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Thursday, 16 September 2010

Mapping human impact revised

Some hours ago I finished revising my article "Mapping human impact: Expanding horizons - Interdisciplinary integration", cf. previous posts, for the forthcoming CECT II proceedings. In the process I have added approximately 1.000 words (but removed 4 figures).


Qualities and quantities
Ecological footprint and ontological niche: Two complementary approaches
Development of ontological maps
On interpreting numerical data qualitatively

At a general level, the recurring topic of this article is the opposition and complementarity of qualitative and quantitative aspects of empirical data. In particular, an attempt is made to develop means to qualify quantitative data. More particularly, however, the aim of the current text is to investigate the extent of human impact in nature in contemporary times – or more precisely to evaluate proposed representations thereof. The theoretical perspective stems from ecosemiotics and biosemiotics, with special emphasis on a phenomenological reading of Jakob von Uexküll.

An important component of this contribution consists of a discussion of the merits and shortcomings of two methodologies – the ecological footprint (a common tool in policy-making) and the ontological niche (the author's own coinage based on the theory of ecosemiotics). One of the main objectives of the developers of the ecological footprint concept was to make the general public and policy-makers aware of excessive resource use. While that is estimable in its right context, the author proposes that the ontological niche concept can complement the ecological footprint notion by covering aspects of the environmental problématique which for conceptual reasons the former cannot cover. Overcoming the ecological crisis requires awareness of the global dimension and the resource situation, but also of the personal, experiential aspects of our current predicament – our personal involvement in humankind’s material engagement in the ecosystems. The texture of reality is what is ultimately at stake here, and the ontological niche notion is introduced so as to emphasize our embedded, rather than detached, position in the world of the living.

The basic motion in this text is that from self to world. Exemplifying what the ontological niche amounts to, the author provides ontological maps ranging from the social relations of one individual to a rough sketch of the global ecological situation. In a concluding section the general problem of interpreting numerical data qualitatively is approached by way of three steps: (1) Determining existence status, (2) Determining the character of the relation and (3) Translating numerical data to characterizing terms.

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