Over the last decade the word “ecology” has become part of scholarly vocabulary across a wide-range of disciplines, attesting to the critical concern with our oîkos (“house,” a place we live in). While human ecology has encouraged interdisciplinary approaches and thinking for more than a century, new cross-, trans- and interdisciplinary areas of inquiry focused on ecology have rapidly emerged. For example, economists have engaged in the exploration of relationships between ecosystems and human economies through ecological economics; communication and information studies have introduced information ecology by treating information as an ecosystem; and educators have called for ecoliteracy, pointing to the need for radicalized environmental education. These and other inquiries acknowledge the need for critical explorations and interventions. They give rise to the hope that we can take advantage of the opportunities that the current state of affairs presents to push for meaningful change.

The 2010-2011 theme Ecologies in the balance? The way forward will address new ways of living, working, connecting, and socializing that are emerging all over the world in response to changing ecologies. It will explore how today’s crises and challenges are understood and represented by diverse communities. One highly visible characteristic of the world today is its ever-increasing transnational nature. As diverse populations and ideas are brought together, conflicts over borders, boundaries, and environments arise, but so, too, do novel practices and creative ways of imagining futures. How are such challenges and promises depicted and explored in literature, film, visual arts, and new media? How do such depictions and explorations affect how people live their daily lives? As political and economic processes respond to environmental challenges, how have consumption patterns changed? What role have consumers played— and what role might they play—in encouraging greater environmental sustainability and social equality through the choices they make? What role do social media or other new forms of electronic communications play in spurring social and political activism toward positive change, or in empowering the work of the myriad organizations fighting for environmental, social, and political justice? The divisions between human and non-human, between animals, nature, and society, are becoming blurrier than ever. Some even argue that the origins of ecologically disruptive behaviors lie in our own practices as a species. Are we indeed in the era of post-humanism, and can we therefore conceive of the “human” as one form of life among many? Is post-humanism an impending crisis, a liberating potential, or both? What are the repercussions of such repositioning for the way we humans live our lives? How do ethnicity, gender, age, or wide-ranging mental and physical abilities mediate these practices, and transform the meaning of our lives? How might new discoveries of nanotechnology allow us to overcome physical and biological limitations? As the 2009-2010 events demonstrated, there have been a variety of responses to diverse crises, threats, fears, extinctions, and socio-economic and environmental degradation, ranging from small actions taken by individuals to large interventions. But there is often little agreement about what works and what doesn’t. Could the labor and environmental movements build on their nascent collaboration to ensure that the growing numbers of “green” jobs in construction, technology, and other fields offer safe workplaces and a living wage? Do micro-loans or other forms of financing for small businesses and entrepreneurs indeed increase wealth and social equality for women in developing countries as they claim? What steps are necessary for encouraging wealthy nations to join in actual solidarity with undeveloped countries and for urgently addressing climate change and other causes of environmental degradation? How do food-aid programs, climate change, and poverty affect people’s struggles to feed their families? Ecologies in the balance? The way forward will serve as an umbrella topic, offering an opportunity for different schools, programs, departments, and disciplines to come together in examining possible solutions to today’s challenges in areas such as the humanities, social sciences, sciences, labor, business, law, health, communications, and engineering. There are several campus-wide events that are already being planned. Just as in the first year of Ecologies in the balance?, so too this year, we are planning a coordinated advertising effort, including a poster which will be widely distributed and a website,

We would like to solicit information on the events you are already planning for the 2010-2011 academic year that may relate to the theme as well as to encourage new ideas and initiatives. We are interested in the relevant courses that your department plans to teach. We also hope that your department or program will consider sponsoring students’ projects and activities relevant to the theme. Our hope is that participation in the Ecologies in the balance? initiative will connect and enhance diverse activities across the three campuses to better meet the needs of different audiences and give added visibility to the creativity of Rutgers scholars and others exploring new approaches to the challenges we face.

As part of next year’s program we have already secured participation of two individuals whose work transcends conventional academic boundaries: Matthew Jelacic of the University of Colorado at Boulder is an architect renowned for designing humane shelters to replace the rows of white tents typical of international refugee camps. Sharyle Patton is director of the health and environment program at Commonweal, a nonprofit organization based in Bolinas, California, which seeks to protect humans and ecosystems from environmental contaminants by reducing the use of toxic chemicals in health care and environment. This combines approaches from the environmental sciences with concerns for the human body, labor and health.


Through the support of the office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs we will again be able to offer small grants (up to $600) to units that are organizing events related to the theme. To receive such support, please send:

A brief description of the event (up to 200 words); in addition please include brief bios of any outside speakers and details regarding the format of the event;
A preliminary budget for the event, including the amount requested and a brief justification.


The success of this program depends to a large degree on how we manage to involve our students in this year-long series of activities. During 2009-2010, many faculty engaged their students by fostering an environment where extra-curricular activities (such as participating in the events) were recognized through course requirements and assignments of relevant readings directly connected to specific events. We hope that during the next academic year many of you will also make an effort to incorporate Ecologies in your class syllabus. To help facilitate this, we will make a final program available in the early part of the summer.

In addition, we are listing some other ways that faculty, students, and staff can support the 2010-2011 theme of Ecologies in the balance?

  • Incorporate the theme into events offered by your unit (speakers, lectures, symposia, conferences, workshops, films, exhibitions, performances, poster sessions, etc);
  • Organize specific events related to the theme;
  • Partner with other organizers of Global Initiatives theme events;
  • Highlight on your website classes that your department/unit is offering throughout the year that are relevant to the theme;
  • Encourage your students to do an internship or honors thesis that is relevant to the theme;
  • Identify faculty and students who are interested in the theme and organize informal discussion session(s);
  • Promote Global Initiatives events (add them to your calendar, to your newsletter, etc);
  • Mark all related events as a part of the Global Initiatives theme; or
  • Propose a special topics course related to the theme in your department or school.

Please forward your ideas, comments, and requests by June 15, 2010 to Maryella Hannum at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will follow up with further details once we have the preliminary information. We plan to have a final version of the program by June 15, 2010 (PLEASE NOTE EARLIER DEADLINE) and in the early summer we will produce a poster containing the calendar of events. If you have further questions please contact Maryella Hannum, Senior Program Coordinator, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Joanna Regulska, SAS Dean of International Programs, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..