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Social Ecology in the Digital Age - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780128031131, 9780128031148

Social Ecology in the Digital Age

1st Edition

Solving Complex Problems in a Globalized World

Author: Daniel Stokols
Paperback ISBN: 9780128141885
eBook ISBN: 9780128031148
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 16th October 2017
Page Count: 406
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Social Ecology in the Digital Age: Solving Complex Problems in a Globalized World provides a comprehensive overview of social ecological theory, research, and practice. Written by renowned expert Daniel Stokols, the book distills key principles from diverse strands of ecological science, offering a robust framework for transdisciplinary research and societal problem-solving. The existential challenges of the 21st Century - global climate change and climate-change denial, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, disease pandemics, inter-ethnic violence and the threat of nuclear war, cybercrime, the Digital Divide, and extreme poverty and income inequality confronting billions each day - cannot be understood and managed adequately from narrow disciplinary or political perspectives.

Social Ecology in the Digital Age is grounded in scientific research but written in a personal and informal style from the vantage point of a former student, current teacher and scholar who has contributed over four decades to the field of social ecology. The book will be of interest to scholars, students, educators, government leaders and community practitioners working in several fields including social and human ecology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, criminology, law, education, biology, medicine, public health, earth system and sustainability science, geography, environmental design, urban planning, informatics, public policy and global governance.

Winner of the 2018 Gerald L. Young Book Award from The Society for Human Ecology
"Exemplifying the highest standards of scholarly work in the field of human ecology."

Key Features

  • The book traces historical origins and conceptual foundations of biological, human, and social ecology
  • Offers a new conceptual framework that brings together earlier approaches to social ecology and extends them in novel directions
  • Highlights the interrelations between four distinct but closely intertwined spheres of human environments: our natural, built, sociocultural, and virtual (cyber-based) surroundings
  • Spans local to global scales and individual, organizational, community, regional, and global levels of analysis
  • Applies core principles of social ecology to identify multi-level strategies for promoting personal and public health, resolving complex social problems, managing global environmental change, and creating resilient and sustainable communities
  • Underscores social ecology’s vital importance for understanding and managing the environmental and political upheavals of the 21st Century
  • Highlights descriptive, analytic, and transformative (or moral) concerns of social ecology
  • Presents strategies for educating the next generation of social ecologists emphasizing transdisciplinary, team-based, translational, and transcultural approaches


Students, researchers, and professors in ecologically-oriented fields, such as Human ecology, Social ecology, Environmental psychology, Evolutionary and Conservation Biology, Information and Computer Science, Environmental Science, Earth System Science, Sustainability, Principles of Team Science, Urban Sociology, Urban Planning, Public Policy, Public Health, Epidemiology, Environmental Education, International Relations, Human Geography

Table of Contents

1. Discovering Social Ecology: A Personal Journey
2. Historical Origins and Conceptual Foundations of Social Ecology
3. Deriving Core Principles of Social Ecology
4. Rise of the Internet: Navigating Our Online and Place-Based Ecologies
5. Promoting Personal and Public Health
6. Confronting Complex Social Problems
7. Managing Global Environmental Change
8. Designing Resilient and Sustainable Communities
9. Educating the Next Generation of Social Ecologists
10. Epilogue


No. of pages:
© Academic Press 2017
16th October 2017
Academic Press
Paperback ISBN:
eBook ISBN:

About the Author

Daniel Stokols

Daniel Stokols is widely known for his contributions to the fields of social ecology, environmental and ecological psychology, public health, and transdisciplinary team science. He is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Irvine and served as founding dean of UCI’s School of Social Ecology. Stokols also has served as consultant to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the W.M. Keck and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, and several community organizations. He is co-author of Behavior, Health, and Environmental Stress (1986), the National Academy of Sciences report on Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science (2015), editor of Perspectives on Environment and Behavior (1977), and co-editor of the Handbook of Environmental Psychology (1987), Environmental Simulation (1993) and Promoting Human Wellness (2002).

Affiliations and Expertise

Research Professor and Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine, USA


 Winner of the 2018 Gerald L. Young Book Award from The Society for Human Ecology
"Exemplifying the highest standards of scholarly work in the field of human ecology." 


