Social or Human Ecology:
The study of human ecology is nothing but the logical extension of the ecological point of view. Human ecology is that part of sociology which studies human beings’ adjustments to their environments which include not only the physical conditions of their geographic environment but also other organisms such as the fellow human beings, plants and animals.
Man, the subject of human ecology, is less restricted by his physical environment. With the help of culture that man possesses, he can live almost anywhere on the planet. He can grow and produce different kinds of food, wear clothing of various types, construct houses, bridges and dams, create tools and implements which have different uses, kill beasts that are dangerous, destroy harmful insects with pesticides, and so on.
It is true that natural environment does set its own limits to human habitations. The size and spatial distribution of peoples are, in part, a function of natural environment. Human happiness and welfare have to do with the size of the communities and the spatial distribution of the population.
Studies in human ecology stress upon its four interrelated aspects: “A group of people (i.e., a population) adapting to an environment by means of a technology and a social organisation.
Technology and social organisation only represent a part of culture. But ecology does not focus on all aspects of culture. It focuses on such aspects of technology and social organisation as contribute to man’s sustenance or are a consequent adaptation to the environment.
Ecology’s Focus on the Community:
Social ecologists have focused on the community. The ecological factors can more easily and more productively be studied when the community is the unit of observation and study. A sociologist with ecological orientation considers the community-city, town or agricultural village- as a sociological unit and not as a legal or administrative unit.
Ecologists are interested in the spatial distribution of any social phenomenon: What part of the community is more vulnerable to crimes and suicides? Where the areas of high and low economic status groups are located? Where minorities live? Where the regular churchgoers are found? And so on.
“The ecologist regards spatial relations as an index of social relations. He is interested in the spatial structuring of human activities in order to learn about the social structure.” -Young- and Mack.
A community, from the ecological point of view, includes a focal area plus the surrounding territory. Its size is determined by the extent of its economic and social influence. This kind of ecological approach is now well appreciated and used not only by the sociologists but also by economists, social workers, businessmen, and social planning agencies.
American sociologists made much popular the ecological approach to the study of communities. C.J. Galpin is said to have been the first to throw light on this approach in his study of a Wisconsin agricultural village. Such studies are now extended to include modern urban societies.
The studies are mainly concerned with the social relationships of people in relation to the limitations and opportunities of the urban environment, and in relation to the environment of industry, its location, the limits it imposes on domestic and local relationships. Park and Burgess made some pioneering works in the field of social ecology.
Later on, Mckenzie formulated the basic principles of social ecology and made it one of the specialised fields of study within sociology. This ecological approach could become popular even outside the circle of the “Chicago School” in due course.