Integrated Socio-ecological History: Could Looking at the Past Help Direct Society's Future?

Cornell, Sarah
December 2010
International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences;2010, Vol. 5 Issue 8, p139
Academic Journal
In the context of human-caused global environmental change, demand is growing from funders and wider society for deeper knowledge integration across physical sciences, social studies and humanities, to inform societal responses. An effective transdisciplinarity requires new conceptualisations of the relationships between human society and our environment. However, meeting the challenge of providing integrative socio-ecological understanding for real-world action can require academics to do unfamiliar and even uncomfortable things. Scholars in interdisciplinary global change are not just developing a shared academic language and new theory, but face an urgent need to engage in social debates much more fully, consider the ethical dimensions of their work, and take responsibility for the application of their insights. The history of scientific endeavour should alert us to potential pitfalls in the socio-environmental domain: dangerous reductionism, cultural imperialism, environmental determinism, and more. I discuss the early experiences of an international programme, IHOPE (Integrated History and Future of People on Earth), which aims to map and model the global socio-ecological dynamics of history, and to project options for the future of humanity. Unusually for a science-led global change research programme, it recognizes the potential pitfalls. Its research planning includes open, inclusive, and critical dialogues about interdisciplinary scholarship and rigour, and also the societal context of this research. More places are needed for this kind of reflexivity and debate in global change research.


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