Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On the ecology metaphor

 I realized that I haven't shared my prelim paper with you. Here it goes.








The ecology metaphor in language-related fields
Beril Tezeller Arik
Preliminary Exam Section 2—7 day exam
August 10th, 2011






The term "ecology" is widely used across the language-related disciplines, including linguistics, second language acquisition studies, and rhetoric/composition. Discuss the meanings of the term in the language-related fields, and, as necessary, in other areas, with an eye to building a theory—or at least a conceptual framework—for your own future study of second language writing (SLW) from an ecological point of view.


Prologue
“A recurring image comes to mind when I read much second language acquisition (SLA) research and theory. It is the image of a single cactus in the middle of a lonely desert-the only thing except sand for miles around. The cactus sits there, waiting patiently for that rare cloud to pass overhead and for that shower of rain to come pouring down. Like the solitary cactus, the learner in mainstream SLA research seems to sit in the middle of a lonely scene, and, like the cactus, the learner seems to wait there for life-giving sustenance (or at least its triggering mechanism)--input-to come pouring in. At that point the real action begins, and we watch the learner miraculously grow and change.
A contrasting image sometimes also occurs to me, though more often when reading in fields other than SLA, such as language socialization and cultural anthropology. This is the image of a tropical rainforest, so densely packed and thick with underbrush that it would be hard to move through. This forest is constantly wet with humidity and teeming with life, sounds, growth, and decay-a lush ecology in which every organism operates in complex relationship with every other organism. Each tree grows in and as a result of this fundamentally integrated world, developing continuously and being sustained through its involvement in the whole ecology. And this image satisfies me at a deeper level, because it corresponds to how I (and others) believe language acquisition "really works." (Atkinson, 2002, p. 525)



In Search of a New Metaphor for Second Language (Writing) Studies
In second language studies, there seem to be two North Stars—two stars that practitioners in the field find their way and situate themselves by looking as they struggle to make sense of the large waves in the turbulent ocean of second language development and use. These two stars—actually two metaphors—like the seductive Sirens in Greek mythology call and bewitch their admirers—of course in this case not to their peril. Despite the fact that these metaphors come in different shapes and sizes in different sub-disciplines of second language studies—dichotomies such as acquisition vs. participation in second language acquisition studies, process vs. product approaches in second language writing studies, genre as form vs. genre as social action in second language genre studies—the more I look at these divisions created by two metaphors the more apparent it gets that there is a pattern to these metaphors, that is, they create fault lines in various disciplines they enter. These dichotomies in various fields carry a family resemblance because they are based on dualism. Perhaps more importantly, arguments from both sides are right in all these cases. The fact that they are not wrong is exactly why this conundrum has survived for so many years without a definite victor.  The overview of these dichotomies is beyond the scope of this paper (but see Breen, 1985; Sfard, 1998; Zuengler & Miller, 2006) and, thus, here, I start with the assumption that perhaps it is time for a new metaphor, a metaphor that would capture not only cognitive and social aspects of language and its learning and use but also that would have something to say about both the order and dynamism in second language development if only a new way of thinking, one without dualisms, could be established. This being the starting point, in this paper, I focus on developing an alternative metaphor for second language studies in general and second language writing in particular—language development and use as an ecological system. Delineating what the ecology metaphor entails is the main purpose of this paper.
In this paper, I start with the premise that despite their contributions to our understanding of second language writing so far, the two prevalent metaphors in second language writing, process vs. product approaches, have fulfilled their mission and insisting on following them might be detrimental for second language writing. This paper draws on the conviction that the metaphor of ecology is not only more fruitful and realistic for second language writing but also has the potential to synthesize the contributions of both cognitive and social metaphors to our understanding of second language development and use. My purpose here is to propose a working definition of ecology for second language studies in general and second language writing in particular based on the use of this metaphor in language-related fields, such as linguistics, applied linguistics, and rhetoric and composition, that have been informing second language studies.
Based on the ecology metaphor’s various incarnations in different fields, I would like to propose a tentative definition of ecology for second language writing. Ecology refers to the holistic study of complex (multimodal, multidirectional, hierarchical, and unpredictable) interrelations within and between natural systems—i.e., dynamic, nested, open systems—that consist of material and non-material elements, as these interrelations lead to emergence of change and stability at different time scales and hierarchical levels in these systems by seeking ecological validity in conducting research. I think this definition of ecology captures the main features of the ecology metaphor as used in language-related fields such as linguistics, applied linguistics, and rhetoric and composition. In the following sections, I give a brief overview of how ecology has been defined and described in these three language-related fields.
