Friday, November 22, 2013

The BES Year of Theory

Important Needs for Theory

Two things are clear about theory in BES.  First, it is an extraordinarily important and well recognized tool for integration and motivation in our long-term social-ecological research and education activities.  Theory features prominently in the proposal for BES III, and we are actively exploring three important theoretical lenses as ways to view and link our long-term  research, including modeling and comparative studies.  However, it is equally clear that we can do a much better job of explaining our theories to others, and using them to integrate among our various data streams and conceptual areas.

Our Strategy for Improving Use of Theory

In order to help us clarify and improve the use of theory in BES, 2014 will be the BES Year of Theory.  This will involve several linked and reinforcing activities:

  • The BES Book of the Year will be Scheiner and Willig's The Theory of Ecology, published by the University of Chicago Press.
  • We will conduct web-based seminars to examine several chapters in Scheiner and Willig's book, and links with social theory.
  • Our Quarterly Project Meetings will focus on the three theories we have chosen as motivating and integrative tools, as well as on  research opportunities that cross disciplines and theories.
  • We will seek a plenary speaker for our 2014 Annual Meeting who can address theory in a way suitable to a multi-disciplinary audience.
  • We will conduct multi-disciplinary "walk-abouts" or field trips in Baltimore to promote shared understandings of place, research opportunities, and educational potential of our theoretical structure.
The Project Management Committee will explore other strategies for meeting the goals of clarifying and better using theory.  Please share your thoughts with me or with other members of that committee so that we have the best menu of choices available.

The BES Book of the Year.

In order to facilitate our use of theory as an integrative tool in our long-term social ecological research, an important book on The Theory of Ecology, edited by Samuel M. Scheiner and Michael R. Willig has been chosen as the 2013-2014 Baltimore Ecosystem Study Book Of The Year.  Published by the University of Chicago Press in 2011, the book’s 404 pages contain 15 chapters.

The strategy of the book is to lay out a general, very fundamental theory of ecology in Chapter 1, with the bulk of the book examining the more specific theories that contribute to the general theory.  Although all chapters will help us understand how to better articulate and employ theory in our empirical, long-term research, of particular interest in BES are the chapters on the metacommunity (by Leibold), on succession (by Pickett, Meiners, and Cadenasso), on ecosystems (by Burke and Lauenroth), on global change (Peters, Bestelmeyer, and Knapp), and gradients (by Fox, Scheiner, and Willig). 

In addition, the book includes two chapters by philosophically trained authors, Jurek Kolasa and Jay Odenbaugh. The editors conclude the book with a synthesis statement  on the state of theory in ecology.

In order to stimulate all members of our diverse and dispersed community to delve into this book, and to apply its insights in our own research and synthesis, we will hold web-based seminars using portals such as Google Hangouts or Go-To-Meeting.  We will also address social theory in some of our webinars.  Theory is a crucial tool that we can use to promote clarity and integration in our project. 

I strongly encourage all members of BES to read deeply in this book.


Publication details on the Scheiner and Willig volume can be found here:  The book is available in paper or e-book editions.  (Well, hardcover too, of course.)

As background, you will not be surprised that I recommend the following:
Pickett, S. T. A., J. Kolasa, and C. G. Jones. 2007. Ecological understanding: the nature of theory and the theory of nature, 2nd edition. Springer, New York.

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