The eco-social environment and life cycle

Ecology is currently a buzzword!

Many ecological problems, old ones and new ones, have been the subject of much investigation, discussion and research. The only difference between old and new ecological problems is the way in which they are solved, depending on time and conditions.

The problems and questions are not new but new remedies have cropped up which can be used to solve them.

Cobb (1977) demonstrates one approach to the problems in her book “The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood”  which discusses the relationship between a child’s environment and fantasy-based creative play.

Fantasy and consciousness - both factors which are firmly rooted in the life cycle of the individual - are significant to the relationship between environment and play. By life cycle, Cobb means:




- birth

- childhood

- childhood encounters

- encountering knowledge

- encountering recognition

- puberty

- youth

- infatuation

- love

- adulthood

- existential encounters

- differential encounters

- senility

- continuous process

- discontinuous process

- more random events


She is inspired by Bateson (1972) and sees children’s play as a part of a dynamic ecosystem, Nature and culture created by Mankind. She emphasises (1977:24) that plants, Man and animals must be seen as part of the same eco-system which is entwined into a net of related energy systems - that the child gains impressions of reality through his nervous system and sensory organs in ways which are directly and organically part of Nature’s own dynamic forms of energy. Nature’s heartbeat and pulse, the changing of the seasons and the tides are - and will always be - two sides of the same coin.

Seasonal play, the pendulum-like action of the swing and analogous physical movements and many examples of certain ways in which to use words and music are used to demonstrate this idea.

The child’s senses are stimulated in and by Nature and Nature’s own senses are organically extended into the child. Cobb describes the forms by which the child understands senses and fantasy in play as biocultural because they are physical life expressed as various cultural forms and symbols.

The development of imagination and culture is designed to be part of the biocultural balance between Man and Nature, body and soul and thought.

Within the context of an entirety of which the child is as yet unaware but of which he is part, through play the child experiments in an attempt to find solutions and answers about reality. The child feels at home in this well-balanced eco-system and, according to Cobb, this is no great mystery because the child feels that he and his play are inherent to the entirety.

As a kind of “natural instrument”, the child gains knowledge about reality through ecological learning chains, pulse, feeling, thoughts, body movements, breathing, light and air, etc. All of these are expressed in the harmony between the child’s inner and outer imaginary world. In turn, harmony is an expression of the balance between the child’s ego and the world in which he lives and thus play becomes part of the ecology of the child’s mind.

It goes without saying that destroying the fine balance in the ecosystem between Nature and childhood’s creative recognition is catastrophic and will necessarily have far-reaching consequences for the child in adulthood.

The eco-social environment and its context

There are five strata:



Beyond the boundaries of the eco-social environment, there is an EXTERNAL ATMOSPHERE AND A UNIVERSE which is uncontrollable NATURE and local geographical conditions, which, in turn, are subject to the arbitrary randomness of being.

The eco-social environment has outer boundaries or “shells” which determine and limit.

Within these limitations, play has fantastic processes and permutations. And the same applies to toys. The limits for both toys and play are outlined in the model’s five strata.

By INHERITANCE/TRADITION we mean the inherited and transmitted norms, rules and traditions for how a toy can be developed and put to practical use on the basis of its original form.

By EVENT we mean the current occurrence which is the instigator or motivation for ideas for product development or formation of a game or toy.

By PERSONALITY we mean the person-at-play’s position in a life cycle, his personal experience, abilities, capacities and actual opportunities during the process of the game in question.

By RESOURCE we mean the different kinds of opportunities and sources of help available for the formation or production of any given toy.

By SPACE we mean the conditions of the spatial framework or location in which play occurs. This includes, among other factors, the so-called structural values.

By TECHNOLOGY we mean the tools available for design and fabrication/production of a toy.

By TIME we mean not only 1) the actual point in time in which play takes place but also 2) the dimensions of time and experience in which play is placed and 3) the temporal conditions for manufacture/production of the toy.

By REIFICATION we mean the thing/object (toy) which the person-at-play plays with in giving them value within play/game.

Ecology criticism

The following are some examples of practical ecological criticism:

Uni Bronfenbrenner (1981) asks a central question: “How can we human beings become more human?” Human beings’ relating to one another has no longer an unequivocal motive, is no longer “monocausal” due to a lack of agreement to rights and access to resources on both the inner and the external level. We are aware and recognise that there is a limit for material growth and a limit to how much need and suffering we can stand to see others exposed to.

This has definite consequences for the conditions under which children grow up in “the global village”. We are faced with many new and incalculable problems on a global scale. New methods must be employed to describe the problems and find solutions to them, new socio-ecological research disciplines including strictly empirical, complex statistical systems, the latest biological discoveries, complex mathematical methods, new electronic gadgetry, etc.

Bronfenbrenner theorises his own ecological ideas on the basis of the most ancient cultural peoples’ natural philosophies in relation to the individual human being’s responsibilities and relationships to:

1. himself and his closest family, defined as patterns related to activities, roles and relationships

2. his close familyand relationships between people

3. his natural surroundings, defined as powerstructures and systems, and

4. the universe, defined as a global and universal responsibility.

The theory is made up of four systems within which human beings function. Bronfenbrenner calls these the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem and the macrosystem.

Based on Bronfenbrenner’s ideas, Jacob (1987:43) brings these problems into social anthropological and socio-cultural perspective.

He outlines the problems occurring between:

  • “subject”
  • environment
  • structure
  • change/transformation

These problems lie in the social ecological preconditions for existence - ecology and Nature - ecology and socio-cultural conditions - ecology and the individual.

How do we analyse and solve these problems? When we view “toys and play, life patterns and lifestyles” in a socio-ecological perspective, we have to study  the following:

  • Plants’ and animals’ positions in the world’s ecological system
  • Is there also a place for them in “the ecologyof the individual human being”?
  • Or what does natural experiencemean to the individual human being when he lacks natural recognition and natural objects in his play and his recognition of the world?

If we relate Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological concepts to children’s play, we can illustrate his different environmental systems. The literature outlined in the following is concerned with this question:



The categories in the eco-systems and their influence on play. Partly based on Bronfenbrenner (1981).

Zacharias (1987:12:34:55) describes childhood and play in relation to the concept of ecology by emphasising the significance of the “scope” of play in:

  • sociotope(immediate environment, the home)
  • biotope(space) and
  • the urbane environment(local society).

He criticises the innumerable attempts which have been made to define what play is. Play differs from one occasion to the next, he says (1987:16-17). Play reproduces itself in “a continually new and controversial version”:

“It is uncontrollable due to the many invisible states and elements it contains - it is impossible to define how much of it is fantasy and how much reality which is due to the mutability of the significance and character of toys and chance objects (their instrumental, functional, symbolic and ritual meanings).”

These socio-ecological conditions are themes are often taken up in Steenhold (1993,d) and in this book.

Retter (1987) has another (and irresolute) approach to these socio-ecological problems when he puts them into a pedagogical perspective.

He doubts the value of evaluating child’s acquiring knowledge, doubts the extent to which this knowledge is correct and necessary, doubts the insight gained by gaining knowledge, doubts the insight and experience gained through play, etc.

“because pollutants poison not only our water, air and earth but also the basis for our human experience and evaluation of the world around us.”



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