What is Cultural Ecology?

1. Overview of the Topic – Summary:

From Wikipedia: Cultural ecology is the study of human adaptations to social and physical environments. Human adaptation refers to both biological and cultural processes that enable a population to survive and reproduce within a given or changing environment.[1] This may be carried out diachronically (examining entities that existed in different epochs), or synchronically (examining a present system and its components). The central argument is that the natural environment, in small scale or subsistence societies dependent in part upon it, is a major contributor to social organization and other human institutions.

In his Die Ökologie des Wissens (The Ecology of Knowledge), Peter Finke explains that this theory brings together the various cultures of knowledge that have evolved in history, and that have been separated into more and more specialized disciplines and subdisciplines in the evolution of modern science (Finke 2005). In this view, cultural ecology considers the sphere of human culture not as separate from but as interdependent with and transfused by ecological processes and natural energy cycles.

2. What is the focus of this Topic?:

From Wikipedia: In the first decade of the 21st century, there are publications dealing with the ways in which humans can develop a more acceptable cultural relationship with the environment.

This particular conceptualisation of people and environment comes from various cultural levels of local knowledge about species and place, resource management systems using local experience, social institutions with their rules and codes of behaviour, and a world view through religion, ethics and broadly defined belief systems.

Despite the differences in information concepts, all of the publications carry the message that culture is a balancing act between the mindset devoted to the exploitation of natural resources and that, which conserves them.

There is a sacred ecology associated with environmental awareness, and the task of cultural ecology is to inspire urban dwellers to develop a more acceptable sustainable cultural relationship with the environment that supports them.

3. Why it’s listed here – What is the relevance to Architectural Medicine?

The quote above, “the task of cultural ecology is to inspire urban dwellers to develop a more acceptable sustainable cultural relationship with the environment that supports them.”, is paramount in the process of creating healthier built environments from rural to urban Architecture.

An important focus for Architectural Medicine is viewing the whole picture, yet also recognizing the importance of the many facets of life, including the cultural and ecological circumstances of today’s world. The term “Health” is defined in many ways, such as physical, mental and emotional health, which are sometimes defined by indirect aspects, as well as the influence of the surroundings on human well being.

The idea of “develop(ing) a more acceptable cultural relationship with the environment” can be the natural environment as well as the built environment, and as such this impact can reflect on one’s overall wellness and well being. Studying and understanding this in a better format can help support designs and development for better future health.

4. Common groups and individuals involved with this topic:

History: Anthropologist Julian Steward (1902-1972) coined the term, envisioning cultural ecology as a methodology for understanding how humans adapt to such a wide variety of environments. In his Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution (1955), cultural ecology represents the “ways in which culture change is induced by adaptation to the environment.”(2)

I. G. Simmons’ book Changing the Face of the Earth, with its telling subtitle “Culture, Environment History” which was published in 1989.

Sacred ecology, a sub-topic of cultural ecology, produced by Fikret Berkes in 1999.

5. Resources: