Human Ecology: Following Nature's Lead.

AuthorVaughn, Gerald F.
PositionBook Review

by Frederick Steiner; foreword by Richard T. T. Forman. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. 2002. Cloth, ISBN 1559639954, $25.00. 256 pages.

Frederick Steiner has thrown down the gauntlet to economists, especially institutional and public choice economists:

Learning to perceive the world as a never-ending system of Interactions--that is, to think about our surroundings and our relationships with our environments and each other ecologically--is challenging. Such thinking forces us to rethink our views of economics, politics, and business. It suggests different ways to plan and design. In economics, for example, an ecological view suggests a much more complex set of relationships than supply and demand: supply of what and where from and at what cost, not only in dollars but to other species and other generations. (p. 1) Steiner again points to economics as illustrating the challenge. He writes, "In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, economic theory helped us gain some understanding about the relationships among natural resources, human labor, and wealth. But, according to the American novelist Richard Powers, 'Economic theory stopped too soon, reducing the world's mad exchange to mere Supply, Demand, and Price'" (pp. 145-146). Thorstein Veblen himself could hardly have said it better.

Steiner is dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas, Austin. However, the subjects of his thinking and writing are far broader than architecture and the other environmental planning and design arts. To produce a new view of human ecology, he draws mainly from biology, sociology, anthropology, geography, engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, planning, and conservation. He draws relatively less from economics, I believe, for obvious reasons.

Using hierarchy theory as his frame of reference, Steiner asserts: "Hierarchy theory offers a useful way to conceptualize the organization of both natural systems and human cultures. The challenge becomes how to connect individual households and specific neighborhood actions to community, region, nation, and globe" (p. 14). In his first chapter, he indicates what lies ahead: "The major elements of human ecological theory (language, culture, and technology; structure, function, and change; edges, boundaries, and ecotones; interaction, integration, and institution; diversity; adaptation; and holism) form the organization for the subsequent chapters" (p. 15). His final chapter examines ethical...

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