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

By Sarah Cornell.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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.

Keywords: Environmental History, Socio-ecological System, Reflexivity, Knowledge Integration

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.139-148. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 873.123KB).

Dr. Sarah Cornell

QUEST, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

Dr. Sarah Cornell works on integrative socio-environmental research at the University of Bristol, where she was the founding director of the Masters in Earth System Science and is currently engaged in multi-faculty research development on the human dimensions of global change. She is also the science programme manager for the UK NERC-funded programme QUEST (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System, 2004-2010). Her background is in biogeochemistry, with a continuing interest in the perturbed global nitrogen cycle, and in integrated environmental resource management. In recent years, she has become more engaged in use-oriented transdisciplinary research and research policy, with a particular focus on conceptualisations of humans in the Earth system.

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