Human Geography and the "New Ecol...
Human Geography and the "New Ecology": The Prospect and Promise of Integration Karl S. Zimmerer Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 84, No. 1. (Mar., 1994), pp. 108-125. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0004-5608%28199403%2984%3A1%3C108%3AHGAT%22E%3E2.0.CO%3B2-M Annals of the Association of American Geographers is currently published by Association of American Geographers. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/journals/aag.html. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to and preserving a digital archive of scholarly journals. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.jstor.org Thu May 31 02:10:28 2007
Human Ceography and the "New Ecology": The Prospect and Promise of Integration Karl S. Zimmerer Department of Ceography, University of Wisconsin-Madison Ecologists are in a period of retrenchment, soul searching, 'extraordinary introspection,' . . . This follows on nearly three decades of heady belief on the part of some ecologists . . . that communities are structured in an orderly predictable manner, and of others that information theory, systems analysis, and mathematical models would' trans- form ecology into a 'hard' science. (Robert Mcln- tosh 1987:321) I think that in this vast empirical stew [social life and the empirical reality surrounding it], if you'll pardon the expression, where disorder reigns, are scattered small islands of organization. (Claude Levi-Strauss and Didier Eribon 1991:102) Thas he "new ecology" offers a sort of short- hand for a significant reorientation that occurred in the field of biological ecology (Botkin 1990 Colwell 1984 1985 1992 Mclntosh 1987). The "new ecology" ac- cents disequilibria, instability, and even chaotic fluctuations in biophysical environments, both "natural" and human-impacted (for example, Botkin 1990 Mclntosh 1987 1991 Mooney and Godron 1983 Roughgarden et al. 1989 Vale 1982 Worster 1990). This emphasis on the volatility of environmental change tests the conventional ecological wisdom that depicts nature as tending toward stability or near-con- stant balance. The "new ecology" thus chal- lenges the major premises of biological ecol- ogy qua systems ecology as practiced during the 1960s and the 1970s. Whereas systems ecology regards environments at various scales as systems tending toward equilibrium and ho- meostasis (Laszlo 1 972 Margalef 1 968 E.P. Odum 1969 1971 H. Odum 1983), the "new ecology" proclaims opposition to the idea of persistent stability in environmental systems. For geographers who have long been inter- ested in human modifications of nature (for example, Kates 1987 Parsons 1971 C.O. Sauer 1967 Simmons 1993 B.L. Turner 1989), the "new ecology" amplifies these vital geographi- cal traditions. In this regard, the biophysical attributes of environmental modification are of especial interest to the various ecological sub- fields in human geography-cultural ecology (Butzer 1989 Kates 1987 Turner 1989), the cultural ecology of development (Grossman 1981 1984 Nietschmann 1973), political ecol- ogy (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987 Bryant 1992 Redclift 1987), and kindred approaches such as human ecology (Whyte 1986) and adaptive dynamics ecology (Knapp 1991 ), among oth- ers (Brookfield 1964 Butzer 1989 Denevan 1983 Ellen 1982 1988 Entrikin 1980 Gross- man 1977 1981 Kates 1987 Knapp 1987 1991 Leighly 1987 Parsons 1971 Porter 1978 Stoddart 1965 B.L. Turner 1989 W hyte 1986 Zimmerer nd.). But if the geographical litera- ture on ecological relations is ample, it is also remiss for its negligence of the "new ecology's" insights on the dynamics of biophysical envi- ronments. Our efforts in human geography to date have scarcely touched ,the profound re-interpreta- tion of biophysical environments that has emerged through the perspectives of the "new ecology."l To be sure the "new ecology" has already inspired rethinking in the realm of hu- man-environment relations (Denevan 1983 Knapp 1981 1987 1991 Smith 1984 Winter- halder 1980), but human geography's interpre- tation of biophysical environments awaits en- lightenment. Shoring up the ecological founda- tions of human geography will require recon- sideration of our assumptions and perspectives on biophysical environments. Toward that end, this paper begins with a discussion of major findings from the "new ecology." The two en- Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 84(1), 1994, pp 10a125 O Copyright 1994 by Association of Arner~can Geographers Published by Blackwell Publishers, 238 M a ~ n Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 lJF, UK
