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Event Ecology, Causal Historical Analysis, and Human-Environment Research

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Research on human-environment interactions is especially challenging given its interdisciplinary character and its need to address complexly interacting causes in time and space. Event ecology has been suggested and illustrated as an approach that can effectively address these challenges. Yet, previous writings on event ecology offer only a limited rationale for the approach. This article attempts to address this shortcoming through a more explicit examination of the underlying logic and practice of event ecology. Event ecology is based on a pragmatic view of research methods and explanation, articulated by such scholars as Peirce, Lewis, and Chamberlin, that has recently resurfaced in scholarly debates. This view places at the center of research inquiry the answering of “why” questions about specific environmental changes of interest, instead of evaluating causal theories, models, or factors that are thought in advance to influence such changes. Explaining environmental change this way involves constructing causal histories of interrelated social and biophysical events through a process of eliminative inference and reasoning from effects to causes, called abduction. Precise questions, concrete event descriptions, and counterfactual analysis are central to this. In practical terms, researchers should strive to be skeptical about what constitutes evidence, yet open-minded and adaptable to unexpected findings, and be willing to employ whatever sound methods and theoretical ideas are best suited to answer the question at hand. Examples from field research experience on people-forest interactions in the Philippines and Saint Lucia are included to illustrate these features of the event ecology approach.

Keywords: abduction; cultural ecology; explanation; political ecology; research methodology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography and Environment, Mount Allison University, 2: Department of Human Ecology, Rutgers University,

Publication date: 2009-07-01

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