 
The Origins of Ecology[i]
Since the purpose of this paper is to give an account of the travails of the term ecology in language-related fields, I will not go into the genealogy of the term in natural sciences and beyond. However, before I begin summarizing how ecology has been defined in language-related fields, perhaps a short note on the origins of the term is necessary. It is generally accepted that the first person that proposed the ecology metaphor was a German biologist and philosopher—among many other things as a man of his time—Ernst Haeckel. Inspired by the ideas of Darwin on evolution, Haeckel (1869) interested in investigating nature in ecological terms defined ecology as the following:
The body of knowledge concerning the economy of nature-the investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and its organic environment; including, above all, its friendly and inimical relations with those animals and plants with which it comes directly or indirectly into contact-in a word, ecology is the study of all those complex interrelations referred to by Darwin as the conditions of the struggle of existence. (As quoted in de Laplante 2004, p. 264)
I would like to highlight some parts of his definition, i.e., holism, the interconnectedness of material objects and living beings, and complex, multidirectional relationships, since they become relevant for more recent definitions and uses of the term ecology in language-related fields. First, Haeckel’s focus on total relations is in stark contrast with more analytical approaches where, at least as an ideal, variables are isolated and tested independently[ii]. Second, Haeckel includes both organic and inorganic elements in his definition of ecology[iii]. Finally, Haeckel’s appreciation of interrelations rather than causal relations diverges from mainstream approaches to science. In sum, Haeckel’s definition brings out three main features of the ecology metaphor: a holistic approach, incorporating both living and material objects, and a focus on complex interrelations. After this brief introduction to the origins of the ecology[iv] metaphor, in the next section, I focus on how ecology has been defined in three language-related fields—linguistics, applied linguistics, and rhetoric and composition—fields that have been highly influential on second language writing (Silva & Leki, 2004).        

The travails of the ecology metaphor in language-related disciplines
The ecology metaphor became popular in many different fields beginning from the 1960s (Kramsch, 2002)—for example, in systems theory (Bateson, 1972) and psychology (Gibson, 1979)[v]. Beginning from the same time, the ecology metaphor has begun to be widely used in many language-related disciplines, e.g., linguistics (Haugen, 1972); applied linguistics (Kramsch 2002); rhetoric and composition studies (Spinuzzi & Zachry, 2000), yet meaning quite different things. One common thread observable in the use of the ecology metaphor is its use as a reaction to analytical approaches in which phenomena are investigated by dissecting and severing them from their context in order to find universal principles. An ecological approach, on the other hand, calls for a holistic approach in understanding the complex interrelationship between the phenomena and their environment instead of examining objects in isolation.
In order to present the foundations for the definition I propose for ecology, I give a brief review of how “ecology” or “ecological” has been defined in language-related disciplines—linguistics, applied linguistics, and rhetoric and composition. The definition of ecology I propose for second language writing in this article draws on the definitions used in these three language-related fields.

Ecology in linguistics
Biological metaphors for language, such as ecology, have not been the mainstream framework in linguistics; however, as Salverda (1998) points out, biological metaphors have played a role in linguistics since its inception. Reminding us how Saussure (1983) and Chomsky (1980) criticized and dismissed older biological metaphors used for language[vi], Salverda states that this rejection was exactly what made linguistics the scientific field we know today. In other words, one of the distinguishing features of current mainstream theoretical linguistics from its antecedents is its rejection of an ecological approach to language. That said, there have been some proponents of the ecology metaphor in linguistics—maybe not so much in theoretical linguistics but in sub-disciplines of linguistics such as historical linguistics and sociolinguistics. In this section, I present how supporters of the ecology metaphor in linguistics have defined ecology summarizing the commonalities among these definitions. Then, I give some examples for how proponents of the ecology metaphor have approached language ecologically in their research before I discuss how ecology has been defined in applied linguistics in the next section.
One of the first proponents of the ecology metaphor in linguistics, Haugen (1972), defines language ecology as “the study of interactions between any given language and its environment” (p. 323). The biological metaphor of ecology inevitably goes hand in hand with concerns about preservation of languages as languages and dialects continue to disappear at an alarming rate—very much parallel to concerns about preserving biodiversity as a result of globalization. Haugen’s metaphor, which inspired many to study the dynamism of languages as they interact in macro scales might also be applied to how languages interact in the “minds” of language users—although the line of research that treats bilingualism as an ecological system is less widely studied compared to the interaction of languages (Fill, 2001; van Lier, 2004).
