberg 1988). This paper introduces a graphic
methodology, mapping, designed to assist researchers at both levels--in
science and in science studies--to work with the complexity of their
material. By analyzing the implications and limitations of mapping, I aim
to contribute to an ecological approach to the philosophy of science.
Although modellers intend their models to refer to some (conceivably)
observable things, the impact of ecological models has come less from
achieving tight correspondence with observations than from models'
exploratory role, that is, from their helping ecologists derive new
questions to ask, new terms to employ, or different models to construct.
It is with the aim of stimulating further conceptual exploration by
theorists and mathematical modellers that I have framed this rejoinder to
DeAngelis and Waterhouse (1987; from here on, D&W).
;In their excellent review, D&W;present a schema of ecological modelling related to the issue of persistence over time of communities of species. Their starting point is an "equilibrium" view, in which systems move toward or away from a steady state. Increasing disruption from internal feedbacks or environmental stochasticity leads to emphasis on "biotic instability" or "stochastic domination," respectively. Accounting for the persistence of communities despite these disruptions leads D&W;to a "landscape" view, in which a community may persist in a landscape of interconnected patches even though the community is transient in each of the patches.
While endorsing most of D&W's;interpretations, this note draws an additional contrast, between a "morphological" approach to ecological modelling, in which complexity is analysed in terms of its current configuration, i.e., as a "snapshot," and a "developmental" approach, which recognises that complexity can develop over time through the addition and elimination of populations (or other components). The developmental approach is not new, but it suggests pathways for exploration that have generally been overlooked or less travelled by theoretical ecologists and it raises the challenge of modelling complexity that has structure together with a history of structuring and restructuring.
"Connecting and extending our ecological science" was the title of a small
workshop that we led at the University of Helsinki in April 1988. The
workshop was motivated by two main issues: How can we steer our
ecological science so it is not overspecialized but instead remains
responsive and relevant to environmental concerns? How can we integrate
the diverse yet partial theoretical themes prevalent in ecology? To
address these issues the participants were guided 1) to construct "maps",
that is, to define their key questions and trace the practical and
theoretical connections on which they presently depend; and 2) to "revise"
those maps and rethink their theoretical interests and research programs
with three goals in mind: a) complementing the work of others in the
workshop, b) responding to the needs of environmentalist social
movements (e.g. in conservation and in sustainable development), and c)
integrating interpretative themes from the "tool-box" developed by the
workshop leaders. We cannot claim that the Helsinki workshop achieved
all these aims or solved the two issues that motivated it. Nevertheless we
consider the mapping workshop approach to have sufficient potential, both
for teaching and for theorizing in ecology, to report on the approach at
this early stage in its development. In this note we outline only the
elements of mapping workshops and discuss how we used the approach to
stimulate advanced students in defining their research. Mapping
workshops also have potential applications for collaborative ecological
theorizing, for examining the sociology of ecological science, and for
on-going environmental assessment, but we leave discussion of these
issues to a longer version of this article
In October 1946 the Yale ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson (b.1903) delivered
a paper entitled "Circular Causal Systems in Ecology" to an
interdisciplinary conference at the New York Academy of Sciences
(Hutchinson 1948). Hutchinson emphasized themes that would come to
dominate ecology in the United States. In brief, he was exploring, as his
title indicated, the concept of ecological relations as systems. This
concept drew upon, but also made significant extensions to, the then
prevailing organicist accounts of ecological complexity.
Hutchinson's paper provides me with a convenient starting point from which to trace conceptual connections and to characterize changes after World War 2 in the way ecologists in the United States studied ecological complexity. I subsequently move my focus to H.T. Odum (b. 1924), a student of Hutchinson's, who extensively developed his program during the 1950s and pioneered the field which has come to be known as systems ecology.
Organicism, undergoing a transformation into a systems view, was at the same time a source of social metaphor; ecological and social concepts are strongly connected in Hutchinson's and Odum's thinking. Their work allows me to highlight aspects of their social context, in particular, the "technocratic optimism" of the post-war years. The idea of technocratic management of society had a long history, but World War 2, particularly as it was experienced by scientists, transformed the character of that political fantasy. Government funding and organization of science under military imperatives produced significant results, giving currency to the belief that intervention on a large scale could be practically realized. Moreover, scientific control of complex systems seemed necessary to prevent further social upheavals or holocaust. Optimism about the benefits of such control overshadowed possible doubts about its implications for democratic political life.
