Human ecology re-examined at CHE conversation

The College of Human Ecology (CHE) explored human ecology in other contexts and cultures through the CHE Conversations webinar on Feb. 24.

With the theme, “Unpacking the value of human ecology in an increasingly complex and connected world,” the webinar explored how academics in other parts of the world are studying and using human ecology to improve the human condition.

The webinar was headlined by two guest speakers: Dr. Sherry Ann Chapman, a Professional Human Ecologist and practicum coordinator at the Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta (U of A) in Canada, and Dr. Robert Dyball, a professor of the Human Ecology Program under the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University (ANU) and a visiting professor at CHE.

Dr. Chapman discussed human ecology’s history and application in the Canadian context, particularly in the growth and evolution of their discipline in the U of A, from household economics to human ecology in the present. 

She discussed how their research lens changed as human ecology became more informed about the factors affecting the human condition, among which are environmental damage, progress brought about by mechanization and industrialization, and the intergenerational effects of Canada’s history with colonization.

She emphasized the importance of practicing humility and “two-eyed seeing” among human ecologists to recognize the wisdom of indigenous world views and welcome other worldviews such as those coming from the West.

“Ecological consciousness refers to the state of being aware of how one is related in interdependent ways to other living organisms and various environments or contexts. This awareness means being not only culturally humble but also ecologically humble,” she said. 

Dr. Robert Dyball, for his part, said that human ecology at ANU can be about the interrelationships between humans, their cultures, and their ecosystems and how these interacting categories of things cause change in one another over time.

He said that their human ecology program focuses on answering why people and societies do the things they do and identifying its consequences. To this end, they aim to develop students and human ecology practitioners as change agents who can intervene to change the way these interrelationships are working.

With that, he emphasized the importance of creating a collective understanding of “wicked problems,” wherein there are differing views about the problem and interventions can also cause new problems to appear. Because the problems affect groups differently, each may also propose a different set of solutions, which may benefit some but burden others.

To address these concerns, Dr. Dyball said that the ANU adopts a systems-based framework to have an organized way of thinking about the important elements of wicked problems. This is to better understand them and find leverage points for intervention to improve the system over time.

“We need to have a framework that will bring together those people who are engaged with the problems and, more than anyone, the communities who will own the problems when we’ve gone away,” he said.

In his opening remarks, Chancellor Jose V. Camacho, Jr. said that he recognized the importance of human ecology in future-proofing UPLB and in supporting the communities that the University serves. He also highlighted how human ecology can be used to sustainably address local and global socio-ecological changes.

The CHE Conversations webinar is part of the college’s “Strengthening Human Ecology in the Philippine Higher Education Program” which aims to assess activities for human ecology education at the national, regional, and global levels. (Jessa Jael S. Arana)

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