"With his astounding background, Daniel Stokols is uniquely qualified to author Social Ecology in the Digital Age, a sweeping, comprehensive work that invites readers to explore the history, core principles, and many applications of social ecology. ...Social Ecology in the Digital Age is an invaluable contribution and a remarkable achievement. Ecology in the Digital Age is extraordinary in its scope and depth. It brings together a wide-ranging set of ideas to argue for the power and promise of social ecology. In doing so, Stokols has crafted a meticulously constructed and comprehensive work that is likely to become requisite reading for serious scholars in a variety of fields related to social ecology."--Frontiers in Psychology

"Social Ecology in the Digital Age is an invaluable contribution and a remarkable achievement…. extraordinary in its scope and depth. It brings together a wide-ranging set of ideas to argue for the power and promise of social ecology. In doing so, Stokols has crafted a meticulously constructed and comprehensive work that is likely to become requisite reading for serious scholars in a variety of fields related to social ecology. Hopefully broader audiences of professionals, policy-makers, and everyday citizens interested in social change will also turn to this font of insights because of its contribution in addressing many of “the existential challenges of the twenty-first century.”-- Rachel Kaplan and Jason Duvall, Frontiers in Psychology

"Throughout the book and with the help of several case studies, Stokols illustrates impressively the specific problem structure of environmental problems. A particular strength of the book is the detailed and critical discussion of the role of digitalisation. Stokols takes a look at the effects of cyberspace on psychological, social, health and sustainability outcomes and shows how digital technologies transform physical and social organisation from microlevel behaviour settings to larger societal units. In sum, Social Ecology in the Digital Age is a great read and highly recommended to students, scholars and practitioners interested in sustainable transformations. —Diana Hummel, LSE Review of Books
"From a first-person narrative, the book is written in a very engaging and motivating way, and provides a lot of biographical experiences and personal insights, detailing Stokols’ own four-decade academic journey. It is therefore useful both for experts of sustainability science and politics, but also for students who are at the beginning of their academic careers and are interested in issues such as sustainable urban planning, sustainable consumption, environmental justice and theoretical concepts of society-nature interactions. ...Throughout the book and with the help of several case studies, Stokols illustrates impressively the specific problem structure of environmental problems. ...A particular strength of the book is the detailed and critical discussion of the role of digitalisation. " --LSE Business Review
"This is a truly intelligent and important book. It calls for the need to exit our standard disciplinary categories if we are to address major challenges of our world in effective ways. The knowledge silos we have constructed are becoming an obstacle. We need to cut across them. Stokols’ use of social ecology as enabled and disciplined by digitization is brilliant and useful!" --Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, author of Expulsions
"At a time of increasing interest in transdisciplinarity, social ecology is an exemplary model of an overarching perspective for framing scientific and societal problems that also fosters innovative solutions requiring expertise from multiple disciplines, fields, and scales of analysis. Dan Stokols also illustrates the link between an ecological approach to problems in context with action-oriented translational research that integrates academic and extra-academic perspectives, while documenting the growing role of team-based research and need to foster a transdisciplinary orientation in students." --Julie Thompson Klein, Professor of Humanities Emerita, Department of English, Wayne State University
"The definitive treatise on social ecology in the digital age. I read with great interest about the history and development of social ecology, the way social ecology can be used to understand some of todays’ most pressing environmental and societal problems, and, most interestingly to me, approaches to education that use principles of social ecology to train a new generation to address these problems. I love the systems-thinking approach that Dan Stokols takes on people and the environment in this new book, which uses principles of social ecology to provide a new framework for environmental problem-solving in the digital age.  The engaging writing and clear logical thinking make it a must-read for anyone interested in the state of the planet and its interaction with human societies!" -Elena Bennett, School of Environment and Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University
"Every life should yield Stokols’ breadth of wisdom and depth of compassion. But these gifts come late to most of us, if at all. So read this book. Stokols’ brilliant synthesis, delivered via engaging narrative, provides lessons ignored at our own peril." --Ralph Catalano, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley
"A great book, long needed, for linking biological, human and social ecology--a milestone for guiding social and psychological sciences on approaching people environment transactions, within social ecological systems, from place based to global and virtual space." --Mirilia Bonnes, Center of Interuniversity Research on Environmental Psychology (CIRPA), Sapienza University, Rome