The term technocrat has come to denote someone advocating technical approaches to social issues. The technocrat believes he can handle social complexity in a value-free manner, maintaining a distance from specific interests and political details, and through such non-dependency and disengagement he can best serve all. But it is typical of social philosophies framed in terms of universal interests that their proponents hold a special place in the proposed social organization. In my account I show that technocratic optimism facilitated H.T. Odum's early work in powerful ways; more than being the context of his work, technocratic optimism is constitutive of his concepts, methods and organization of research. This interpretation of Odum's transformation of metaphor for ecological complexity represents a partial reconciliation of strong externalist and realist interpretations of science. The realism, however, is not centered on the scientist's representation of nature but instead on the scientist's interventions within nature -- interventions which society facilitates in actuality, as possibilities, or as powerful fantasies.
Integrating the structure and dynamics of evolution's ecological context
into evolutionary theory remains a neglected project. It is against this
background that this entry reviews the approaches to ecological
organization apparent in the different meanings given to the term
community in ecology. My coverage is biased towards the United States
and selected with an eye to building a map of key theoretical positions,
and not to presenting a survey of concrete results. The references I give
(mostly reviews or compilations of essays) should enable readers to fill
in the cast of actors, the biology of the organisms, and the other detail in
historical and contemporary debates.
Can ecological theory generate principles that could be usefully generalized across ecological situations? Particularism has been a perennial attraction in ecology, but a new source of doubt gained momentum by the end of the 1980s after theorists started looking at "indirect interactions" -- effects mediated through the populations not immediately in focus, or, more generally, through "hidden variables" that have their own dynamics. How much do indirect effects confound principles derived on the basis of observing the direct interactions among populations? My exploration of this question should challenge not only ecologists, but theorists in all fields that make use of models of any kind of sub-system elevated from the complexity in which the sub-system is actually embedded.
Exponents of critical thinking emphasize the teaching of skills and dispositions for scrutinizing the assumptions, reasoning, and evidence brought to bear on an issue by others and by oneself. In short, they promote thinking about thinking. But how do students come to see where there are issues to be opened up and identify them without relying on some authority? The current form of my evolving "answer" is that people need support to grapple with inevitable tensions in personal and intellectual development -- support to undertake journeys that involve risk, open up questions, create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, require support, and yield personal change. In this essay I present five passages in a pedagogical journey that has led from teaching undergraduate science-in-society courses to running a graduate program in critical thinking and reflective practice for teachers and other mid-career professionals. I have shaped these passages to expose some of my conceptual and practical struggles in learning to decenter pedagogy and to provide space and support for students to develop as critical thinkers. The key challenge I highlight is of helping people make knowledge and practice from insights and experience that they are not prepared, at first, to acknowledge. In a self-exemplifying style, each passage raises some questions for further inquiry or discussion. My hope is that the essay as a whole stimulates readers to grapple with issues they were not aware they faced and to generate questions beyond those I present.
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Since the late-1980s many accounts in the social studies of science and technology (STS) have discussed establishing scientific knowledge and the effectiveness of technologies in terms of heterogeneous resources mobilized by diverse agents spanning different realms of social action. In the environmental arena such "heterogeneous construction" (Taylor 1995) is, in effect, self-conciously organized through the frequent use of workshops and other "organized multi-person collaborative processes" (OMPCPs). This essay describes my own process of making sense of the workshop form for generating environmental knowledge and further inquiry.
This process was catalyzed by participating during the spring and summer of 2000 in four innovative, interdisciplinary workshops. By reflecting on these workshops and drawing on other experience I identified six angles for thinking about why a workshop (or OMPCP) might be needed to address the complexity of environmental issues. The angles relate both to establishing knowledge ("product" in the paper title) and to developing the capacity for further inquiry ("process") through participation in OMPCPs ("process"). I used the six angles to review the four workshops. This led me to dig deeper into how workshops work when they do and assemble a list of heuristics and some open-ended questioning. One of these heuristics, as will become evident shortly, involves making space for the audience to bring their own knowledge to the surface. One member of the audience for my first presentation on this topic offered to help me develop a more systematic set of principles for bringing about successful workshops. The outcome makes up the final section of this essay, and the basis for further inquiry on workshops and the process-product relationship more generally.
See full text of earlier draft
This paper exposes and opposes discursive idealizations and promotes
new efforts at representing and intervening in the complexity of
social-natural processes. We identify six aspects that are suppressed in
most accounts of society and nature, or, at least, dealt with awkwardly:
the inseparability of nature from society; social agency, which includes
the agency of both the humans represented and the representers
themselves; the differentiation among unequal agents implicted in
social-natural processes, the heterogeneity of elements and scales, the
historical contingency of the processes, and their structuredness.
