Monday, May 31, 2010

Ecology and Economics

Hello and Happy Memorial Day,

When I think about Action Research and the "Environment" I am often bombarded by other phrases and words like earth, nature, ecology, economics, and sustainable development.  Within this group of related subjects I cannot help but notice the commonality between economics and ecology.  So today, I attempt an oh so brief historical analysis of the amazing prefix “eco.”

For starters I am a student of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is a theory about linguistic relativity and argues that language is a primary shaper of ideas and has the potential to determine and shape our perceptions of reality.  Language, or lack of it can limit or expand one’s thoughts.  This is a powerful accusation, with roots in cultural anthropology and symbolic interactionism.  If words can influence our perception of reality by providing us with common symbols for communication and understanding, then words also have the ability to shape our actions affect our praxis.  From this theoretical point of view, lets depart on this abbreviated etymological adventure…

The prefix “eco” can be traced back to “oikos," which means “house”, “household”, or “home” in Ancient Greek.  The prefix "oikos" is found in oikonomikos, or economics with the root word “nomos” meaning “the law of something.” Thus oikonomikos translates into the “law of the house," or “relating to household management.”  From here the prefix “oikos” became “oeco” in Latin, and more familiar “eco” in French.

Here are several names, dates, and neologism all relating to the evolution of economics and ecology.

1. Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) built upon the works of Socrates and Plato and talked about “The economy as a system which organizes the activities of people in a community, to best use the available resources to satisfy the private and collective needs of the community.”

2. Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274 CE) discusses economics in terms of “value of goods” and related this to Christian morals.  Aquinas believes that the value of goods is equal to the amount of work that has been put into them.

3. In 1749 the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778 CE) published a book called The Oeconomy of Nature.  Linnaeus’s goal was to describe and catalog all known organisms and his work eventually became the foundation of modern taxonomy.  

4. Adam Smith (? – 1790 CE) published A Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, and introduced the wonder phrase “the invisible hand,” which would later be used in his 1776 publication Wealth of Nations. 

5. Some of Karl Marx’s work (1818 – 1883) can be viewed as a reaction to Smith’s ideas, arguing against his interpretation of the true value of one’s work (capitalist verses communalist ideologies).

6. In 1859 the English naturalist Charles Darwin's (1809-1882 CE) published On the Origin of Species, which laid the foundation for the emergence of evolution and ecology.

7. In 1866, Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919 CE) a German philosopher and biologist coined the term “Okologie,” (ecology) and stated that it pertained to: “all the knowledge and science of the relationship between an organism and the other world surrounding it.” 

8. Then in 1935, the British ecologist Arthur G. Tansley introduced the term “ecosystem”, meaning “a system formed by the interactions of a community of organisms with their environment.”

9.  Recently the study of ecology has been used in the classroom to focus on areas such as social/psychological relations, technical core of instruction, physical structure and organizational routines, discipline and classroom management, and attitudes, perceptions, and expectations (Ellison et al. 2000).

Given this wide western history and perspective of “eco,” and our current paradigms’ global-hegemonic-industrial-capitalist assault on the earth, I believe it is these two concepts, economics and ecology that need to be remarried.



Ellison et al.  2000.  CLASSROOM CULTURAL ECOLOGY: The Dynamics of Classroom Life in Schools Serving Low-Income African American Children. Published by the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk

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