It is important to note that one feature of Haugen’s ecology metaphor that is not reflected in his definition but plays a central role in his framework is the dynamism in languages. He writes, “even the pure systems are intermediate between the past and the future of their own language and intermediate between their neighbors on all sides” (p. 64). Even though, there, Haugen highlights only the dynamism of a language—one might argue that his claim can be extended to language users and specific features of a language among others—he turns language systems into a function of time and space. This ecological understanding of language systems, which emphasizes the situatedness of languages, is in sharp contrast with mainstream theoretical linguistics, such as Chomskyan linguistics, with its emphasis on a sterile language system as the unit of analysis[vii]. Even though Haugen’s definition has not been carried to the central stage in linguistics, his metaphor inspired a new area of research in linguistics—ecolinguistics. As Fill (2001) reports, ecolinguistics emerged from the metaphor Haugen (1972) proposed and was introduced to linguistics at the 1990 AILA (Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée) Conference.
Another supporter of the ecology metaphor in linguistics is Alwin Fill (2001). Fill does not give a definition of ecology; however, he lists the three main principles informing ecolinguistics in his article published in the AILA Review: diversity, interaction and wholeness as the foundations for ecological thinking. One of the items in the research agenda he proposes is developing theories of language informed by these ecological principles. For Fill, the most central theme for an ecological approach is acknowledging and promoting language diversity. His interaction principle refers to the multidirectional and complex interactions between languages. Similar to the definitions of the ecology metaphor that have been mentioned so far, Fill also emphasizes a holistic approach that goes hand in hand with the ecology metaphor.
Another proponent of the ecology metaphor in linguistics is Peter Mühlhäusler (1995, 1996), who investigated the language ecology of the languages spoken in the Pacific region. In his chapter published in 2002, Mühlhäusler uses the definitions of ecology by Haeckel and Haugen. According to Mühlhäusler, the main features of  ‘ecological thinking’ are (1) taking into account both internal and external factors of a system, (2) advocating multiculturalism, (3) recognizing that natural resources are limited, (4) focusing on sustainability, and (5) being aware of the factors that contribute to sustainability, (p. 374). Mühlhäusler also emphasizes empowering languages and promoting diversity and preservation of languages and points out the struggle for survival of languages. For Mühlhäusler, both divergence and convergence are part of how languages interact as processes that lead to variability and stability respectively. In sum, Mühlhäusler advocates the ecology metaphor, which entails investigating phenomena and their context, promoting diversity and sustainability and, thus, focusing on stability as well as dynamism in order to reach a better understanding of language.
This sketch of how the ecology metaphor has been used in linguistics presented above displays some similarities and differences compared to the definitions proposed by Haeckel (1869) and Haugen (1972). First of all, both a holistic approach and a reaction to mainstream analytical approaches seem to be a common thread not only for Haeckel but also for the proponents of the ecology metaphor in linguistics. The second similarity is a focus on dynamism and interactions, which is considered central for an ecological approach in its several incarnations in various fields. For example, studying language contact where the dynamism of and interactions between languages and other elements such as political and social factors can be better observed is a topic that several ecolinguists are interested in. Third, in both Haeckel and other definitions and descriptions of ecology, ecology has been used as a metaphor rather than a well-defined theoretical concept. As a result, it is rather difficult to find a new or refined definition of ecology in linguistics literature since the proponents of the ecology metaphor in linguistics use mainly the definitions of Haeckel and Haugen given above (e.g., Mühlhäusler, 2002) rather than developing and refining those definitions.
Despite these similarities in the ways ecology is defined, there is a clear distinction between Haeckel’s definition of ecology for biology and how ecology is examined in linguistics. That distinction is that in linguistics one of the determinants of an ecological study is its content or theme almost as much as its theoretical framework. In other words, in linguistics, for most of the studies that can be situated within an ecolinguistic framework, the object of study is the use of language regarding environmental issues even if these studies mostly use traditional analytical methods for linguistic analysis. In sum, although some researchers in linguistics are interested in the ecology metaphor, for the most part, they use Haeckel and Haugen’s definitions and add to those definitions some conceptual principles regarding the metaphor (e.g., Fill, 2001; Mühlhäusler, 2002) and one of the topics ecolinguists are interested in is the ways language is used to represent nature and environmental issues.
As mentioned earlier, ecolinguists use Haeckel (1869) and Haugen’s (1972) definitions for the ecology metaphor and develop ecological principles for the study of language. In the absence of a clear and recent definition of ecology, one way to understand what the ecology metaphor means is to examine the topics investigated by the researchers working within an ecological framework. Some examples for the different topics that ecolinguists have been interested in are: the factors affecting the diversity of languages (e.g., population, geography), how to promote linguistic richness (e.g., to reverse the effects of globalization on languages spoken by small populations, linguistic imperialism), how to maintain equilibrium in the relationship between languages and cultures as they come to contact (e.g., the trade-off between teaching English and minority languages in public education, what are the dynamics of stability and change in languages (e.g., issues regarding identity, gender, ethnicity, culture, stereotypes), and ecocritical analysis of discourse (e.g., how language is used to manipulate public view in advertisements when referring to nature or by using nature).