"What is social ecology?" If you haven’t yet sought an answer to this question, you can successfully do so now with Social Ecology in the Digital Age. Few people have done more than Daniel Stokols to advance the social ecological perspective as a coherent intellectual perspective. In his scholarship, in his teaching, and as an institution builder, he has helped generations of researchers, students and practitioners work across levels of analysis and across disciplinary and professional boundaries, knowing that this is what must be done to address the complex, pressing problems that societies face today. His book presents the historical origins and basic principles of social ecology, as well as tools for understanding how and under what conditions people and their environments go through transformations. The culmination of more than four decades of patient study, the book weaves intellectual autobiography together with clear exposition and illuminating examples to make the reading not only intellectually rewarding but also enjoyable. Among its distinctive features is the interest taken in the cybersphere as a domain of pervasive environmental influence in everyday life. At this fraught historical moment, Daniel Stokols here offers a calm voice of reason, pushing back against distractions thrown up by proponents of regressive ideologies and calling attention back to the urgent matters at hand. This is a beautiful book, well worth the reading." --Terry Hartig, Professor, Institute for Housing and Urban Research, Uppsala University, Sweden
"This book about Social Ecology was overdue. It opens a viable way to a mutual understanding within a still heterogenous field of research, scattered across the globe and coined for instance as Human or Social Ecology, Research on Sustainability and Global Change. By working out well-founded core principles, Dan Stokols identifies common assumptions and distinctive features between seemingly incompatible approaches. The elaborated relationship between Digital Age and the idea of the Anthropocene provide an integrative agenda for research and political action in the 21th Century." --Egon Becker, ISOE - Institute for Social Ecological Research, Frankfurt a. M.
"Context matters in every area of our lives and throughout the natural world.  Professor Stokols engagingly provides a framework for better understanding and analyzing the dynamic and interdependent natural, built, sociocultural, and digital ("cyberspheric") influences with which we humans are intimately linked.  His blending of personal experience and specific research examples convincingly demonstrates the creative benefits of merging and transcending discipline-based findings and approaches. This book is destined to become THE classic work in social ecology.  The most knowledgeable and distinguished scholar in the field shares his personal path through four decades of grappling with conceptual, methodological, and practical issues in an attempt to comprehend the interdependent forces that shape our lives and the natural world.  The result is an analytic framework growing out of and transcending several disciplines, a framework that reveals the contextual complexities inherent in such domains as public health, community conflict, and climate change." --Allan Wicker, Emeritus Professor, Claremont Graduate University
"Dan Stokols’ social ecology framework is a sweeping overview and synthesis of scholarly research, personal insight and interdisciplinary integration. His joining of ecological thinking with contemporary challenges is exactly what we need to shape a livable future. A bona fide exploration of the complex problems of which humans are a part, and a timely guide to our – increasingly technological -- ecological future. Superbly written. Stokols reveals how humans are entering an entirely new cyber-environment -- of our own making – that fundamentally changes the meaning of ecology. His perspective is essential for understanding and managing the complex future that lies ahead. Humanity has crossed the frontier of a new ecological system – into the yet-to-be-charted future of technological and cyber-environments. Stokols’ life-work on social ecology combines a wealth of historical and up-to-date sources for making sense of these world-changing transitions. His book is a thought-filled understanding of the past and a perceptive guide to the future." --Richard Borden, Rachel Carson Chair in Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, author of Ecology and Experience: Reflections from a Human Ecological Perspective
"In his new book, Daniel Stokols successfully makes the much-needed attempt to lead social ecology into the digital age. He convincingly demonstrates how sound science and action-oriented, transformative research can and must go hand in hand in order to meet the great challenges of our times. A leading scholar in the field, Stokols masterfully intertwines well-informed analysis with insightful storytelling. ‘Social Ecology in the Digital Age’ is a must-read for anyone concerned with the field and an inspiration for committed young scientists. " --Thomas Jahn, ISOE - Institute for Social Ecological Research, Frankfurt a. M.
"Based on heaps of data, scientists now characterize planet Earth as experiencing a "great acceleration", i.e. the speeding-up of alarming processes such as rising global temperatures, growing numbers of climate extremes or the galloping loss of biodiversity. Social Ecology is an emerging inter- and transdisciplinary field of scholarship aimed at improving our understanding of the underlying human – that is, psychological, social, economic, institutional and cultural – dimensions of this process, as well as their interactions with the ongoing biophysical changes. With this well-informed, readable and, despite its dire subject matter, quite enjoyable book, Daniel Stokols summarizes his perspective on this field to which he has contributed so much over the past decades. Dan draws our attention to the huge importance of the rapidly ongoing digitalization process for socio-ecological systems dynamics. Along the way, the book serves as an excellent introduction to the field and presents much of the history and current state of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, one of the important global players in this field. A must-read for everyone interested in interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability studies." --Helmut Haberl, Institute of Social Ecology, Vienna, author of Social Ecology: Society-Nature Relations Across Time and Space
