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Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Ward, D. J. 2003. Redefining ecology. Conservation Ecology 7(1): r8. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/resp8/

Response to Hull et al. 2000. "Assumptions about ecological scale and nature knowing best hiding in environmental decisions"

Redefining Ecology

David Jefford Ward


A decade ago, I did a master's course at Brussels University called “Human Ecology,” which seems close to the “biocultural approach to ecological science“ proposed by Hull et al. (2002).

I tried to introduce the idea to my then employer, a government conservation agency, but failed, for reasons of politics, budget, personality, and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that the then senior ranks of the department worked with the Oxford Dictionary (Sykes 1976) definition of ecology as “a branch of biology.” It seemed that social perceptions had no place in ecology.

A few years later that department was radically “restructured,” basically because of its failure to take account of social (“community”) perceptions. The restructuring was, however, administrative rather than philosophical, and the Oxford Dictionary definition probably still holds sway, consciously or unconsciously. This may be true of other bureaucracies or academies, and may be another barrier to creative environmental research and decision making.

The biocultural approach would seem to require the scrapping of that stultifying definition, and its replacement with something more ecologically literate. Perhaps this journal should run a competition to redefine ecology. As an opening gambit, how about “ecology is a field of study that tries to understand the mixture of chaotic and orderly interactions within, and between, nature and human society. Ecology is not itself a discipline, but draws upon many disciplines and methods.”

Published: March 26, 2003


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Hull, R. B., D. P. Robertson, G. J. Buhyoff, E. Seekamp, and G. J. Buhyoff. 2002. Assumptions about ecological scale and nature knowing best hiding in environmental decisions. Conservation Ecology 6(2): 12. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/Journal/vol6/iss2/art12

Sykes, J. B., editor. 1976. The concise Oxford dictionary of current English. Sixth edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK.

Address of Correspondent:
David Jefford Ward
2a Dreyer Road,
Western Australia 6111
Phone: (08) 9397 5684

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