Considering the vast diversity of these topics, it is not surprising that the methodologies used in ecolinguistics are various. As an interdisciplinary field, ecolinguistics uses several methods such as critical discourse analysis using a multi modal corpus (e.g., Caimotto & Molino, 2011), case study (e.g., Stibbe, 1999), sociolinguistic methods (e.g., Mühlhäusler, 1996), computer discourse analysis (Alexander, 2002), comparative linguistics (Fischer, 2000), critical discourse analysis (Alexander, 2009; Haig, 2000), and close text analysis (e.g., Nilsen, 2000). The different methodologies and their creative combinations used in ecolinguistics can be informative for ecological studies designed for second language studies.

Ecology in applied linguistics[viii]
The ecology metaphor has also been used in applied linguistics. Similar to linguistics, this metaphor has not been the mainstream metaphor in the field of applied linguistics. In this section, first, I focus on the early entry of the ecology metaphor to applied linguistics from linguistics[ix]; then, I provide an overview of how the ecology metaphor has been defined and described in applied linguistics. After summarizing some common threads that run through different interpretations of the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics, I finally list some topics that supporters of the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics have been interested in and the research methods they have been using.
One group of researchers that have been promoting the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics has been linguists such as Fill (2001) and Mühlhäusler (2002). Despite the fact that they have been publishing in applied linguistics publications such as The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics and the AILA Review, their main focus is essentially on linguistics[x]. As mentioned in the previous section, Fill (2001) and Mühlhäusler (2002) primarily use the definitions for ecology by Haeckel (1869) and Haugen (1972). Mühlhäusler and Fill’s main contribution to the development of the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics is developing the principles and listing the main features of an ecological approach summarized above—which might be useful for second language writing by making the main characteristics of the ecology metaphor explicit hence making the transfer of the metaphor to applied linguistics and second language writing easier.
A linguist closer to applied linguistics, Michael Halliday, has been more influential in promoting the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics. He acknowledges that applied linguistics more than linguistics needs insights from ecology. In the speech Halliday gave at the AILA conference in 1990, a founding text for ecolinguistics, Halliday (1990) mentions evolution of language and emphasizes the relationship between language and its users as well as how language and reality are co-constitutive[xi]. Fill and Mühlhäusler (2006) summarize Halliday’s take on ecology as the following:
Ecology is understood in its biological sense; the role of language in the development and aggravation of environmental (and other societal) problems is investigated; linguistic research is advocated as a factor in their possible solution (p. 43).
Haugen (1972) and Halliday (1990) have been influential and Fill (2001) and Mühlhäusler (2002) have been instrumental in promoting the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics. As a continuation of these early inspirations from linguistics and influences from other fields, the ecology metaphor has become more prominent in applied linguistics since 2000[xii]. Having summarized the first entries of the ecology metaphor to applied linguistics, now I turn to more recent approaches that employ the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics.
Perhaps the first name that comes to mind upon hearing ecology and applied linguistics is Claire Kramsch. As one of the leading advocates of the ecology metaphor, Kramsch has published extensively on this topic (e.g., Kramsch, 2002; Kramsch & Whiteside, 2008). One of the most important of these publications is Kramsch’s (2002) edited volume, Language Acquisition and Language Socialization: Ecological perspectives, which brings several researchers that advocate the ecology metaphor together. This volume allows the readers attend a discussion among the contributors with its commentaries at the end of each section where the authors discuss several aspects of the ecology metaphor. In this book, resonating with Haeckel (1869) and Haugen’s (1972) definitions, Kramsch defines ecology as “the negotiative interaction of human persons with their environment” (p. xiii) and points out to the dual nature of ecology as being both reactive and creative. The definition of the ecology metaphor shared by the contributors[xiii] of Kramsch’s edited volume is given in the following excerpt:
A convenient shorthand for the poststructuralist realization that learning is a nonlinear, relational human activity, co-constructed between humans and their environment, contingent upon their position in space and history, and a site of struggle for the control of social power and cultural memory (p. 5).
What I want to highlight in this definition is the introduction of learning as an ecological activity. Unlike ecolinguists where the language is conceived as part of an ecology, not surprisingly, in applied linguistics learning of languages and related social practices are seen in ecological terms as well. Similar to the definitions and descriptions of the ecology metaphor mentioned before, in Kramsch’s definition, too, temporal and spatial situatedness as well as the interactions between humans and their environments are highlighted.