"Ecology, as a study of how organisms interact with each other and with their environment has developed over the years as a sub-field of many disciplines, including biology, sociology, and psychology. Social ecology, on the other hand, is a body of knowledge devoted to transdisciplinary approaches to understanding and solving societal and global problems based on ecological principles.  Stokols' book provides a comprehensive and clear summary of that field that can't be found anywhere else." --Arnold Binder, Professor Emeritus, Criminology, Law & Society, University of California, Irvine
"Daniel Stokols is a major figure in the development of the Social Ecology paradigm, to better understand and cope with the social and physical contexts in which health, welfare, and well-being are shaped. He brings together in this book individual and aggregate level phenomena, the physical and the social, and objective and subjective perspectives. He shows the need to go beyond the limits of disciplinary purview, merging the various ecologies (e.g. biological, urban) into an inclusive paradigm shown to foster improved understanding and practice in a variety of contemporary applications." --William Michelson, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Ontario
"Embedded in pleasant personal recollections, Dan Stokols, a pioneer of Social Ecology as an academic field, guides the reader through the interdisciplinary thicket of contextual analysis of human behavior: Natural contexts, such as humans’ health risks or the climate, man-made built contexts such as settlements and cities, and sociocultural contexts such as the cybersphere. His guidance relies less upon throwing at the reader facts and figures, but more upon narratives and verbal explanations from a wide range of excellently referenced literature." --Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Institute of Social Ecology, Vienna, author of Social Ecology: Society-Nature Relations Across Time and Space
From the Journal of Entrepreneurship:
"In sum, Social Ecology in the Digital Age: Solving Complex Problems in a Globalized World is the best available compendium and analysis of social ecology theory and research. Remarkably, Professor Daniel Stokols has produced a volume that provides a solid foundation of the historical origins and conceptual foundations of social ecology spanning a century of theory and research. At the same time, this volume is also overwhelmingly grounded in new scholarship on confronting and managing global environmental problems, designing resilient and sustainable communities, and understanding the sociocultural and psychological impacts of digital environments. This book expands the cannon to show how theory can be inspired, produced and engaged to address the challenges of the twenty-first century and beyond. It is THE classic work in social ecology." -- Shalini Misra, Associate Professor, School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, Alexandria, VA, USA
From the Human Ecology Review:
"Social Ecology in a Digital Age is a comprehensive overview of the theoretical development and application of social ecology to understanding the wicked problems humanity faces today and in the future. It chronicles author Daniel Stokols’ personal journey, including his joining the Program in Social Ecology in the early 1970s at the then relatively newly founded University of California Irvine, and his development as a teacher and scholar within that program. It is also a narrative of the emergence of social ecology as an approach to the changing problems of the world, including the development and consequences of novel phenomena, such as digital technology. Social Ecology in a Digital Age makes a valuable contribution to all students, researchers, and policy-makers who are grappling with transdisciplinary approaches to socioecological situations that are both unsustainable and unjust, and demand interventions to transform them for the better… Overall, Stokols’s book is an important and timely contribution with lasting value… I highly recommend it to anyone working in the field." – Robert Dyball, Professor, Australian National University
From the Japanese Journal of the Man Environment Research Association:
"…This book presents a new conceptual framework that examines the influence of four environmental spheres on behavior, health, and sustainability: namely, our natural, built, sociocultural, and virtual (cyber mediated) surroundings… Professor Stokols proposes Social Ecology as a transdisciplinary systems framework that can help offset certain contemporary trends toward nationalism and noncollaboration. He highlights the value of social ecological methods for understanding and managing the joint influences of natural, architectural, sociocultural, and cyber environments on human behavior, health, and global sustainability. He contends that by working cooperatively across disciplines, nations, and continents we can begin to confront the complex threats facing humanity and the biosphere as a whole during the Antrhopocene Epoch." -- Sonomi Hirata, Professor, Hakuoh University
From the Systemic Practice and Action Research:
"We found this book highly readable and thought provoking. It would be an excellent text for an advanced undergraduate course or an early graduate-level seminar in a diverse array of disciplines, such as public health, geography, or sociology, especially if supplemented with further material on how to conduct social ecology research. Overall, this text provides a historical accounting of the evolution of social ecology and its transdisciplinary approach and cements Dr. Stokols’s role as a key leader in articulating a unifying vision for social ecology in the digital age.”  J.J. McIntyre-Mills and N.R.A. Romm
From Frontiers in Sociology:
“…Stokols’ book provides a compendium of research (including his own) supporting his understanding of social ecology in the digital age…the book offers a well-substantiated account of prospects for strengthening our approach to social ecology.” – Calvin Tribby, Lilian Perez, and David Berrigan.

Ratings and Reviews