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Bates and Tucker on Human Ecology

by on August 30, 2011

In introducing the topic of human ecology, the goal for Bates and Tucker in gathering all 21 separate articles and putting them together is to, “…present an overview of current environmental thought, research, and practices in this highly eclectic field…” (3). By choosing to make a mosaic of the modern world through so many different eyes, the possibility of better understanding of human ecology -its hardships, its bonuses, how to live, etc.- increases tenfold. Simultaneously, the articles allow for room to grow, to learn, to have a “…theoretical orientation that emphasizes the problem-solving significance of human behavior and culture…” which potentially could not be achieved without the knowledge of so many others (3).

The paper, divided up into many sections, expresses the numerous possibilities within human ecology, beginning with the evolutionary aspect of human ecology, which Bates and Tucker note that, “…these changes are imperceptible by human measures based off life experiences…but over periods geologists consider very short…major changes can occur” (5).  Such changes like viruses and alterations to DNA, are examples that the authors use to show that the evolution of human ecology is very fast, and that these changes are always significant in the scientific communities and the understanding of the world in which we live.

Bates and Tucker continue throughout the article(s) by discussing human ecology in the present day, of the three basic questions that plague scientists about ecology in the modern sense, and how many disciplines come together in order to “…understand relationships between people and their environments” (6). What follows are descriptive sections of what the nature of ecological systems looks like in the world, the progression that it takes and the influence that it has upon its environment, that is, our environment. Notions such as the parts of an ecosystem help the reader to better understand how the system itself works together to create constants and changes and then leads up to the section of how human ecology operates, or rather, how it is different than other ecosystems.

In reading through this introduction to human ecology, I do find myself with some questions pertaining to the subject: Bates and Tucker claim that “human populations are socially differentiated in ways that are significant for ecological research,” does this help to show/explain the “problem-solving significance of human behavior and culture”? The entire field of human ecology seems proud of the fact that our differences and changes happen so rapidly but somehow completely without our perceptions, and so I have to wonder if all this research really gives us an idea of how important/impactful our lives and our habits are from an ecological (and evolutionary) standpoint. So then, how is it that our species is so much more advanced in the spreading of ideas and of change? Is it merely that we have “human technologies” that “enable us to create environments” rather than merely being influenced by the original environment; that is, do we alter our environments to much that ecologically speaking, we are much more advanced (10)? Or is it merely that our species has an exceptional way of learning to adapt and thrive, that “human niches can be rapidly transformed” giving “…change in human habits and behavior”? (8).

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6 Comments
  1. These are all interesting questions and points brought up at the end of this post because I am also struggling with how humans in the ecosystem fit in to the environment. throughout the course of history, all species and parts of the environment have gone through stages of adaptation and evolutionary processes. However, i think humans have become so involved with “creating environments” rather than learning to adapt to them so much that we are not actually “thriving,” but instead we are choosing short term advantages to long term devastation to the environment. We cannot just change our environments however we please in order to make our living conditions more comfortable and expect the ecosystem as a whole to adapt and evolve as fast as we are. Our so called “problem solving skills”‘ are only creating devastation to our ecosystems because we tend to focus on benefiting the human race rather than thinking about all the organisms living alongside us and how they will be affected in the long run.

  2. 242colleencarey permalink

    I thought that what we said in class about not everything is an organism and Human ecology is interested in the interactions of humans and the environment and the relationship of organism. I do agree with and like the idea of looking at the relationship of all organisms, but there are other things, like the elements, that are impacted by humans as well. I think that this article bounces around a lot and the messages of it aren’t too clear. But, I like the questions you pose at the end of the blog. I think those are all important questions to ask. Human ecology ties together the inseparableness of nature and culture that we have been talking about in class.

  3. Frederick Reisen permalink

    Personally, I believe as I have said probably to the nauseam of some classmates is that the only true difference between humans and other creatures or organisms is our rationality. If we didn’t have rationality none of what we have deemed as destructive would matter to us. If we could be lucky enough to find ourselves in this position without rationality than there would be no second thoughts and we would be all engines go. However since we have recognized the threat to our existence in insulating ourselves from the environment (rationally placing ourselves first) now we have decided to look back and ask when did this all start? But the question that digs at me is how much of all this matters? In a metaphysical sense, nothing humans ever do will matter to anybody but us. So in the eternal words of Joe Dirt should we “keep on keeping on” till our end? Or as the crew from Watchmen might propose should we try and preserve our existence as long as possible?

  4. Megan Powell permalink

    I’ve actually spent some time thinking about these questions before this class as I feel they are very pertinent to our existence as ethical beings in nature and I always seem to get myself in the same conundrum: as humans our goal, like all other living things, is to try to survive and thrive. And (like all other living things) we use our abilities that have evolved over time to do so – which fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) includes the ability to use conscious rationale to solve problems. Because our environment can be so harsh, we used our abilities to find ways to make it easier — like ‘creating our own environments.’ But this is still a response or an adaptation to our environment. As many people believe these days, the effect of our “adapting” is a negative one overall and has harmed nature on the whole of the world. But, on the other hand, other living things do not have the conscious awareness of their impact on the environment and it must be admitted that a lot of times the effect of one species can certainly be negative (think of beaver dams, impact of the pine beetle, invasive species in general, etc.). All these ideas put together says to me that humans are just like any other species and by our instincts to survive we are simply doing what evolution has taught us. But this is where I get mixed up; the scale on which we seem to affect our environment does not, in my opinion, really compare to the scale of which other species affect the environment (in that we have a much larger effect) and the fact that we have the ability of being aware of our effect may in fact say that we need to incorporate ALL abilities in our effort to survive and improve and “problem-solve,” not just the abilities that seem most immediate (like using intelligence and rationale to solve problems for the now).

  5. amygraceaustin permalink

    Stepping aside from the discussion on how to respond to our human impact on the environment, there are a few interesting points I would like to reflect on after reading the Bates and Tucker article again.

    Bates and Tucker state that the three questions ecologists ask, which human ecologists are called to reflect on as well are: “One, how does the environment affect the organism? Two, how does the organism affect its environment? Three, how does an organism affect other organisms in the environments in which it live?”

    In terms of human ecology, I think we have forgotten a lot about question 1. How do environments impact us as humans? Bates and Tucker then go on to talk about how important energy flows are to the dialogues regarding human ecology, and also “how humans not only engage in a division of labor beyond that associated with age and gender roles, but also create systems of perpetuated subordination and inequality, such as caste, class, and other forms of social, economic, and political ranking.” When you combine all these ideas you get something not too far from the controversial concept of environmental determinism. It is so easy for us to get stuck in the mindset of only focusing on our impacts on the environment. I think this comes from a Western industrial perspective. However, when reminded by the article of how HIV was likely first transmitted to humans through human-chimpanzee contact, I remember how vulnerable we are to the effects of the environment.

    The Bates and Tucker article, while it provides a solid foundation for understanding the field of Human Ecology, reminds me that the dialogue goes both ways.

  6. I think our species’ ability to spread ideas and change encompasses the use of technology AND the way we adapt. Both of these are based on the human animal’s ability to reason. With reason, we are able to make the necessary changes to adapt and thrive, and we therefore have the driving force for our ability to adapt.

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