Saturday, September 25, 2010

Global Human Ecology is Not Neo-Home Economics

Linda commented that her daughter majored in Human Ecology and that my blog is helping to explain to her what that is. But sorry, what I am calling Global Human Ecology is not something that one can get a degree in now. What is called Human Ecology is something else at universities. What is called Human Ecology is a new word for what used to be Home Economics, as it has tried to move beyond its image of baking and sewing and other state fair stuff and even expanded into neighborhood activities.

Here are some words clipped out from a description from Cornell University's College of Human Ecology.

The beginnings of the College appeared in the year 1900, when a reading course for farm women was created. In 1907, the Department of Home Economics was created within Cornell's New York State College of Agriculture. In 1919, the Department of Home Economics became a school within the Agriculture College. In 1925, the school was converted to the New York State College of Home Economics, the first state-chartered college of Home Economics in the country. ... The New York State College of Human Ecology (HumEc) is a statutory college at Cornell University. The college is a unique compilation of studies on consumer science, nutrition, health economics, public policy, human development and textiles, each part of the discipline of human ecology.
Students at the College of Human Ecology delve into biology and chemistry, economics, psychology, and sociology, applying their expertise in fields such as health, design, nutrition, public policy, and marketing. Studies done by professors and students vary from studying the financial impacts of tax legislation to designing safer workplaces and facilitating healthy growth of premature infants.

Great stuff!! But this is not what I mean by Global Human Ecology and that is one reason that I insert "Global." 

What I mean by "global" is a perspective for looking at how human beings function in terms of individuals and societies systems of interactions and patterns of behavior that have global implications, including but not restricted to interactions with the environment. I want to share my efforts to develop a broad perspective on the modern world system and human condition. If there are practical implications, it  is for the individual to figure out how to incorporate insights into his or her personal endeavours. I don't see GHE as something that will prescribe what individuals should "do." It is more like developing study protocols and broadening one's perspectives as self-education continues through one's life. 

I spent many years as a panelist and advisor to  Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  One thing that our panels of experts all over the country agreed to was that American education needed to do a much better job of better opening the minds of students and the public to the ways that bits of knowledge and theories and so on interconnect, and why this matters. Some would phrase this, "students need to think more holistically, that is to be able to see the big picture of causes and effects." We break down knowledge into bits, but we do not develop disciplined habits of putting the bits together very well. My idea of Global Human Ecology is very much in this spirit, though it is not part of Project 2061 or a direct spin off. Rather it is because I think this way that I was recruited by the AAAS to join and advise this project. 

Let add that I think the historical development of patterns of human behavior and of economic and political systems and of patterns of interacting with the biosphere should be part of a complete perspective. Thus my approach to understanding the modern world system includes efforts to piece together its evolution. 

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