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A NEW CONTEXT FOR PSYCHOLOGY:

SOCIAL ECOLOGY

Bin~er, A. (1972). A new context for psychology:


Social ecology. American Psychologist 27 90390S..
Permission to reprint granted' b; tbe
publisher.
lUpdated from AvgJC.\lf PSYC&O£ClGIIIT, Vol. 27, No.9, September 1972
9
Reprinted from AXEIUCAN PSYCHOLOCIST, Vol. 27. No.9, September 1972
Priac.l iD U. S. A.

PSYCHOLOGY IN ACTION

A N~W CONTEXT FOR PSYCHOLOGY:


SOCIAL ECOLOGY
ARNOLD BINDER'

UnifJulity oj CGJijornUJ, IMM


I
I
T is clear that many who call themselves psychologists
(and have the credentials to convince others)
are currently interested in content areas that previously
existed only for an esoteric few. Two such
areas of particular developing importance are community
psychology and environmental psychology.
Community psychology refers broadly to the concept
of bringing psychologica.l techniques, services, and
methods to the indigents of the community. The expression
connotes attempts to find a larger role for
psychology in the ongoing social problems of the day.
Linked associatively with community psychology are
the following notions and concepts; mental health services
locally rather than in remote hospitals, social
action and social change, epidemiological methods, collective
approaches in place of one-to-one treatment,
and primary and secondary prevention. Fuller discussions
of this topic may be found in Sarason, Levine,
Goldenberg, Cherlin, and Bennett (1966), Bindman and
Spiegel (1969), and Cook (1970).
Environmental psychology includes such topics as
personal space, the effects of crowding, behavioral
science input to architecture and design, environmental
awareness, the psychosocial aspects of man-environment
interaction, and environmental perception. Coverage
of various components of environmental psychology
may be found in Proshansky, Ittleson, and Rivlin
(1970), Sommer (1969, 1972), and Halldane (1968).
An issue that arises in this Zeitgeist for innovation
is the proper context for education in such applied areas
as community and environmental psychology. In traditional
thinking, the issue might not arise since assipment
would noanally be to a department of psychology.
This article discusses a new context for education
in applied psychological areas as an alternative to this
traditional approach.
1 Requests for reprints should be sent to Arnold Binder,
Director, Program in Soda] Ecology, University of California,
Irvine, Irvine, California 92664.
Areas like clinical psychology, organization theory,
and community psychology may also be components of
professional schools of medicine, business, public health,
and so on. But these involve little or no undergraduate
education and are oriented toward missions as determined
by their professional identities.
A survey of the organization of departments, professional
schools, and institutes from the perspective
of research in the behavioral sciences was summarized
in the Behavioral and Social Sciences (BASS) Survey
Committee (1969) report. The report expressed dissatisfaction
with the limitations imposed by the traditional
structures and recommended establishment of
graduate schools of applied behavioral science. These
are intended "to be unabashedly concerned with making
behavioral and social science research bear directly on
issues of public policy and social problems [po 203]."
A more cursory survey of models for training future
applied psychologists is contained in Thoreson, Krauskopf,
McAleer, and Wenger (1972).
THE NEW CONTEXT
The new context for psychological education, about
which this report is concerned, differs from the BASSrecommended
school in three ways: (a) the new
academic unit is directed primarily at undergraduate
education; (b) the new unit is more broadly interdisciplinary
in including components from the biological
and physical, as well as the behavioral and social,
sciences; (c) the new unit is as strongly concerned
with educating for community-oriented jobs as it is
with training research workers.
This new unit, called the Program in Social Ecology,
has been in existence at the University of California,
Irvine, since January 1970. The Program was conceived
and developed for the purpose of providing
di rect interaction between the intellectual life of the
university and the recurring problems of the social
and physical environment. And since it was founded
AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST SEPTEKBER 1972 903
10
on the conception of man as a biological organism in
a cultural-physical environment, the orientation is
necessarily multidisciplinary. This orientation pervades
the curricula, which are aimed at equipping students
to attack and solve environmental problems. In our
context of usage, environmental problems include all
aspects of man's relation to other men and to his
social heritage, on the one hand, and man's relation
to his broader biological and physical environment, on
the other.
The Program, in. short, emphasizes all knowledge and
methodology associated with man a"d Jlis enviTo"ment
as an ongoing interactive process. Communality over
areas encompassed by the Program is furthered by a
year-long introductory course and the requirement of
field-study experiences that involve cross-disciplinary
interaction focusing on problems. To illustrate the
introductory process from the perspective of the freshman,
initial exposure is to a wide array of social problems
and the academic tools available for solution
rather than to the array of components of historical
psychology.
It is axiomatic in the Program that learning must be
applicable to the community and the community must
serve as an auxiliary source of educational enrichment.
Because the approach combines environmental education
and community activity, the curricula of the Program
are organized by problem area, not by discipline
or academic subject matter. The curricula are oriented
toward producing a coordination between on-and offcampus
experience, theoretical and applied learning, so
that each enhances and enlarges the other. The Program
thereby enables students to work effectively on
community problems in a variety of contexts while
simultaneously meeting the central goals of an undergraduate
education. Students are free to c.hoose their
fields of assignment and their associated study programs;
required fieid study involves one course per
quarter during the junior and senior years.
WHY THE NAME SOCIAL ECOLOGY?
Ecology is usually defined as the study. of the relationship
of living beings to the world around them.
The term ecology, of course, has its origins in the
biological sciences where it is used to specify a discipline
