Populations, Biocommunities, Ecosystems: A Review of Controversies in Ecological Thinking

Systems Ecology Reloaded: A Critical Assessment Focusing on the Relations Between Science and Ideology

Author(s): Dimitrios Schizas

Pp: 67-92 (26)

DOI: 10.2174/978160805280611201010067

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


Systems ecology in the style of Howard Odum was the prevailing ecological field in the period 1950-1970 and declined afterwards. Nevertheless, in 1992, three outstanding system ecologists, Bernard Patten, Sven Eric Jørgensen and Milan Straškraba began publishing a series of papers in which they attempted to introduce some new perspectives on ecosystems and make systems ecology flourish again.

The work hypothesis of this essay is that Patten and coworkers would have a better fate than their precursors, if their approach to ecosystems enabled the systems ecology to face both the past internal anomalies and the social incompatibilities. To test this hypothesis, I am searching for how they handle the old worrying problems related to the field’s hallmark, namely holism. As a matter of fact, Patten and coworkers rather spontaneously borrowed conceptual resources from the domain of social network theories such as Actor-Network theory and make it possible for systems ecology to cope with the failure of Howard Odum a) to define ecosystem boundaries as naturally existing b) to treat the ecosystem as a biological and not as a physicochemical entity and c) to offer a unified but pluralistic framework for studying ecological entities. While the innovations introduced configure problem-solving strategies, Patten and coworkers avoid dislocating the former structure. The latent ideological assumptions of the old field are not questioned and the beneficial potential of the innovations is not activated. Patten and coworkers interpret innovations from a viewpoint overarched by scientific romanticism and the technocratic worldview, a matter that inevitably brings back the old problems and prevents the field from harmonizing itself with the contemporary and prevailing social ideas and ideals.

Keywords: Systems ecology, Actor-network theory, Scientific romanticism.

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