1. Definition
Cultural ecology is a system of knowledge about environmental management. It has been created from the inputs of teachers and students at all levels of education. The aim is to stimulate discussion of ideas and projects about how to bring people and nature into equilibrium. The approach is through planning for sustainability based on good science and robust economics in which well-being of planet and personal beliefs are interdependent.
The following definitions are provided to guide its use and development.
Cultural ecology provides windows from many subjects into issues of environmental management.
Cultural ecology is about human communities as makers. In making things, humans are now the main functional components influencing planet Earth’s biological cycles of materials and energy flows.
Cultural ecology is an educational experience that demonstrates the importance of crossing boundaries of traditional subjects in order to understand and solve environmental problems.
Cultural ecology is a set of notions about nature illustrating how everyone interprets the world from within a particular multi factorial framework of perception and thought, which often gives rise to difficulties and dangers in using ones own perspective to judge the values and behaviour of others towards environmental issues.
Cultural ecology is a gathering of local information about the good and bad aspects of neighbourhood. It provides a knowledge base, through environmental appraisal, which is necessary for citizens to participate constructively in local government plans for sustainable development- the Local Agenda 21- particularly in the context of community regeneration.
Cultural ecology is a practical activity. It shows how individuals, families, and organisations can create action plans to set limits on the environmental impact of their day to day uses of materials and energy that flow through home, neighbourhood, workplace and leisure environment.
To bring conservation management to the heart of family life requires an ability in each individual to conceptualise the wholeness of self and environment as a set of beliefs to live by and a context that gives meaning to life. This ability may be described as ecosacy; a third basic ability to be taught alongside literacy and numeracy. The term ecosacy comes directly from the Greek oikos meaning house, and household management includes making decisions about the natural resources that flow into it. To be ecosate means having the knowledge and mind- set to act, speak and think according to deeply held beliefs and belief systems about people in nature, which is conceptualised as a community of beings.
The educational framework of ecosacy is cultural ecology. The term has its origin in the work of Steward in the 1930s on the social organization of hunter-gatherer groups. Steward argued against environmental determinism, which regarded specific cultural characteristics as arising from environmental causes. Using band societies as examples, he showed that social organization itself corresponded to a kind of ecological adaptation of a human group to its environment. He defined cultural ecology as the study of adaptive processes by which the nature of society and an unpredictable number of features of culture, are affected by the basic behavioural adjustments through which humans utilize a given environment.
Cultural ecology originated from an ethnological approach to the modes of production of native societies around the world as adaptations to their local environments. It has long been accepted that this anthropological view is too narrow. It isolates knowledge about the ancient ways of resource management from possible applications to present day issues of urban consumerism. Conservation management is now an institutional process of political adaptation to the environmental impact of world development. Conservation systems are concerned with stabilising the functional relationships between people and the environment, and managerialism has to be integrated into people's perceptions of how they fit within environmental systems.
Because traditional systems often involve long-term adaptations to specific environments and resource management problems, they are of interest to resource managers everywhere. Also, there are lessons to be learned from the cultural significance of traditional ecological knowledge with regard to the sometimes sacred dimensions of indigenous knowledge, such as symbolic meanings and their importance for social relationships and values.
However, if conservation management is to be brought into the general education system from its current professional periphery, it has to have cross-topic connections for learners to navigate to and from a range of departure points. A mind- map to begin building this navigation system has been produced from the subject of natural economy created by the Cambridge University Examination Syndicate for education in world development. A topic map of cultural ecology presents world development as the replacement of traditional systems for utilising natural resources with scientific systems for managing industrial production systems. Conservation management is the bridge between these historical aspects of human social evolution. It carries value judgments and perceptions about environment, where scientific knowledge is not necessarily the clearest representation of what reality is from the standpoint of Homo sapiens being just one of many living things in a community of beings.