that, over roughly the past 70 years, has studied
phenomena such as the distribution of a species of
barnacles on rocky seashores and the relationship between
predators and their various prey species. The
extension of the term into more directly human areas
is indicated by the use of such moditiers as human,
urban, cultural, and social.
In the mental health area, the term ecology and
certain of its variants have been used to indicate a
particular perspective or manner of approach. For
904 SEPTEJOER 1972 AMERICAN PsYCHOLOGIST
11
example, Newbrough (1969) referred to an ecological
model in dealing with the complexities of social systems
and the conflicts created in man's relationships to them.
His point in using the model of ecology was to stress
that mental health problems represent deviations from
the norms or standards of behavior of a particular
environmental situation.
Similarly, Kelly (1966) gave three aspects of "an
ecological analysis of mental health services": the relationship
between mental health services and other
community services, the relationship between the physical
environment and individual behavior, and the rela.
tionship between the individual and his social environment.
His stress on ecological concepts was, like
Newbrough, for the purpose of viewing the individual
within the context of his specific social situations so
that behavior is assessed in terms of the requirements
of social settings rather than on the basis of intrapsychic
motivational patterns. From this perspective,
the concepts of sickness or illness are clearly inappropriate
within the mental health field.
The expression social ecology was used as the title
of a book by Alihan in 1938. Alihan attacked the
(then) classical position among ecologists that humans
are organized on biotic-primary or biological, based
on competition-and cultural levels. She argued that
the two aspects were intertwined so thoroughly that
they could not be separated for conceptual or analytic
purposes; her use of "social ecology" in place of
"human ecology" reflects this broader view of human
organization.
Another use of the expression social ecology is illustrated
in the following: "family members, teachers,
recreation directors, ministers, bartenders, police, courts.
unions, gang members, and . . . other individuals and
agencies ... constitute the social ecology of the individual
[Tharp & Wetzel, 1969, p. 14]." Finally, in
his "The Social Ecology of Guatemala City," Caplow
(1961) discussed the spatial development of that city,
the relationship between spatial community structure
and social organization, and background idiosyncrasies
that create urban difterences. Anthropologists at the
present time are more likely to use cultural ecology
rather than social ecology for similar analyses; see, for
example, Meggers (1971).
While the name "Program in Social Ecology" is as
much a historical artifact as anything else (to illustrate,
an earlier proposed name "Program in Applied
Life Sciences" was voted down on objections from the
School of Biological Sciences), the orientation is very
much in accord with the emphases of Newbrough and
Kelly, as weD as those of the human ecologists, urban
sociologists. and anthropologists. One need only glance
at the array of curricula and courses we ofterfor
e.rample, Criminal Justice. Air Pollution. Methods of
Counseling, Water Quality, Atypical Chlld Development,
Community Mental Health, Sodal Implications
of Computing-to see that our emphasis is on man in
a total social system. Interest, moreover, lies not
only in man's relationship to his physical environment
and man's relationship to his fellow man, but also in
the relationship among the organized components of
the system, as, for example, the police and mental
health agencies.
STVDENTS
The curricula in the Program in Sodal Ecology are
aimed at three classes of undergraduate student. First,
the Program provides the context for educating people
needed in profession.ai capacities by various governmental
agencies and industrial departments. It is, for
example, actively involved in educating AB-Ievel mental
health workers for programs like the one it worked
out with Orange County Community Mental Health
Services (Scale Levels I-IV, with respective top salaries
of $7,692-$14,832, without any requirement of graduate
work).
Second, the Program provides the setting for preparing
students for profession.ai speciaI.ization in schools
of administration and law, as well as for graduate
work in such academic units as psychology, sociology,
social sciences, and biological sciences. To illustrate,
our curriculum in crimin.ai justice is proving to be excellent
prelaw training. In this currculum, students
spend one-fourth of their junior and senior years in
such field activities as the courts, law enforcement
agencies, probation units, and a regional criminal justice
planning agency. The Program ezpects to produce
graduates with unique abilities and capacities for graduate
education.
And finally, the courses of study of the Program are
highly appropriate for educating students to become
more effective and knowledgeable citizens because of
a familiarity with community problems and the potential
modes of solution, regardless of the students'
ultimate career objectives. For example, working in
a child guidance clinic and a crisis clinic can be of
immense value to a person who later chooses teaching
as a career goal; similarly, assipment to air or water
pollution control agencies can be of great help to someone
who chooses indultrial management as a career.
By making most of its courses available to students
majoring elsewhere on the campus, the Program encourages
the development of an environmental or ecological
outlook .among students whose primary interests
are more traditional. (The principal exception to this
policy is field study; supervision of tield study is an
extremely time-consuming activity on the part of the
faculty, and so enrollment is limited to majon.)
The growth of the Program has been phenomenal.
When it staned in January 1970, there were 20 pioneers.
In October 1970, we grew to about 90 majors; and in
October 1971, to about 140 majors. At the most recent
count (spring quarter 1971), there were more than
300 enrolled majors. Moreover, despite continuing
attempts to provide space for more and more students,
there has always been a waiting list for admission to
the Program, on occasion numbering up to 100, and
we have refused admission to almost as many as we
have admitted.
And that growth occurred despite the qualms associated
with enrolling in a new, untested major. Students,
and faculty alike, expressed reservations and doubts
