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Human Ecology Theory

Research Framework

The studies and concept development based upon human ecological theory range from very abstract to concrete. Bronfenbrenner (1979), one of the first researchers to rely extensively on human ecology theory in studies of children and families, defined an ecological perspective by focusing on development as a function of interaction between the developing organism and the enduring environments or contexts in which it lives out its life. He applies the theory in a practical way to explain quality factors in day care for children, the value of flexible employment schedules for parents, and improving the status of women. Bronfenbrenner argues that the child always develops in the context of family relationships and that development is the outcome of the child's genetic attributes combined with their immediate family and eventually with other components of the environment. This work stands in contrast to many psychological studies that explain individual behavior solely by considering individual traits and abilities.

James Garbarino (1997) uses human ecological theory to explain abuse in families, especially toward children. He considers the nature-or-nurture dilemma–whether the powerful influence of the environment can override the conditions of our biology. The interactions between these factors are difficult to research, because often one is held constant in order to assess variations in the other. For example, studying genetically identical twins reared separately to show the effect of nature or nurture on intelligence, or seeing how different newborns react to the stimulus of a smiling human face, are one-dimensional perspectives. Garbarino has collaborated with other authors in 1994 and 1996 in considering the effects of the political environment in Palestine on children's behavior problems.

The model has been used by researchers to investigate problems in various cultural contexts. Bengt-Erik Andersson (1986) shows how different social environments of children in Sweden influence their development, especially environments represented by their peer group, their neighborhood, and whether they had been latch-key children. Amy Avgar, Urie Bronfenbrenner, and Charles R. Henderson (1977) consider childrearing practices in Israel in three different community settings—the communal kibbutz, the cooperative moshav, and the city. The study surveys preadolescents, asking them to respond on behalf of their mother, father, peer, and teacher. It finds that the traditional family structure exerts a major effect on the predicted socialization patterns, although it also notes the effect of the larger society, with significant differences among the three communities.

Sontag and Bubolz (1996) use the ecosystem model to conceptualize the interaction between farm enterprises and family life. The family, the farm, and other components are mutually interdependent and cannot be considered separately. For example, they consider production, as well as decision-making and management activities, from the perspective of both agricultural and home production. Margaret Bubolz and Alice Whiren (1984) use an ecological systems model for analysis of the family with a handicapped member. They show that these families are vulnerable to stress because of the demands placed on them for physical care, attending to emotional needs, and locating and obtaining access to support services. They conclude that the total needs of the family must be considered when policy decisions and programs are devised rather than focusing only on the handicapped family member.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesHuman Ecology Theory - The Origins Of Human Ecological Theory, The Family As A System, Research Framework, Conclusion