Comparative Critical Analysis of the Systemic Approach to the Organization of the Environment from the Perspective of Ecology, Geography and Spatial Planning

By Petrisor, Alexandru-Ionut | Geopolitics, History and International Relations, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Comparative Critical Analysis of the Systemic Approach to the Organization of the Environment from the Perspective of Ecology, Geography and Spatial Planning


Petrisor, Alexandru-Ionut, Geopolitics, History and International Relations


ABSTRACT.

By 2010, the object of ecology would have shifted, since its emergence in 1868, from organisms to communities, then to ecosystems, reaching now the level of complexes of ecosystems, or landscapes. However, the concept of 'landscape' has a different meaning for geographers, and another one for spatial planners, to mention just few of the professionals operating with it. Another change occurred across time in the interpretation of concepts between and within these disciplines, most likely as a consequence of adopting the systemic approach. In a more general context, ecologists operate with ecological systems, geographers focus on territorial systems, while spatial planners use the socio-spatial systems in their analyses. Nevertheless, all these different words describe the same objective reality. The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the different concepts and meanings in an inter- and trans-disciplinary comparative approach to understanding the systemic organization of the environment.

Keywords: ecosystem, geosystem, socio-spatial system, biodiversity, geodiversity, landscape

Units of the Hierarchy of Geographical, Ecological and Spatial Planning Systems

C. Troll (1968) referred to the study of morphology, classification, time change and functional relationships within different geographical units; few years later, I. Zonneveld (1972) defined the landscape as "holistic entity formed by different element influencing each other." Even though both definitions seem to indicate landscape as the object of study, a generalizing concept is the territorial system - "functional assembly consisting of elements and relationships aiming to finally achieve common goals" (Ianos, 2000). A. Vädineanu (1998, 2004) considers that systemic ecology provides a theoretical background required to conceptualize how coupled complexes of ecological systems (social and natural) are structured and function. The object of ecology shifted across time from individual organisms since its first definition (Haeckel, 1866) to biotic communities (biocoenoses) - Andrewartha and Birch, 1954, then to ecosystems (Tansley, 1935; Pickett and Grove, 2009), and finally to complexes of ecosystems or landscapes (Vädineanu, 2004). All concepts are generalized by the "ecological system" (Vädineanu, 1998). The main concept in spatial planning is the socio-spatial system (Botez and Celac, 1980), although landscapes are also accounted for and defined as the interaction between man and nature (Parliament of Romania, 2002) across time (IUCN, 1994) and its perception by the population (Parliament of Romania, 2002; Philips, 2002). All these elements seem to indicate that the landscape is the reference study unit in geography, ecology, and spatial planning. Moreover, other disciplines use this concept as well - Table 1.

Geography makes a difference between the structure of natural and mandominated subsystems composing a territorial system (Fig. 1). The difference is due to the human component, resulting into specific socioeconomic and psychological structures, and the presence of the built environment. Ecology identifies a unique structure of systems, regardless their natural or man-dominated status (agro-ecosystems, rural and urban ecosystems) - Petrisor, 2008a - Fig. 2. Nevertheless, the hierarchy of systems has several levels - ecosystem, complex of ecosystems and ecosphere (Petrisor, 2008a; Vädineanu, 1998). Also, the environment is described in terms of natural capital ("network of naturally functioning ecological systems and man-dominated systems created by the transformation and simplification of the first category" (Vädineanu, 1998), consisting of environmental goods and services - Negrei, 1999) and created capital (includes the physical (man-made - BSRIA, 1996), social/institutional and human/cultural capitals - Vädineanu, 1998). The base model of social systems (Fig. 3) is applicable to man-dominated systems, or, from the standpoint of ecology, especially to urban and rural systems. …

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