10 Human Geography and the "New Ecology" suing sections revise existing ecological con- cepts and reformulate certain ecological postu- lates that have been deployed by human ge- ographers since the 1970s. I examine three of these postulates in greater detail: (1) general- ized carrying capacity (2) area-biodiversity re- lations, that is, biological diversity as a function of geographical area and isolation and (3) bio- diversity-stability relations, that is, biological di- versity confers ecological stability. These ecological postulates derive from dis- proven assumptions and dubious principles of systems ecology. Each depends on unwar- ranted, and often unstated, assumptions about temporal and spatial regularities in biophysical environments. Given these alleged regularities, the postulates proffer accounts of such eco- logical features as the distribution and diversity of organisms via intermediate-level processes of "competitive exclusion" and "niche speciali- zation." The "new ecology" casts doubt on the applicability of these intermediate-level pro- cesses and it proposes reformulations that promise to strengthen human geography's contribution to current research issues (Butzer 1989 Kates 1987 B.L. Turner 1989). But the integration of the "new ecology" into human geography will not be seamless. The third section of the paper assesses the obsta- cles to our efforts. The first of these is the decline of predictive capacity and analytical certainty (in contrast to systems ecology) and the ensuing erosion in scientific claims on be- half of environmental conservation (Botkin 1990). The second is the prospect that non- equilibrium conditions might be construed as justification for the human-induced deteriora- tion of environments (Worster 1990). Although each of the difficulties poses real problems, neither should preclude human geography's consideration of the "new ecology," provided, of course, that these perspectives improve our understanding of biophysical environments. In- deed, I will argue that environmental conser- vation has much to gain through the adoption , of these perspectives and that the contribu- tions of landscape ecology and agroecology , offer cases in point. Whereas our third section deals with the constraints on geography's adoption of "new ecology" principles, section four focuses on the conditions that enable integration. Most important are three perspectives shared by the "new ecology" and human geography-the im- portance of history, spatial scale, and subjectiv- ity. Both perspectives pay careful attention to historical (non-cyclical) time to the function of spatial scale (scale dependency) and to differ- ential perceptions of environments and envi- ronmental change. These shared orientations of the "new ecology" and human geography point in turn to a conclusion that elaborates several integrative research themes that are es- pecially pertinent to the problems of environ- mental conservation and economic develop- ment. Geography's longstanding interest in these problems (C.O. Sauer 1956) has been renewed by the introduction of new ideas and con- cepts-sustainable development (Redclift 1987), sustainable resource management (Friedmann 1992:119-124), conservation-with- development (Stocking and Perkin 1992), and sustainable agriculture for development (Con- way and Barbier 1990). This renewal, I main- tain, may be hastened through the integration of the "new ecology's" perspectives into hu- man geography. These perspectives call for flexible environmental management strategies that accommodate at once change, risk, com- plexity, and development based on local par- ticipation. Indeed, geographical notions of par- ticipatory development (Bebbington 1991 Carney 1991 Friedmann 1992 Nietschmann 1991 Porter 1979 Richards 1985 Thrupp 1989 Zimmerer 1994) dovetail nicely with the perspectives of the "new ecology" and fill a niche in the research agenda on environmental conservation and economic development. "New Ecology" The term "new ecology" has been used since the 1980s to describe a major theoretical shift in the field of biological ecology (Colwell 1984 1985 1992). Others prefer more evoca- tive expressions such as "dynamic ecology," the "ecology of chaos" (Worster 1990), "dis- cordant nature" (Botkin 1990), and "ineluctably contingent nature" (May and Seger 1986). But whatever the term, this new perspective calls attention to the instability, disequilibria, and chaotic fluctuations that characterize many en- vironmental systems as it challenges the pri- mordial assumption of systems ecology,