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Ecology generally refers to the scientific study of an organism or community of organisms and their relationship to each other as well as to the environment. The ecological framework is used in biological sciences, social sciences, botany, zoological sciences, and other research areas and is applied to myriad subareas including human ecology, cultural ecology, organizational ecology, plant ecology, population ecology, spatial ecology, and more. Early writings on ecology were influenced by the works of Malthus and Darwin. This can be seen in ecology’s use of natural selection and the presence of other competing species in the race for survival.
Social scientists borrowed the ecological framework directly from the biological and plant sciences. Ecology’s quantitative approach influenced both the conceptual approach to the human community and the methodological one. The term ”human ecology” was used in the social sciences by Charles C. Adams in 1913. However, ecology as a social scientific approach received systematic formulation around 1915 from Robert Park.
The classical human ecologists writing in the 1920s and 1930s applied to the interrelations of human beings a type of analysis previously applied to the interrelations of plants and animals. The human ecologists claimed that although the conditions that affect and control the movement and numbers of populations are more complex in human societies than in plant and animal communities, they exhibit extraordinary similarities.
Criticisms of the ecological approach within the social sciences include whether change can originate from within the socio-ecological system and whether communities and environments can be analyzed as truly being closed systems. Furthermore, recent use of the ecological framework in the social sciences is scarcely influenced by the original biological analogy. Despite the wide variation in the use of the term ”ecology,” the term for sociologists often becomes a synonym for ”spatial” and loses much of the systematic interplay between environment and community.
- Michaels, J. W. (1974) On the relation between human ecology and behavioral social Social Forces 52 (3): 313-21.
- Park, R. E. (1936) Human ecology. American Journal of Sociology 42 (1): 1-15.