Seminar 2013 Annotated Bibliography

Agyeman, Julian, and Anja Kollmuss. 2002.  Mind the Gap: Why Do People Act Environmentally and What Are the Barriers to Pro-environmental Behavior? Environmental Education Research 8:239-260. These authors describe the complex reasons for the gap between environmental education and awareness and pro-environmental behavior.  They use sociological models and social behavior models to raise questions and possible answers to what shapes pro-environmental behavior.  There is an analysis of factors that have been found to have either a positive or negative influence on pro-environmental behavior.  The authors also propose their own model based on previous studies that attempts to incorporate demographic, external, and internal factors and their influence on pro-environmental action.

Allen, T. F. H., and T. W. Hoekstra. 1992. Toward a unified ecology. New York: Columbia University Press. These authors provide a framework for synthesizing the different fields within ecology; especially, population, landscape and ecosystem ecology. Of particular relevance to information ecology is their discussion on pages 25-39 of how to bound a system based on identifying where rates of processes change abruptly, these are most easily thought of as surfaces, like the skin of a human body or the surface of water. Chemical exchange can occur more rapidly and frequently below the surface than between the inside and outside of a system bounded by a surface. The same rationale could be applied to information exchange in human systems. More information might spread within a neighborhood, and have different meaning to residents within the neighborhood, than it does outside. Most importantly, things happening outside a bounded system constrain possibilities within the system (p. 35).

Casagrande, D. G. 2004. "Bateson, Festinger and the recursive role of cognitive dissonance in social organization," paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. December 15-19, Atlanta, GA. The author of this article posits that since cognitive dissonance (feeling of discomfort when holding two or more conflicting cognitions) is socially created, then “people are more likely to avoid or reduce cognitive dissonance via shared communicative strategies than to change individual cognitions or behaviors.” One such communicative strategy is “abstractification,” wherein the cognitive conflict is reduced by moving to a more abstract level of thinking in order to avoid contradictions on lower levels.  One example of this is the current attempts in the US to use religiosity to avoid addressing climate change. Another example was contradiction within interviews conducted on medicinal plants with the Tzeltal Maya in Chiapas, Mexico. The author also introduces the concept of “hierarchical levels of abstraction”, which provides an explanation for why people appear to act in contradiction to their beliefs. At higher levels of abstraction, criteria for inclusion within a certain cognition are less stringent and more flexible. It is also important to note that when faced with cognitive dissonance, logical contradictions may be ignored. The author asks if people who are good at manipulating the cognitive dissonance of others (especially through the use of abstract rhetoric) are more likely to gain power.

Casagrande, David, and Charles Peters.  2013. “Eco-myopia meets the longue durée: An information ecology of the increasingly arid Southwestern USA.” In Future Directions in Environmental Anthropology. H. Kopnina and E. Shoreman, eds. New York: Routledge. These authors use information ecology methods to model the shortcomings of current water policy in the southwest US. Drawing on Janis' concept of groupthink, "Ecomyopia" is defined as a process of distributed cognition in which groupthink filters out information about important ecological change, such as prehistoric climate reconstructions and future climate models that threaten existing cultures of communication. A key insight is that southwest water policy institutions can recognize and correct for ecomyopia within their own socially distributed cognitions by engaging in critical thinking and more productive group communication techniques.

Dery, D. 2000. Agenda Setting and Problem Definition. Policy Studies Journal 21:37- 47. The agenda setting and problem definition relationship is examined by Dery in this article through the lens of the tents protest movement which took place in Israel from June 1990 to January 1991. The author uses previous, differing definitions of agenda setting and problem definitions as well as their connection to the political process to explain the difference between their functions in this setting: as Dery claims “legitimizing an issue is not the same as legitimizing demands” (38). Through this case study Dery connects these notions politically but also separates them by way of the failed success of the tents movement to any long-term changes in housing policy (45-46). Understanding these separate concepts in politics is important to studying information ecology because it forces one to think about how an issue or problem is set and defined to be acted on appropriately.

Ellul, J. 1965. Propaganda; the Formation of Men's Attitudes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. The author first claims that modern society, with mass media and modern transportation, requires propaganda to exist. The bulk of the work details the author's argument that propaganda is scientific. It is based on scientific studies and knowledge, a set of rules, and deep analysis. Population density and urban concentration are the two demographic requirements for successful propaganda. It must target both the individual (isolated and in the minority) and a mass society’s public opinion (the exchange and influence of opinions on values and attitudes). A target is more receptive/susceptible to propaganda if he possesses a certain level of culture, a certain set of ideologies, is within a living standard, and has information. Ultimately, individuals must feel like they have choice, and yet in reality they don’t in terms of the source of the information. Throughout the book, Ellul argues that people have both a need for propaganda, but also a willingness to succumb to propaganda.

