Edited by Frank Boons and Jennifer Howard-Grenville
Chapter 2: Ecology in the Social Sciences: An Overview
Frank Boons INTRODUCTION Industrial ecology provides a specific perspective on the way in which human activities relate to the interacting abiotic and biotic elements that constitute natural ecologies. This relationship between human activity and ecologies (often referred to as natural environment or nature) has been addressed in different ways in several social science disciplines. In order to understand and further develop the social science perspective on industrial ecology, it is important to have insight into these attempts. I assume that the way in which social scientists have dealt with ecology is unfamiliar territory to readers with a science, engineering or technology (SET)-background. But from reading the work of social scientists to the field of industrial ecology I have the impression that they are not always familiar with this work either. I distinguish three ways in which ecology and the social sciences intersect. First of all, the concepts of ecologists have been used by social scientists as metaphors for social phenomena. Of course, the field of industrial ecology is one example of the application of this metaphor, but there are many more. Second, if we take ecology as an encompassing way of looking at nature, there have been various approaches that seek to analyse the interaction between social phenomena and natural ecologies. One way is to look at society and nature as separate entities or systems, and analyse the interrelations between them. Finally, a distinct social science perspective which has become dominant especially in recent times takes ecology/ nature into...
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