Chapter

Ecology Then and Now

Dana Phillips

in The Truth of Ecology

Published in print May 2003 | ISBN: 9780195137699
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787937 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195137699.003.0002
 Ecology Then and Now

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Popularly, ecology is still associated with utopian values and concepts such as balance, harmony, and community, despite the fact that scientists no longer see these values and concepts as relevant to the natural world. The common misunderstanding of ecology is in part a reflection of the fact that ecology is still a relatively young science, one that focuses on the complexity of the natural world, which is something it cannot study successfully in laboratory experiments, but must encounter through fieldwork and therefore under less than ideal conditions. Ecology's difficulties were for a long time compounded by its origins in natural history and in holistic or “organismal” ways of thinking, which were shot through with forms of myth, metaphor, and allegory not always recognized as such by ecologists. Ecology was therefore sometimes dismissed as a “point of view” and not a true science. In fact, ecologists were often unable to confirm their expansive theories (some of which were at odds with the Darwinian theory of evolution, already becoming the backbone of biology by the last quarter of the 19th century). Ecocriticism needs to be aware of ecology's record of underachievement. It also needs to be aware of the fact that in recent years ecology has become a more reductive, more mechanistic science than it once was, one in which such relatively disheartening concepts as chaos, disturbance, patchiness, and stochasticity (i.e., random variation) are becoming increasingly central to both theory and fieldwork.

Keywords: balance; chaos; community; disturbance; ecocriticism; ecology; environmental history; harmony; holism; reduction

Chapter.  21736 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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