Human Ecology and Geography

I work on a campus that has a College of Human Ecology and a department of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences.  I often wonder if the two have ever noticed that their work is quite similar, especially when one looks at their descriptions of studying people interacting with their environments?  Well, I love the disciplines of human ecology and geography!

People fascinate me, and, given their environments, they act and re-act differently.  I like to study such things. I posted this picture of me visiting our Nation’s Capital (standing here in front of the Capitol!).  Next time you’re in Washington DC, go to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.  It’s one of my favorite places on earth.  When you enter the museum, there is an amphitheater on your left, and a grill/cafe on the right.  In the seating area for the cafe, there are marvelous photographs of varying groups including Alaskan Natives.  My favorite picture is of three Alaskan Native boys, about eight years of age, gathered around a white granite ware, sort of, tub from which they are happily eating.  They are shoe-less and have the happiest grins on their faces.  I took a photograph of that photograph, and I use it in my power point slides when I’m teaching about intercultural relationship building.  I did not show it here, because there could be some copyright restrictions.  When I ask workshop attendees to look at the photo then give me their impressions, I’ve noticed that middle class people will give me descriptions of “dirty”, “poor”, and “unkempt”.  Out of 23 times of presenting this workshop, perhaps, three people have noticed the absolutely delightful expressions on the boys’ faces.  I know that the Alaskan Native population does not have a word for “stress”.  When you study “simple” versus “complex” societies (the U.S. is a complex society, and many populations (Native to their lands) are often called “simple” societies).  Simple societies are less likely to live stressful lives, because they work to support a collective and are not caught up in acquiring things (read Jared Diamond’s, Guns, Germs, and Steel).

From a human ecology point of view, our environments determine how we live, how we meet our daily living needs, and those things influence how we develop as humans.  From the time we are born, our environments (family, church, schools, politics) influence our development of our preferences, our knowledge, our traditions, our points-of-view, and our paths in life (Bronfenbrenner).  Our geography has that influence, too.  I grew up in Colorado, in the mountains.  Being in the outdoors and  living in high altitude determined how we dressed and in what sorts of activities we engaged.   If one lives in a hunter-gatherer society, then one works in a subsistence culture, which tend to be collective communities (where everyone works for the common good).  If one lives in a capitalistic society, it tends to be more individualistic.  The gaps in wealth tend to be wider in a complex society than a simple society.   In terms of simple and complex societies, one is not better than the other.  They are different.  If simple societies were left alone (not colonized), they functioned quite well on their own.  It does terrible things to the psyche when people in a simple society are told they are wrong (“uncivilized, savage, heathens, etc.), and that “wrongness” carries through to the subsequent generations.  From my point of view, the effects of colonization has not been good for simple societies.  It’s caused many disparities among the colonized people, and it’s developed environments of inequalities.

I think I will come back to this, because I have not developed my thoughts completely.  Besides, my granddaughter wants a bedtime story!  Thank you for reading.

Everyday Mindfulness

Not too long ago, I collaborated with two of my extension colleagues to write a lesson on everyday mindfulness.  The lesson and leader’s guide can be found in the K-State Research and Extension online bookstore.

Our journey to present this information comes from the idea that we, as a society, are so very focused on earning a living, acquiring wealth, planning for the future, and the other worries of everyday life.

Leading this charge to write this was my colleague Donna.  She and her husband are devout followers of meditation and “Do-In”, also know as “self-Shiatsu”.

Personally, I had been following what the practice of mindfulness meditation was doing for building self-respect and “de-colonizing” thought for people on our Native reservations.  I had been following the work of sociologist and professor, Dr. Michael Yellowbird , presently, at North Dakota State University.

To describe the concept behind mindfulness, I will go to our publication.  (Here’s the URL for the pdf): 


  • Living in the present moment/awareness of
    the present moment — paying close attention
    to thoughts, physical sensations, and our
  • Observing personal experiences of mindfulness,
    being completely focused on a project —
    reading a book, doing a hobby, or playing a
    sport. This heightened awareness is mindfulness.
  • Taking a few deep breaths — becoming fully
    aware of the present moment.
  • Having nonjudgmental awareness in which each
    thought, feeling, and sensation is acknowledged
    and accepted in their present state. This steady
    and non-reactive attention usually differs from
    the way people normally operate in the world.
  • Paying attention, precisely, to the present
    moment without judgment

This is a good start.  I think the idea behind mindfulness and meditation gives us the tools to take better care of ourselves.

Thanks to Donna Krug and Charlotte Olsen for the collaboration on writing this lesson.  Enjoy!

Community Cohesion

The concept of community cohesion continues to be a topic of importance to me.  What is community cohesion?  Communities that demonstrate shared visions for its people, common goals for the future, equal voice for all, common respect for difference, and promote a sense of belonging for its citizens, tend to be cohesive.  People in a cohesive community “stick together”!

As I was reading about different notions around community cohesion, I found a “Guidance to Promote Community Cohesion” written as part of a mandate on race relations for the schools in Great Britain.  Its focus was on “community cohesion”.  I will offer these quotes from the guide:

By community cohesion, we mean working towards a society in which there is a
common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community

Most impressive to me is the explanation of why the British Department on Children, Schools, and Families wrote such a guide. These were actually words recited on the floors of Parliament in 2006!

Schools have a duty to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different groups.
Every school – whatever its intake and wherever it is located – is responsible for educating children and young people who will live and work in a country which is diverse in terms of cultures, religions or beliefs, ethnicities and social backgrounds.

Yes. This was 12 years ago.  I have not found further information to say if this “duty” continues to be recognized or enforced in British schools.  It’s just that I like the idea of  human diversity being valued for what it brings to communities.  Yes. The mainstream may be challenged to adjust, accommodate, and step outside its ethnocentrism, but an appreciation for plurality is key to community cohesion as the U. S. moves toward a pluralistic society by 2040, as suggested by the World Bank.

A sociologist friend of mine put it into perspective for me.  He said, “Boomers reached young adulthood in the 60s when White, middle class people were the majority, and immigration was at its lowest in the U. S.   Homogeneity was common for most communities.   Boomers, being born in the 40s, or so,  were too far away from the time when the U. S. was young and most were foreign born.  Remember, this country was “settled” by immigrants who displaced Native populations onto reservations in order to give the land to more settlers coming from Europe to grow a nation.

My point, and I do have one, is that when we find common ground with one another, we are more likely to live in a cohesive community.   How can we move toward cohesion?

The “guide” that I’ve discussed does have some suggestion on understanding the concept of community cohesion:

“Cohesion is therefore about how to:
  • avoid the corrosive effects of intolerance and harassment:
  • build a mutual civility among different groups, and
  • ensure respect for diversity alongside a commitment to common and shared bonds”

Again, I should tell you I live in a region of Kansas marked by Minority-majority schools and communities.  I love living, working, and playing in a region were I can experience coffees from Africa, foods from Asia, art from Latin America, and I can learn about other cultures.  I have found that some communities, in my region, have focused on integration of the different ethnicities and cultures.  Some have not.  Maybe, one day…