Ecology: Interwoven lines of entanglement
THINK: Ecology has a variety of conventional meanings and usages, often resting on the disciplinary contexts in which the term is invoked. The term ‘ecology’ is derived from the Greek word oikos, meaning ‘household’. Ecology, in this etymological sense, is orientated towards the cohabitation of environments by diverse forms of life that manage to sustain a worldly existence. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (2014, n.p.) further provides two primary definitions of ecology: ‘a branch of science concerned with the interrelationships of organisms and their environments’; and ‘the totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their environment’. Ecology, in this sense, is about the study of patterns of relation as they emerge between living organisms and the environments which they co-inhabit with others. This is in itself a complex concept, but it quickly begins to unravel with the realisation that there are no hard, fast boundaries between what constitutes an ‘organism’ and an ‘environment’, a ‘body’ and a ‘habitat’.
Conventional understandings of ecology bring up many more questions than can possibly be answered with any claim to empirical accuracy. Recent innovations in the life sciences have revealed the radical porosity and permeability of ecological, organismic, cellular and genetic functioning through the continuous trafficking of molecules in and out of bodies and cells (Frost, 2016, p. 52). Moreover, the advancement of climate change, biodiversity loss, radioactive contamination and other geo-traumatic events associated with the Anthropocene have rendered predetermined boundaries between organisms, species and environments ‘unthinkable in the best sciences, whether natural or social’ (Haraway, 2016, p. 38). Alternative approaches to ecology are becoming necessary which are flexible enough to grapple with the radical porosity, uncertainty and precarity of life in the Anthropocene epoch.