English, L. P. 1999. “Defining Information Quality,” in Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality: Methods for Reducing costs and Increasing Profits, pp. 15-31. New York: Wiley. This reading is helpful for understanding how information travels by drawing out the distinctions between information, data, knowledge and wisdom. We can think of these as information upgrading. The author uses these definitions to dissect the differences in information quality and explain the components required for information quality which include data definition and information architecture quality, data content quality, and data presentation quality. Although he relates these definitions to business processes, they are helpful in thinking about how people perceive information in a raw sense because information quality assesses the satisfaction from information received. Perception is important in creating models of how information moves between entities, such as those drawn for information ecology.

Herman, E. S., and N. Chomsky. 1988. "A Propaganda Model," in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, pp. 1-35. New York: Pantheon. The authors argue that one important function of media is that it serves the government and private elite interest – they are not independent as has been implied as they "manage public opinion." With so few leaders in media controlling the message, collusion can take place: the small group can decide to report the same way on a topic or completely ignore another. The authors provide example to show there is a clear pattern of such an agenda.  The timing and repetition of facts and "inconvenient facts" within pre-determined frameworks allows media to appear credible. Ultimately, propaganda from the media is based on inequity of wealth and power. There's a mutually beneficial financial incentive to be part of a system – from large corporations having capital to pay for large expenses to advertising becoming an important source of revenue for news media. Further, corporations and government offices provide consistent stories that make it easier for media to keep pumping out stories without a lull.  Beyond power that comes from financial dealings, the reliance on government for licenses means the government always has a way to keep media in line while the cost of flak keeps corporations in check. Communism as an ideology "serves as a political-control mechanism."

Kempton, W., J. S. Boster, and J. A. Hartley. 1996. Environmental Values in American Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kempton, Boster and Hartley investigate how the underlying beliefs, values, and cultural models of the public influence the interpretation and transformation of information. Their conclusions have important implications for how the public responds to new scientific findings or to environmental policies. Their research is done through a series of interviews and surveys of various members of the United States such as coal miners, sawmill workers, congressional staff, members of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and EarthFirst!, and the general public. Chapters 1 and 2 provide an explanation of the research. Chapters 3 and 4 provide information on cultural models. Chapter 5 provides information on environmental values and their origins. Chapter 6 provides information on policy reasoning. Chapter 7 is on case studies of "influential specialists"--those who "will actually make our society's decisions on environmental policies" (164). Chapter 8 presents different analytical methods used to interpret data. Chapter 9 discusses implications of the findings. This work shows how cultural models are an important information ecology filter.

Lakoff, George. 2005. Don't Think Of An Elephant! Know Your Values And Frame The Debate. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green. “Framing” refers to how discourse is framed. The author speaks about framing in the context of the differing worldviews of the American political parties.  The parties' views are described metaphorically through differing family values.  While conservatives are described as taking the "strict father model", liberals are described as taking the "nurturing parent model".  The author then describes how each of these frames explains the beliefs and actions of the parties and how the conservative party in particular has been successful in using this frame to gain the support of the American public. The concept of framing can be a fundamental concept in information ecology modeling.

Newsweek Magazine. "The Truth About Denial," April 12, 2007. Ellul (1965, above) describes how propaganda must be based on facts, but propagandists present facts out of context or with false claims about facts in order to promote an agenda. This article provides an example of how the climate change denial industry uses such tactics in their propaganda. We know from climate science that global warming is happening and that human activities contribute a great part. The economic effects of this knowledge draw a group of people, who the author called “greenhouse deniers”, to stand against greenhouse gas emission controls. Industries that might be negatively impacted by admitting to global warming spent much money to create the belief of global warming is a hoax, which worked to have more than half of the American population denying or doubting global warming.  This article argues that the controversy of global warming is not among ‘real climate scientists’, it is represented by false ‘scientists’ and sympathetic press, who are trained and paid by the industries, and convince people with exaggerated partial facts not to believe in global warming. The article provides a good case study for the political ecology of information.

Odum, E. P. 1996. Ecology: A bridge between science and society. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc. Eugene Odum’s attempt to make the science of ecology relevant to social problems provides a template for information ecology models that include social systems. Chapter 3 provides a good introduction to systems thinking. A critical point for modeling human information systems based on bio-ecological systems theory, is that all systems must have an input and output environment. This is especially relevant for policy design, which can be considered an information process with inputs and outputs. Odum also provides ideas for how to bound information systems (see Allen and Hoekstra 1992 for more). Other ecological concepts introduced by Odum that apply to information ecology include trophic levels, replacement rates, and the fallacy of mis-estimating resource stocks like fisheries. These are potential misinformation errors. Chapter 4 provides a simple introduction to energetics and the laws of entropy. The idea of high quality energy embodied in objects created with energy (emergy) provides the inspiration for our idea of information quality upgrading, or “embodied information.” See English 1999 for more on information quality.