Another edited volume that puts the ecology metaphor at the center stage is Ecology of Language Acquisition by Leather and van Dam (2002)[xiv]. While Kramsch’s (2002) volume can be seen as an attempt to address theoretical issues related to the ecology metaphor, Leather and van Dam’s book seems to be more research oriented. In Leather and van Dam’s words, the purpose of their volume is “to explore how a number of contemporary approaches and insights in LA [language acquisition] research might be coherently interrelated through a perspective that can be called ecological” (p. 1). Although Leather and van Dam do not provide a definition for the ecology metaphor for the contributors to their volume as Kramsch (2002) does, one of the contributors, Toolan (2002), lists some of the characteristics of an ecological approach in his chapter in the volume. For Toolan, an ecological perspective “must take proper account of the environment that bears on the phenomena, interacts with it, and shapes it”. He also points out that “an ecology of anything has to be as holistic and inclusive as an account of that thing as possible, rather than an account that must continually acknowledge post hoc the influence of factors that previously denominated as “external” and contextual” (p. 123). Toolan’s definition underlines one of the most central tenets of the ecology metaphor, holism, while at the same time highlighting a common feature of ecological approaches: a reaction to analytical approaches. In addition, similar to many of the definitions mentioned so far, Toolan indicates the interconnectedness of the phenomena and the environment in which they are situated. 
One of the contributors to both Kramsch’s (2002) and Leather and van Dam’s (2002) volumes, van Lier (2004) describes his ecological approach in another book, The ecology and semiotics of language learning: A sociocultural perspective, which draws on the ecology metaphor, as “a way of thinking and acting” (p. 3). Van Lier’s ecological approach provides a preliminary synthesis of the ecology metaphor and sociocultural theory. In this book, van Lier defines ecology as the study of “organisms in their relations with their environment” (p. 3) following the other definitions mentioned so far in the present work. Taking the ecology metaphor as his starting point, van Lier underlines the importance of context, interrelations between the phenomena and environment, and emergence in addition to patterns and systematicity for language development and use. Finally, similar to many ecological approaches in different fields, van Lier positions his ecological perspective in opposition to Cartesian worldview in which a rationalist epistemology and a dualistic world view are adopted.
These recent ecological approaches to applied linguistics are partly influenced by the definitions and descriptions of the ecology metaphor in linguistics and partly informed by ecological approaches in fields other than linguistics—e.g., psychology (Gibson, 1979), systems theory (Bateson, 1972), cognitive science (Hutchins, 1996). Four features seem to be central to the definitions of the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics—holism, situatedness, dynamism, and complex relations. Similar to the uses of the ecology metaphor in other fields, in applied linguistics, too, holism is proposed as an alternative to analytical and dualistic approaches. This reaction also entails acknowledging the situatedness of any phenomenon in terms of time and space. As an extension, not only the role of context but also its inseparability from phenomena is underlined. As van Lier (2004) puts it, “in ecology, context is the heart of the matter” (p. 5). When it comes to recognizing the dynamism of systems, perhaps applied linguists go one step further then linguists by maintaining the change and stability for both learning and language. Finally, acknowledging and tackling with the complexities of language development and use without taking refuge in various forms of reductionism seem to be shared features by the proponents of the ecology metaphor. I would also like to note that the ecology metaphor seems to be used as an umbrella term for non-mainstream approaches in applied linguistics and serve as a thinking tool for attempts to capture both the social and the cognitive aspects of second language development and use.
In addition to the definitions of ecology proposed, the topics that advocates of the ecology metaphor in applied linguistics are interested in offer a starting point for understanding how ecology and an ecological framework have been conceptualized and implemented in the field. Applied linguists who take the ecology metaphor as a starting point study a wide array of topics; however, it might be more appropriate to talk about contexts rather than topics since a holistic approach requires phenomena to be studied in its entirety rather than focusing on specific features of an ecology. Some contexts that have been studied so far are: foreign language classroom (Lantolf & Genung, 2002; van Dam, 2002), second language classroom (Bannink, 2002), computer classroom (van Lier, 2002) language tutorial (Atkinson et al, 2007; Churchill et al, 2010), and informal language learning (Churchill, 2007). Some topics that emerge in these contexts are: identity (Lemke, 2002), language socialization (Baquedana-Lopez, 2002), play (van Dam, 2002), and vocabulary acquisition (Churchill, 2007). These topics might provide researchers who are interested in applying an ecological approach to academic disciplines such as second language writing an entry point for adapting and developing ecological frameworks for their own purposes.
