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Linné on line arrow Linnaeus and Ecology arrow The ascent of ecology in Sweden

The ascent of ecology in Sweden

This text presents how ecology became established as an independent academic discipline in Sweden. It thus provides a background to the explosive growth of ecology in the latter half of the 20th century. Ecology came to be transformed from a tiny insignificant biological subdiscipline living a life remote from the public arenas into the focus of the entire societal debate in the 1970s. A natural resource committee was appointed, and it concluded that the entire Swedish public welfare project should stand on an ecological platform.

The presentation is primarily based on Thomas Söderquist’s dissertation The Ecologists: From Merry Naturalists to Saviors of the Nation (Stockholm, 1986). Söderquist’s thesis is mainly a work of the sociology of science, which means that he primarily studied how ecology becomes established as an academic discipline. He describes how various institutions are formed and how competing schools of thought put forward different conceptions of what ecology should comprise. In ‘Linnaeus and ecology’ we examine above all the history of the concepts of ecology, in other words, from a different perspective.

The history of ecology in Sweden begins, as we have seen in the article ‘Linnaeus and the ideas of ecology,’ as early as the 18th century. We have also shown earlier how the protoecological theories of the 18th century were expressed within a physicotheological frame of reference, within a religious world view in which God was still seen as working in nature. Linnaeus’ notion of the economy of nature opened an entire field of studies where the influence of the environment on plants and animals came to be of special interest to examine. During the 19th century the older physicotheological concepts were translated into more and more secular terms, and protoecological studies developed in partly new directions. In 1866 Haeckel proposed the term ‘ecology’ for the study of the interplay between organisms and their environment. However the term did not come into general use until toward the end of the 19th century. In Sweden it was not until the turn of the 20th century that the first attempts were made to regard ecology as an independent academic discipline.