On November the 26-27th 2010, I attended the 5th National Conference in Human Ecology, ‘Forging sustainable partnerships in Human Ecology’ at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños . As a Human Ecology graduate from ANU (2007), I was very curious to see how Human Ecology was being practiced in the Philippines. I can report that it’s alive and kicking and the students and academics from the College of Human Ecology appear determined to keep developing and promoting the HE approach.
As I expected from such a gathering, session topics covered a lot of ground (e.g. ‘utilising local knowledge systems in the identification of conservation areas in Sibuyan island, Romblon’, and ‘knowledge and use of folic acid of pregnant women in main rural health units in Batangas city ‘. Although I couldn’t say that all presentations had a clearly stamped HE approach there were definite signs of integrative approaches in others. The keynote speaker, Dr Percy Sajise was one of the pioneers of HE in the Philippines establishing the first HE institute at UP in the 1970s (the first ‘batch’ of human ecologists graduated in 1974). The familiar concepts of ‘transdisciplinarity’ and the challenges of working across disciplines were expounded by Dr Sajise. He also reflected on the college’s first attempts back in the 70s when they initially failed to think together beyond their home disciplines. His practical suggestions for future collaboration included ‘having a good mix of personalities’ (I liked this one but wonder who gets to decide who’s a good fit?), ‘using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ when discussing ideas’ and ‘deciding on authorship up-front’. Sage advice.
HE Framework at UPLB
Although the college has since developed a HE framework to work from, they are self-admittedly, still struggling to confidently champion HE in the academic and broader community.
While they are still pondering about the role of human ecologists as a nascent discipline, they are continuing to reinvent themselves with one of the final speakers, Maria Mendoza presenting their recent recommendations to overhaul the human ecology curriculum, to better consolidate HE across the different majors (human settlement and planning, social technology and food and nutrition). She spent some time explaining what the framework was all about.
Like the approach at ANU, they are unashamed about the normative aspect of HE. As Maria said, ‘the conspicuousness of the goal of a functional human-ecological system is necessary to drive home the point that the study of human ecology cannot be divorced from current issues and problems impinging upon human ecological systems. This makes the study of human ecology problem- and solution-oriented’. The framework tries to convey the dynamic aspect of human-environment relationships as well as the temporal and spatial variability of its different elements.
HE as a perspective and as a disciplinal endeavor takes as its unit of analysis the systemic nature of human-environment interaction. The implication for Maria is that human ecologists are tasked with; considering the structural nature of a human ecological phenomenon while focusing on the functional and dynamic character of this phenomenon exemplified by the interaction between humans, either as individuals or as social groups, and environmental variables; and identifying, understanding and rethinking of forms of human-environment interaction which provide for the dynamic nature of any human ecological system.
What has been lacking in the program so far she argues, is a set of core courses which clearly reflect the HE approach for all majors in HE. I was surprised when she presented the proposed new program about the high number of core courses dedicated to HE. Here they are:
HUME 1 (Introduction to Human Ecology)
HUME 2 (Man and His Environment)
HUME101 (Human Ecological Perspectives in Development)
HUME 102 (Ecology and Value Systems)
HUME 103 (Social Policies)
HUME 196 (Research Methods in Human Ecology)
HFDS 11 (Principles of Human Development)
HFDS 21 (Family and Society)
HNF 151 (Food and Nutrition Systems)
CERP 31 (Fund of Human Settlements)
CERP 11 (Material and Energy Flows)
CERP 21 (Environmental Health)
SDS 10 (Introduction to Social Development)
SDS 11 (Community Study in Human Welfare)
Where are they now? HE graduate stories
We also heard from Riki Sandalo, the president of the Human Ecology Society in the Philippines about his survey of HE graduates. 76 out of the 2000 total graduates responded. From his results he developed a profile of the ‘typical’ College of Human Ecology alumni:
• Human ecology/nutrition was not her first choice
• Took her less than 3 months to get her first job
• Considers her course relevant to her current job
• Was hired because she was a human ecology or nutrition graduate
• Working either in a private or government sector
• Employed: regular/permanent
• Position: Supervisory (technical/professional)
• Earning at least P20,000 a month ($500 AUD)
I wondered what we would get from such a survey of ANU HE graduates. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was quite similar. Interestingly the reaction from the audience was ‘how do we attract more men to Human Ecology?’ Any ideas, Human Ecologist males reading this?
The conference only went for one and a half days and I was surprised at the small number of presentations from academics. Many of the presenters were from the NGO sector reporting from the field. I think this was partly a reflection of the conference theme of ‘partnerships’. There was a lot of talk around the importance of working together with the private and civil society sectors. But I also got a strong impression that grants for research were thin on the ground for Human Ecologists and that most of the faculty members had their hands full with teaching.
As for the social/light side of the conference, Filipinos certainly know how live up a conference dinner. Not even half-way through the main course, the MC had already kick-started the karaoke with a few brave folk dancing. But having heard of the legendary late night revelry at conference dinners in the Philippines, I was slightly disappointed when it was all cut short at 9:30 PM. Still, I was pretty impressed to see senior academics get up and belt their lungs out. Fun times.
For more info about Human Ecology in the Philippines visit the website The conference program is up there. I’m not sure if they’re going to put the ppt’s up on the site but you can email me if you are interested in any one in particular.