about the weightiness of the AB in social ecology
toward gaining admission to professional and graduate
schools, as well as in getting jobs. Not a strange reo
action given the questioning frequently directed toward
all of us: "Social ecology? What's that?"
But the evidence to date indicates that our students
are doing as well as any other univenity graduates in
getting into profession.ai and graduate schools, and a
little better than the othen in getting jobs of a professional
caliber.
The Program does not offer any graduate degrees
as yet. However, requests for authorization to offer
the MAT, MA, and PhD degrees are now moving
through University channels, and we expect to be able
to put the necessary curricula into effect some time
in 197Z-197J.~
MAJOR SUBPROO1LU[S S
Community Psychology
The community psychology subprogram focuses on
intervention and behavior change. A major tenet is
that dysfunctional behavior must be considered within
the context of the immediate environment, physical as
well as social. Courses are offered on forms of psychopathology
and discordant behavior patterns in children,
adolescents, and adults. Students learn how to
make systematic behavioral observations and careful
assessments of factors contributing to problems in
living. Courses are also offered on strategies of psychological
intervention, including interviewing, counseling,
group therapy, and behavior modification. Adequate
mastery and evaluation of the relevant research
literature is a critical component, as is the application
% A description of the proposed p-aduate curric:ula is
available from the author.
a The author is grateful to Carol WbaltD, Micbael
O'Neill, a.ad Pamela Reagor of the Social Ecology faculty
Cor writing the descriptions of the Community Psythology.
CrimiDal ] u.stice, aDd Edueatioaal Policy subprograms,
respectively.
AJaR1CAN PSYCHOLOGIST SUTEHBER 1972 90S
12
of sound research techniques, in tMe evaluation of each
student's own work.
Approximately SO agencies are available for field
study in this area, including community clinics, state
hospitals, and preschool and special education programs.
Depending upon interests, experience, and competence,
a student may do crisis intervention, serve as coleader
in group or play therapy, plan and implement remedial
programs for handicapped children, or serve as a consultant
for families or classrooms, to name only a few
areas of field study in community psychology. A major
objective is to train social change agents who, after
completing their undergraduate education, will be able
to function as competent mental health professionals
in the community. But many of the students in community
psychology are preparing for graduate education.
Urban and Regional Planning
The urban and regional planning subprogram is oriented
toward the processes rather than the results of
planning. Aspects of environmental psychology are
included in both this subprogram and the one that
follows. The ultimate goal of planning is the achievement
of living spaces conducive to the achievement of
optimum human satisfaction. Field study is available
in planning departments, with planning commissions,
and in community action councils. And since Irvine
is a "Sew Town" in the tradition of Reston, Virginia,
~nd Columbia, Maryland, our students are in a particularly
advantageous position from the perspective of
the study of urban development
Environmental QUality and Environmental
Health
The subprogram encompassing environmeotal quality
and health is concerned primarily with the interaction
of man and his physical environment, and man's perceptions
of and reactions to that interaction. Courses
in this subprogram include Air Pollution, Water Quality.
and Noise Pollution, Special emphasis is placed on
the roles of individual citizens and community organizations,
both governmental and private. in maintaining
and enhancing the quality of the human environment.
Field study is done at environmental information centers
and pollution control agencies.
Human Ecology
Tbe subprogram in human ecology emphasizes study
oriented toward tbe biological substrata of man and
his environmental interactions. Examples of relevant
courses are Human Evolution, Dynamics of Human
Populations, and Fundamentals of Ecology.
Crimi1l41 Justice
The criminal justice subprogram provides social
ecology students an opportunity to examine critical
906 SEPTEMBER 1972 AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST
issues in the nature of crime and society'S reaction to
legally proscribed behavior. Course offerings range
from analyses of criminal pehavior systems and the
philosophical underpinnings of social control theories
to studies of the operation of criminal justice agencies.
Field study placements are available in police departments.
prosecutor's and public defender'S offices, probation
and parole agencies, and the state juvenile prison
system. Students in the criminal justice subprogram
have found their training to be excellent preparation
for law and graduate schools, as well as for professional
careers in law enforcement and corrections.
Educational Policy and Institutions
Although social ecology has no formal undergraduate
program in teacher education, students interested in
careers with educational institutions are offered a
variety of field placements with public and private
schools from the nursery through high school years.
Students are encouraged to take courses through the
Office of Teacher Education in addition to those relevant
in social ecology. Students geared toward obtain.
ing teaching credentials coordinate tbeir programs
closely with both that office and their social ecology
academic advisers.
COURSES AND REQUIREMENTS
A full listing of the courses offered in social ecology
is shown as follows:
COURSES IN SOCIAl. ECOLOGY
IA-B-C Survey of Social Ecology
Introduction to Behavior Change
3 Introduction to Environmental Quality and
Health
4 Introduction to Social Change
5 Introduction to Urban Systems and Regional
Planning
6 Introduction to Community Mental Healtlh
Introduction to Criminal and Juvenile Justice
Systems
8 Introduction to Educational Policy and Institu·
tions
9 Fundamentals of Ecology
10 Research Design in Social Ecology
11 Methods of Inten'Vwing
13 Methods of Small Group Interaction
ZSA-B Methods of CouDKling
31 Physics of the Environment
34 Water Quality and Society
40 Air Quality: Past, Present, and Future
45 Biological Basis for Social Behavior
100 Introduction to Social Ecology
101 Ethics of Behavior Modification
102 Ethics of Social Control
103A-B-C Social ImplicatioDS of Computing
I04A-B-C Varieties of Human Sexuality
105 Science and Ethics
13
106
107
108

