What Is the Research Focus of Social Ecology Theory?


Vincent White

Social ecology theory is a multidisciplinary perspective that examines the relationship between social and ecological systems. It focuses on the ways in which human activities impact the natural world and how environmental factors, in turn, shape human behavior and social structures. This theory has gained increasing attention in recent years due to the pressing need for sustainable development and environmental protection.

Origins of Social Ecology Theory

Social ecology theory emerged in the 1960s as a response to concerns about the negative impact of industrialization on the environment. It was developed by Murray Bookchin, who argued that environmental problems are not just technical issues but also social and political ones. He believed that our current social system, which is based on hierarchy and domination, is incompatible with ecological sustainability.

Research Focus of Social Ecology Theory

The research focus of social ecology theory is broad and interdisciplinary. It draws on insights from fields such as sociology, ecology, anthropology, political science, and philosophy. Some key areas of research include:

Social Hierarchies and Environmental Injustice

Social ecology theory highlights the ways in which environmental degradation disproportionately affects marginalized communities such as low-income neighborhoods or indigenous peoples. It examines how social hierarchies based on race, class, gender, and other factors contribute to environmental injustice.

Ecological Literacy

Another area of research in social ecology theory is ecological literacy – the understanding of ecological principles and how they relate to our daily lives. This involves educating individuals about their role in shaping their environment and encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions.


Sustainability is a key concern for social ecology theory. It addresses issues such as climate change, resource depletion, overconsumption, and waste management. Social ecologists argue that sustainability requires fundamental changes to our economic system to prioritize long-term ecological health over short-term profit.

Social Movements and Political Change

Social ecology theory emphasizes the importance of social movements and political change in achieving ecological sustainability. It examines the ways in which grassroots movements can challenge dominant power structures and promote environmental justice.


In conclusion, social ecology theory offers a broad and interdisciplinary perspective on the relationship between humans and the environment. Its research focus includes topics such as social hierarchies, ecological literacy, sustainability, and social movements. By examining the complex interactions between human society and the natural world, social ecology theory offers insights into how we can create a more just and sustainable future.