We focus on diagrammatic representations, examining a range of diagrams in order to characterize the pictorial conventions, representational technologies, cognitive considerations, theoretical heuristics or preferences, and discursive interventions (or modes of "representing-intervening") that are brought into play in representing or obscuring the six key aspects of social-natural processes. In addition to interpreting diagramming, we promote experimentation in the use of diagrams of "heterogeneous resources" and of "intrasecting processes." Our goal is not simply to represent differently, but to facilitate self-conscious, reflexive "intraventions" in a world whose dynamics are characterized by the six aspects. In illustrating our points and proposals examples are used from the areas of political ecology, systems ecology, landscape restoration, and science studies. Our discussion should be of relevance to those who study visualization in science, and also to social theorists and a broad range of analysts of social-natural processes.
Ecologists and environmental scientists, particularly those who consider
socially generated effects in the environment, have to grapple with
complex, changing situations. In what ways can we make sense of
ecological complexity? My work in theoretical ecology has led me to hold
an image of "unruly complexity"; this contrasts with dominant
"system-like" representations in ecology (and elsewhere). My work in
history and sociology of science has also led me to understand the
dominant systems as privileging technocratic and/or moral practices or
interventions in the world.
The contrast I am drawing is as follows: At one pole lie views and approaches that construct from ecology and from society natural units, "systems" in the strong sense of having clearly defined boundaries and coherent internal dynamics governing their development, structure and stability, and their adaptation to external influences. Observers can thus locate themselves outside the systems studied, and seek generalisations and principles affording a natural reduction of complexity. At the other pole, we find analysts grappling with historically contingent situations resulting from intersecting processes, in which boundaries and categories are problematic, levels and scales are not clearly separable, and structures are subject to restructuring. Differentiation and change, not adaptation or equilibrium, characterises these situations of "unruly complexity." Control and generalisation are difficult and no privileged standpoint exists; in fact, the boundary between scientist and engaged participant can hardly be maintained. I want to reinforce and stimulate interest in work on complexity that moves us towards the second pole. The spirit of the Santa Fe Institute seems to pull in the other direction. Is that so? Is that OK?
When describing how scientists secure support for their scientific
theories, Latour and Callon (L&C);use the semiotic label actants for
human, other living beings, and non-living things alike. The playfulness of
the resulting anthropomorphic accounts seems to animate the discussion
of the non-human resources, but in practice the accounts reduce
everything to a lowest common denominator, dulling the analysis of human
purposes, motivations, imagination and action. Beginning with
L&C's work, I examine the implicit models of the
psychology of scientists that prevail in the social studies of science
(SSS) and conclude that SSS's scientific agents tend to be those who act
with a minimal psychology, almost without mental representations. This
ensures that inborn dispositions, cognitive constraints, individual
creativity, and so on, cannot determine action and belief, thus preempting
those who invoke the internal cognizing mind to resist the social
construction of science. Psychology of agents is, in turn, an arena in which
to argue about social causality, about the structuredness of society and
the role of agents in its re/production. L&C's;behaviorism, for example,
leaves no place for interests or other external influence to reside inside
the scientist's head, and thus counters earlier analyses that allows social
context or forces to determine their beliefs or actions.
This essay does not, however, claim to establish tight connections of different SSS methods to models of the psychology of agents and to social theory. Instead, connections among the three areas are proposed in a heuristic spirit. Thinking about each of the three areas is animated by the attempt to draw connections to the other two. At the same time, because the resulting propositions will not refer to all the details of any particular SSS method, they are made in the expectation of provoking responses from the methods' proponents. Through these responses more of the diverse conceptual and practical resources that different SSSers employ would be revealed. I finish by interpreting my own method in light of a model of agents as imaginative, heterogeneous constructors. This model of distributed psychology and social causality constitutes an alternative to both contextual determination and autonomous agency, and deserves more attention.
Over the last decade community ecologists have become concerned about
"indirect interactions": Do the effects mediated through the populations
not immediately in focus, or, more generally, through "hidden variables,"
confound any principles or results derived on the basis of observing the
direct interactions among populations? In this paper I introduce a puzzling
anomaly whose resolution speaks to this question and to the meaning of
models of sub-communities elevated from the ecological complexity in
which they are embedded. "Apparent interactions" (the term I use for the
sum of direct interactions within the sub-community and indirect
interactions from hidden variables) are troubling in ecology because the
hidden variables have dynamics of their own; controlling them is not a
relevant strategy for understanding naturally variable and complex
ecological situations. Apparent interactions ought also to trouble
philosphers studying scientists' strategies of using heuristics, of model
building, decomposition and localisation, and reduction.