Volume 47, Issue 1, Spring 2019
The Philosophy of Ecology
On the Meaning of “Coevolution” in Social-Ecological Studies
An Eco-Darwinian Perspective
Researchers studying linked Social-Ecological Systems (SESs) often use the notion of coevolution in describing the relation between humans and the rest of nature. However, most descriptions of the concept of socio-ecological coevolution remain elusive and poorly articulated. The objective of the following paper is to further specify and enrich the meaning of “coevolution” in social-ecological studies. After a critical analysis of two accounts of coevolution in ecological economics, the paper uses the frameworks of Niche Construction Theory and the Geographic Mosaic Theory to define social-ecological coevolution as the reciprocal adaptation of human-social and ecological ensembles through human and ecological niche construction activities. In sum, this conceptual analysis suggests that an ecologization of Darwinian coevolution can bring clarity to profound functional integration that takes place between humans and ecological systems, and at the same time opens fruitful avenues for social-ecological research.