109
112
Il3
114A-B-C
liS
116
111
118
119
120
121A-S-C
122
123
124
125
126
121
128A-B
129
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
l4lA-B-C
142
143
144
146
148
ISO
151
168
170
111
172
173
174
17S
176
177A·B
178
179
180
181A·B
183
laS
la7A-B-C
198
199
197D
Science and Public Policy
Biology and Public Policy
Toward a Unified Science of Man
Generation to Generation
Role of Mass Media of Communications in
Society
Survey of New Therapies
Social Evolution of tbe Family
Survey of Clinical Psychology
Drug Use in America
Disorders of Bebavior
Principles of Prevention in Mental Health
Community Mental Health: Organization and
Legislation
Methods of Behavior Modification
Adolescent Development
Death and Dying in America
Psychotherapeutic Techniques
Behavioral Assessment
Behavior Therapy and Beyond
Therapies with the Developing Child
Peer Counseling: A Case·Study Approach
Behavioral Intervention with Children
Atypical Child Development
Air PoUution
Effects of Air Environment
Environmental Quality and Citizen Action
Environmental Quality and the Future
Dynamics of Human Population
Environmental Education
Noise Pollution
Human Evolution
Barriology
Employment/Unemployment-Myth and
Reality
Planned Social Change
The Effective Volunteer: Training for Caners
in Community Service
Special Problems in Minority Tutoring
Sexual Revolution and Social Change
Love against Death: Judeo·Christian Tradition
Man's Quest for Immortality
The Consumer and the Law
The Role of the Police in Our Changing Society
Prisons, Punishment, and Corrections
The Police
Constitutional Law and Individual Rights
PoliclH:ommunity Interaetioa
Why Police?
Crimes without Victims
Forms of Criminal Behavior
The Philosophy of Law and Order
Liberty in Coamet
Criminal Trial
Behavior of Children 1 and 2
Behavioral Interveation in the Classroom
Creative Learning in Children
Models of Educational Systems
Directed Group Studies
Individual Study
Field Study in Community Meatal Health
197E Field Study in Behavior Chan ..
197F Field Study in Environmental Quality and
Health
197G Field Study in Social Change
197H Field Study in Urban Systems/Regional