In addition to the ecological frameworks mentioned above, which explicitly use and promote the ecology metaphor, some scholars such as Atkinson (2002), Churchill (2007), Duff and Talmy (2010), and Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008) follow ecological principles in their work—such as holism, focus on context, anti-Cartesianism, situatedness, complexity, and dynamism[xv]. These researchers’ studies provide a wide range of research methods that have been utilized in applied linguistics, and potentially in second language writing, from an ecological framework. Below, I provide a list of research methods that proponents of an ecological approach and/or the ecology metaphor follow. These methods might be useful for second language researchers that would be interested in conducting research within an ecological framework. Action research (Bannink, 2002), conversation analysis (Mori & Hayashi, 2006; van Dam, 2002), case study (Churchill, 2007), computer modeling (Meara, 2006), cultural studies analysis (Sarangi & Roberts, 2002), diaries (Lantolf & Genung, 2002), discourse analysis (van Dam, 2002) ethnographic methods (Duff, 1995; Ochs, 2002), longitudinal studies (Talmy, 2008), multimodal interaction analysis (Atkinson, Churchill, Nishino, & Okada, 2007; Churchill, Nishino, Okada, & Atkinson, 2010) are some of the research methods used in ecological studies in applied linguistics. As van Lier (2004) points out, ecological point of view requires  “a contextualized and situated form of research” and as such “it rejects the usual scientific reductions or idealizations of context, data, and complexity” (p. 3). Perhaps the most essential element of ecological studies is to aim at ecological validity rather than the specific research method chosen for the study. Many researchers such as Churchill (2007), Kramsch (2002); van Dam (2002), and van Lier (2004) have emphasized the importance of ecological validity in applied linguistics research.

Ecology in rhetoric and composition studies
In addition to linguistics and applied linguistics, the ecology metaphor has also been proposed for another language-related field, rhetoric and composition studies[xvi]. In this section, I present the definitions of ecology in this field by Cooper (1986), Syverson (1999), Spinuzzi (2003), and Dobrin (2001), and highlight some common features in these definitions. At the end of this section, I give some examples of topics investigated in rhetoric and composition studies assuming that these would provide exemplars for approaching second language writing in ecological terms.
One of the first researchers who consider an ecology metaphor for the field of writing is Myers (1985),[xvii] who writes "Like ethologists, we should not only observe and categorize the behavior of individuals, we should also consider the evolution of this behavior in its ecological context" (p. 240). Following Myers, Cooper (1986) underlines that, for an ecological approach, writing is an activity that enables people to get “continually engaged with a variety of socially constituted systems” (p. 367), highlighting the continuous alignment that goes into writing as the writers find a balance between various social and material resources and constraints. The dynamism in writing as an ecological system is summarized in Cooper’s following words:
An important characteristic of ecological systems is that they are inherently dynamic; though their structures and contents can be specified at a given moment, in real time they are constantly changing, limited only by parameters that are themselves subject to change over longer spans of time (p. 368).
Similar to many of the scholars mentioned so far, Cooper focuses on the characteristics of an ecological model rather than giving a definition of ecology per se. Dynamism is only one of these features but Cooper also highlights the importance of context and interconnectedness of the parts and the whole using a web as an analogy for the system where the whole web is affected when something affects a single strand. We can also observe a reaction to cognitive process approach in her article—very much like ecological approaches in applied linguistics.
In another work in the field of writing, Syverson (1999) develops an ecological approach in her book entitled The wealth of reality: an ecology of composition, which, as the title suggests, is also based on the ecology metaphor. In her book, Syverson defines ecology as “a set of interrelated and interdependent complex systems” (p. 3) and proposes ecology of composition as the unit of analysis. Drawing on complex systems theory, Syverson delineates four features of complex systems: distribution, emergence, embodiment, and enaction. Influenced by situated cognition, extended cognition, and complex systems theory, these four principles inform Syverson’s ecological framework. Syverson introduces the material environment to the picture, a factor that has been mostly ignored in rhetoric and composition studies. In addition, her notion of situatedness is richer compared to the other genre frameworks in that it includes not only physical environment but also the physical sensations of the actors. In other words, Syverson’s approach invites both extended and embodied cognition as important factors affecting composition. Extended and embodied cognition have much to offer to an ecological approach to second language writing as well.
