Chapter 5

The Ideology of Diversity

Nikos Nikisianis and Georgios P. Stamou


Despite the mounting discussions on the concepts of diversity and biodiversity, no generally accepted definition has ever emerged, while many ecologists have argued that the concept of diversity lacks ecological meaning. The ambiguity of diversity is interpreted here as the result of hidden, socially originated, ideological representations within the scientific fields of ecology. Ideological representations are discerned since the first appearance of diversity indices in the early 1940’s. The index of diversity was first introduced in ecology as a simple statistical constant within the equations of species-individuals curves, expressing the equitability with which individuals are distributed into different species. Distribution models presuppose that individuals be distributed into different species in a regular, repeatable way that expresses the hidden, internal order of every biological community. This presupposition is attributed to the ideological influence of organicism, according to which biological communities used to be considered as stable, discernible, harmonically and hierarchically organized unities of members. </p><p> However, soon after their introduction, species-individuals equations were automatically reversed and diversity became the variable under question. Hence, the measurement of diversity arose as the central question and ecologists employed new methods and concepts from Statistics, Systematics and Information Theory in order to find appropriate indices of diversity. Diversity indices, as quantified expressions of biological complexity, embody an infinite series of material qualities -such as individuals, populations, species and interspecies relationships- which under the frame of a mathematical function are equalized as general equivalents. It will be argued that the emergence of diversity indices through a reification process is motivated by hidden ideological representations reflecting dominant socioeconomic practices. </p><p> After the 1950’s diversity indices were employed by the uprising field of Systems Ecology. Diversity was related to other important ecosystem’s properties, such as stability, productivity and efficiency. Under the premises of an arising ecological crisis, ecologists tried to establish a positive correlation between diversity and stability, due to an external, social pressure for appropriate criteria of ecosystem management. Nevertheless, through this socially motivated relation, the meaning of ecological stability is redefined as the lack of fluctuation, acquiring a cybernetic, quantified aspect. Similar arguments are held with regard to the relation between diversity and productivity or efficiency. Finally, a complex of correlated, quantified, measurable and manageable ecosystemic concepts is emerging from the older fields of community and ecosystem ecology, leading to the new unifying attempts of the late 1960’s and to the new scientific-political field of environmental management. In this process, diversity arises as the nodal point of its field, a concept that transforms and determines the meaning of all others, due to its socially originated power.

Total Pages: 93-121 (29)

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