STUART B. HILL
Social Ecology (SE) at UWS today is an emerging meta-discipline that provides a sophisticated and critical framework for the generation of holistic theory, deep understanding, and effective, responsible action.
It derives its theory and direction from applied philosophy (critical reason, ethics, world-views, imagination), personal experience (postulation, action, reflection, contemplation) and diverse sources and systems of disciplinary, cultural and contextual knowledge (education, particularly ecological thinking, and spirituality).
SE emphasizes actions and
that integrate personal, social, political and environmental concerns
End goals include wellbeing and
in the broadest sense, equity and social justice, and the fostering of
mutualistic and caring relationships, personal meaning, organizational
learning, co-evolutionary change and ecological sustainability. These
are illustrated below.
Relationships between sources of theory and praxis in social ecology
Because of this focus, most of its work is concerned with transformative learning and change, from the re-conceptualisation and redesign of existing theories, disciplines, professions, institutions and other structures and processes, to the facilitation of the actual processes of personal, social, political and environmental change.
The emphasis is on thinking about the big picture, while at the same time being willing to act in small meaningful ways, and also share and celebrate the associated visions, processes and outcomes to facilitate their rapid spread throughout society.
At UWS-Hawkesbury, SE had its origin in the mid-1980s in social communication. It was initially located within the Faculty of Agriculture and Rural Development and was primarily concerned with adult education in applied social and community settings. The change of name to Social Ecology reflected a drive to bring ecological thinking and concern for the environment into the nexus of key relationships.
Gradually SE has broadened to its present format, with undergraduate Majors in Community Development and Organisational Change, Environmental Education and Advocacy, and Ecological Psychology and Cultural Change. Coursework postgraduate programs include the Graduate Diploma and Master of Applied Science in Social Ecology, with Majors in Environmental Education, Organisational Development and Cultural Action; also a Master of Arts in Cultural Psychology: Jungian Studies and Complexity, Chaos and Creativity. Several other coursework postgraduate degrees are in the planning stage. Research degrees include the B.App.Sc.(Hons.), M.Sc.(Hons.) and Ph.D.
The educational goals of SE are pursued within a learning community in which opportunities for both students and staff to learn from one another are facilitated and encouraged. This process of learning is alive, exciting and empowering for all concerned. The knowledge and theory generated and the actions taken are at the cutting edge of personal, social, political and environmental thinking.
The research foci within the Social Ecology Research Group (SERG) are the same as the Majors plus Sense of Place and Critical Studies in Political Ecology. Discussions are underway for SERG to examine a possible amalgamation with the Centre for Systemic Development, the Centre for Strategic Thinking and the Critical Social Sciences Research Group.
Globally the term social ecology was first used in the mid-1960s by the United States anarchist, Murray Bookchin (1982) to characterise his particular critique of the centralised, hierarchical, naively simple, exclusionary and ecologically uninformed structures and processes that were (and still are) dominant in western society. Whereas Bookchin emphasised a philosophical analysis and was critical of deep ecology (Devall & Sessions 1985), SE at Hawkesbury had a more inclusive and practical approach. It drew its inspiration particularly from Carl Rogers (1969) conception of whole-person-learning, David Kolbs (1984) experiential education, Paolo Frieres (1972) view of education as liberation, Mary Belenky et als (1986) feminist perspectives, and Peter Reason and John Rowans (1981) participatory action research.
Subsequently, numerous other concepts have been incorporated. These include Gregory Batesons (1972) ecological or recursive epistemology, Peter Senges (1990) learning communities, Mary Clarks (1989) interdisciplinary approaches to global problems, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varelas (1987) biologically-based constructivist mind, Peter Checkland and Jim Scholes (1990) soft systems methodology, Kurt Lewins (1935) force-field analysis and Fran Peaveys (1994) strategic questioning. Others are reflected in the selections included in the extensive collection of Readers that have been prepared for the subjects offered in social ecology by the academic staff. These are available at cost from the Course Administrator at the address given below.
Professor Stuart B. Hill