PlaDning
197I Field Study in Criminal Justice
1971 Field Study in Educational Policy and

Institutions
197K Field Study in Human Ecology

Required of all majors are the year·long introductory


sequence (Social Ecology IA.B.C); six quarter counes
of field study (Social Ecology 197); the appropriate
preparatory courses for the field study paths undertaken
(these prerequisites are numbered Social Ecology
1 through 8); and four upper·division courses in Social
Ecology (those numbered 101 and above).
Field study is restricted to the junior and senior
years-with rare exception the six courses are distributed
evenly over the final six quarters. Field study
assignments are under the direct supervision of field
personnel, of course; but each field project has a
faculty adviser who visits agencies. evaluates perform·
ance, assigns readings, and is generally responsible for
the intellectual-academic aspects of the work. A paper
is required following each field assignment.
SUMMING UP
With few exceptions, undergraduate education in areas
of applied psychology has occurred in the context of
a department of psychology. In this context, the
applied student interacts socially and conceptually with
faculty and other students in experimental psychology,
learning theory. physiological psychology, and so forth.
as well as in various applied areas. But in the model
presented here, students of applied psychology study
in an academic unit providing a broad interdisciplinary
spectrum.
This model, the Program in Social Ecology, is based
on the assumption that students in areas like com·
munity and environmental psychology have more in
common with, and can learn more of relevance from,
specialists in environmental quality and health, criminal_
justice, urban planning, etc., than specialists in basic,
experimental, quantitative psychology. The focus is
transferred from a content dictated by the historical
development of psychology to a content derived from
the interaction of man with his environment in all of
its ramifications.
One can only argue at this early stage that this proposed
model is a reasonable one and worthy of wide
exploration. I can assure any potential explorers of
this new realm that the exploration is exciting in itself
and that you win encounter student satisfaction never
dreamed possible.
AKEllICAN PSYCHOLOGIST SEPTEKBEIt 1972 907
14
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908 SEPTEKBU 1972 AilE1UCAN PsYCHOLOGIST
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