Pavao-Zuckerman, M. A. 2000. The Conceptual Utility of Models in Human Ecology. Journal of Ecological Anthropology 4:31-56. The author views human ecology as a field in which anthropology and bioecology converge. In this paper, Pavao-Zuckerman begins by defining key terms to human ecology such as “ecosystem” and “environment”. He then discusses the following shortcomings to using a solely bioecological approach to studying humans: 1. Humans are treated as “unnatural and external disturbance factors,” 2. There is a “limited conception of environment,” and 3. The role of information flows is seriously understated. Lastly, Pavao-Zuckerman discusses the important role models can play in the integration of the various components of human ecosystems. Integration of components such as biology and culture can be very complex. The use of conceptual models can help alleviate some of the complexity and facilitate integration. Some of the models listed as examples are based on, but not limited to, the following:

  • J. M. Forrester’s Industrial dynamics
  • H. T. Odum’s Systems ecology: An introduction
  • Rappaport’s Pigs for the Ancestors

Perkins, D. 1995. Speaking truth to power: Empowerment ideology as social intervention and policy. American Journal of Community Psychology 23:765-794. Perkins recognizes the ability for empowerment to be used in reforming public policy and creating prevention programs and explains the programmatic application of empowerment on different levels. The most helpful section to our study of the Nurture Nature Center discusses the grassroots setting, specifically focusing on community development, environmental action, community crime prevention, and self-help and consciousness-raising groups (beginning on page 767). After dissecting how empowerment can be useful at this level, Perkins criticizes and gives advice to empowerment researchers to “speak truth to power” by transparently sharing knowledge with all involved people and improving research in a number of ways, most notably by collaborating with the community and its citizens more in the research process. His conclusion outlines ten recommendations to policy makers, program planners and empowerment researchers on how to they should work with and understand empowerment (pages 789-791).

Puleston, D. E. 1979. "An epistemological pathology and the collapse, or why the Maya kept the short count," in Maya Archeology and Ethnohistory. Edited by N. Hammond and G. R. Willey, pp. 63-71. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press. The author argues that the Mayan epistemology caused their demise. Mayan time was based on concept that history would repeat itself, which is why the collapse of Mayans was expected by Mayan scholars and priests. It was a society entrenched in prophecy, acting when prophecies told them it would be appropriate to do so. The emic perspective – that bad things are due to happen – negatively influenced their ability to deal with change, stress, and struggles. In effect, the author argues that it was as though the Maya were doing what they thought they were supposed to do based on history, prophecy, and thus from an etic standpoint, we can see that their epistemology created self-fulfilling prophecies that ultimately caused their demise. The implication is that any society could fall victim to its own epistemological pathologies.

Rappaport, R. A. 1979. "On cognized models," in Ecology, Meaning, and Religion, pp. 97-144. Richmond, CA: North Atlantic Books. People can model processes and events as outsiders (from an etic view), which Rappaport calls an “operational model”.  This model’s purpose is to improve an understanding of how the physical relationships of nature interact with human function.  However, another model aims to see events from the inside (the emic view).  Rappaport calls this a “cognized model.” It is normally ignored by the insiders themselves. The cognized model helps to explain the reality of how a culture adapts to and conceives of the natural environment that they act in. Rappaport suggests that the cognized model should be considered more frequently in analyses of human-environmental interaction. Modeling information requires us to distinguish between cognized and operational models.

Romme, G., and R. Dillen. 1997. Mapping the Landscape of Organizational Learning. European Journal of Management 15:68-78. The authors discuss the connections between individual and organizational learning and how this connection creates and transfers knowledge to modify behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.  They build upon key issues involving organizational learning in previous literature and attempt to map out the “landscape of organizational learning”.  The authors describe learning systems called single and double loop learning and compare their effectiveness.  There are brief outlines for four important approaches to organizational learning: Contingency theory, psychology, information theory, and system dynamics.  

Stepp, J. R., E. C. Jones, M. Pavao-Zuckerman, D. Casagrande, and R. K. Zarger. 2003. Remarkable properties of human ecosystems. Conservation Ecology 7:11. Information ecology attempts to model human ecosystems. These authors explore the differences between human and nonhuman ecosystems in order to look deeper into the disconnect between human ecology and biological ecology.  The authors suggest the necessity of fully considering the flow of matter, energy, and information in order to gain a more complete understanding of human ecosystems.  They add the concept of “multiple environments” to Patten’s ecosystem model to further explain human ecosystems and discuss possible reasons for the inability for humans to behave in a way that adequately responds to the ecological context we live in. Multiple environments include the biological, social, cultural, supernatural and preternatural.

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