Another framework that uses the ecology metaphor for writing is Spinuzzi’s (2003) genre ecologies framework. His ecological approach “focuses on interpretation within cultural-historical activities” (p. 116). Spinuzzi defines genre as “a way of talking about how people regularly interpret and use texts” and sees genres as literary artifacts (p. 110). Spinuzzi’s ecological approach is mainly based on technical writing and influenced by Bazerman’s (1994) genre systems, structuration theory, activity theory, and situated and distributed cognition. The most important contribution of genre ecologies framework to an ecological understanding of composition is its inclusion of genres that function as mediational tools. In other words, in this framework, genres are not only used for communicative purposes but also help writers to mediate their activities. This contribution might be especially useful for second language writing since second language learners and users are more likely to make use of mediational tools. One implication of Spinuzzi’s expansion of Bazerman’s genre systems framework for an ecological approach to second language writing is that literary practices of writers to mediate their understanding and writing, for instance, sticky notes, outlines, drafts, etc., are also central to composition.
Like many other frameworks that use the ecology metaphor for writing mentioned in the present work, the focus or the unit of analysis is not the individual. Moreover, Spinuzzi claims that “agency is distributed across genre ecology” (2003, p. 115)—a view in line with distributed cognition framework. Another similarity between Spinuzzi’s genre ecologies framework and other ecological approaches is that it focuses on relations and activities—rather than the community of practice as some do. As an extension, similar to some ecolinguistics research, multiple genres are investigated as they interact and overlap. This multiple genre approach stems from conceptualization of genres as open systems (Spinuzzi & Zachry, 2000), a feature central to an ecological approach to composition. Spinuzzi’s conceptualization of genre as an ecological artifact might be a fruitful way of approaching genre in second language writing.
Perhaps the most important framework that draws on the ecology metaphor in rhetoric and composition is the ecocomposition approach. The book edited by Weisser and Dobrin (2001), Ecocomposition: Theoretical and practical approaches is a landmark document for the ecology metaphor in rhetoric and composition[xviii]. Now, I focus on how ecology has been defined in this approach. In the foreword for the book, Cooper (2001) extends Myer’s (1985) and her earlier use of ecology as a metaphor to include material conditions of writing (p. xiii) similar to Syverson (1999), Spinuzzi (2003), and Weisser, (2001). Cooper also states that, as difficult as it may be, the relations rather than objects and activities should be the focus of ecocomposition (p. xiv).
In her contribution to this book, Dobrin (2001) follows Haeckel’s (1869) definition of ecology noting that the ecology metaphor applies equally to composition studies. She also summarizes many of the common features of the ecology metaphor in this chapter, such as interconnectedness, spatial and temporal situatedness, importance of context, and interdisciplinarity. Dobrin defines ecocomposition as “the investigation of the total relations of discourse both to its organic and inorganic environment and to the study of all of the complex interrelationships between the human activity of writing and all of the conditions of the struggle for existence” (p. 12)[xix]. This ecological definition of composition has much to offer for an ecological understanding of second language writing.
In sum, similar to the people who embrace the ecology metaphor in linguistics and applied linguistics, in composition, too, features such as holism, the interconnectedness of systems and the symbiotic relationships between discourse, material objects, habitats, humans, context, situatedness, dynamism, evolution, and complexity are emphasized. The ecological frameworks to rhetoric and composition mentioned here approach literary practices of communities of practice and as well as the individuals. These ecological approaches to rhetoric and composition are interested in (1) the flow, distribution, influence, scope, and change of discourse and writing, (2) how texts, humans, and habitats interact with each other and function within the communities of practice they are part of, and (3) how people construct and reconstruct texts and genres in their daily practices. In order to investigate these topics, supporters of the ecology metaphor in rhetoric and composition employ research methods such as case studies (e.g., Berkenkotter, Huckin, & Ackerman, 1991; Syverson, 1999), ethnographic methods (Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Spinuzzi, 2003; Swales, 1998), and historical studies (Bazerman, 2002; Syverson, 1999). As the diversity of the research methods used in rhetoric and composition, as well as, linguistics and applied linguistics, show that an ecological approach does not limit the research methods one can use in any way. Similar to linguistics and applied linguistics, being a highly influential discipline for second language writing, rhetoric and composition studies might potentially provide fruitful insights, topics, and research methods for second language writing from an ecological point of view.

Conclusion
Metaphors serve important functions in scientific fields in terms of constructing  knowledge, shaping reality, and facilitating understanding. It is my belief that second language writing has much to gain from the ecology metaphor, which has found its way to other language-related fields. By surveying the ways in which the ecology metaphor has been defined and described in language-related fields such as linguistics, applied linguistics, and rhetoric and composition studies, my aim was to take a small step in the direction of adopting and adapting the ecology metaphor to second language writing. Even though ecological approach is not a theory, I believe, this rather loose framework has the potential to solve many divides in the field—like the one between process vs. product approaches and cognitive vs. social approaches—while opening new spaces for exploration. Even though at this stage ecology is used as a metaphor rather than a theory, I think an ecological approach to second language studies provides a fruitful conceptual framework for advancing our understanding in second language studies.
