Beyond Perspective

Perspective still matters. But that isn’t just what matters anymore.

A while back, drawing from my readings based on ecological and socio-ecological systems (SES), I wrote a blog post on the continuum of sciences. The post mainly discussed the way in which human agency lies centrally between ecological (nature) and technological (man made) systems. I intended to point out the focus of humanity on the technological or artificial side of the spectrum. The obsession with technology, oftentimes seen as a panacea approach to resolution of problems, has had a fallback on the fine balance between the social and ecological systems — this consequently becoming the subject of many concerns outlining sustainable development in general.

I had spent the larger part of my research (before I joined the program) on socio-technical aspects of urban systems (mainly focusing on urban energy technologies). The socio-ecological lens, therefore, provided a very different perspective, enabling me to revisit the same concepts from a different theoretical lens. Perspective matters, as I said earlier, but what seemed to matter more is the perspectival lens which I used to view the other side of spectrum. Had I studied socio-ecological systems before socio-technical systems, my conceptions, I contend, would have been very different. It wasn’t the case for me and so my inability in upholding this contention with any certainty.

But here’s what I can say about the perspectival lens given my experience in studying diagonally opposite perspectives — human-technology and human-environment. The recurring lamentation (an academically sound one rather than a dramatic one — just to be clear) in literature appears to underline the problematic singularity of technological fixes. These technocratic solutions have taken away, in fact obscured, deeper and more meaningful conceptions of interfaces between humans and their surroundings. Human proclivity to material assets, in entirety, frames all of human understanding — from social (social media and networking) to environmental (geoengineering solutions) to even biological (GM foods) aspects of life.

Nevertheless, the undesirability to break away, and rightly so, from technology, is accepted within socio-ecological theory when it discusses the ability to encapsulate internal and external disturbances on systems through technological advancement (resilience and disaster management). This openness and malleability to accept the opposite side of the spectrum, evident when viewing from the socio-ecological perspectival lens, hardly appears to be so from the socio-technical one. This is to say that human-nature dichotomy is a human construct and the ability of ecological systems to accept and obey informed human intervention contrasts incriminatingly with the inability of most technological systems to conform to natural laws and regulation.

To me, therefore, perspective matters inasmuch as the contrasts in framing an issue; be it from ecological side of the spectrum looking to the technological side or vice versa. It would be really interesting to meet someone whose research journey has taken them in the opposite direction — studying first the ecological aspects and then the technological ones. Please let me know if you are that person or know someone who is.

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About Ali

Ali is a PhD candidate in the Urban Planning and Public Policy program at University of Texas at Arlington. His research focuses on examining the emergence, persistence and stability of community-scale grassroots energy transitions across the US.

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