As a starting point in that direction, in this paper, I surveyed how the ecology metaphor has been defined and described in some language-related academic disciplines and proposed a definition of the ecology metaphor for second language writing. Some might rightly argue that transfer of concepts and metaphors from other disciplines require serious reconsideration and re-conceptualization for each discipline has its own domain, scope, and research questions. That is why, in addition to presenting definitions of the ecology metaphor in various fields, I also gave some main topics investigated and research methods employed in these fields hoping that this overview would help the adaptation of the metaphor to second language writing and give a glimpse of what the ecology metaphor might mean for second language writing. To summarize what the ecology metaphor might mean for second language writing, I would like to reiterate the definition I proposed in the beginning of this article, which was based on the definitions presented here.
Ecology refers to the holistic study of complex (multimodal, multidirectional, hierarchical, and unpredictable) interrelations within and between natural systems—i.e., dynamic, nested, open systems—that consist of material and non-material elements, as these interrelations lead to emergence of change and stability at different time scales and hierarchical levels in these systems by seeking ecological validity in conducting research.
I believe this definition encompasses the definitions of ecology and main principles of an ecological approach in terms of what the ecology metaphor entails and what practitioners in language-related fields do with this metaphor in terms of research questions and research methods. As I have mentioned earlier, it would be wrong to assume that one can transfer a metaphor from one field to another without giving much thought to the particularities of each field. However, when applied with considerable rethinking and re-conceptualization and implemented with caution, second language writing might benefit from the ecology metaphor, which seems to be gaining ground in highly influential language-related fields for second language writing, such as linguistics, applied linguistics, and rhetoric and composition.



Epilogue
“Metaphors have been compared to searchlights that selectively illuminate the terrain and leave other parts in the dark. Like any other heuristic tool, they have to be evaluated not in terms of truth conditions (a language is no more an ecology than a mental organ or a calculus) but in terms of the work they do. Adopting the metaphor of ecology, we would like to argue, has helped considerably in advancing a knowledge of human language and communication, and its potential is far from exhausted” (Fill & Mühlhäusler, 2006, p. 3).


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[i] The term ecology, which has a Greek origin, means “the science of household management” (Toulmin (1990), p. 182 as quoted in Kramsch (2002)).
[ii] Perhaps the holistic approach to scientific endeavor has never triumphed over Cartesian approach in Western science. Nevertheless, it survived as an extension of natural history approach. Thus, one feature that distinguishes Haeckel’s approach is preference for a holistic approach rather than an analytical one.
[iii] In the definition, Haeckel talks about biology; therefore, inclusion of material objects might not be that surprising for that field. However, including material objects in social sciences such as second language studies sometimes leads to resistance. However, in recent years, the role of inorganic elements in social sciences has also been getting more attention. For example, Latour’s work (1987), which focuses on objects—material or living objects or a combination of the two—is a good example of how material and living objects can and do interact in social contexts. Similarly, situated cognition framework also emphasizes the interconnectedness between the living and the material (e.g., Lave and Wenger, 1991) and the importance of context.
[iv] Since the purpose of this paper is to give an account of the travails of the ecology metaphor in language-related fields, I will not go into the historical development of the term in natural sciences or other fields. For our purposes, it is enough to note that the ecology metaphor (1) was extended from biology to social sciences such as sociology and social anthropology and has gained momentum in the 1960s with the rise of the environmental movement and (2) has followed different trajectories in different disciplines. For example, while in the field of World Englishes the metaphor has to be used with caution because of the close association between some social Darwinist approaches and evolutionary/ecological approaches to languages (Bolton, 2000), in the field of conversations analysis natural historical and ecological metaphors have been welcomed more readily (e.g., Schegloff, 2007)).
[v] Unfortunately, the space limit does not allow me to go into details about Bateson and Gibson’s work. Bateson defines ecology as “the study of the interaction and survival of ideas and programs (e.g., differences, complexes of differences, etc.) in circuits” (p. 327) and for Gibson (1979) ecology should be the unit of analysis for studying visual perception rather than the physics of optics.
[vi] Putting aside Chomsky’s dismissed biological metaphor, language as a mental organ, and syntactic trees as a formal model for languages, the metaphors that guided Chomsky’s theory were very much mechanistic and dualistic.
[vii] For Chomsky (1965) “Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogeneous speech community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shift of attention and interest, and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance. (p. 3)
[viii] Since I see second language acquisition studies as a sub-discipline of applied linguistics, I do not make a distinction between the two for the purposes of this paper. However, it is important to note that some of the approaches summarized in this section are representative of second language acquisition studies rather than applied linguistics.
[ix] By doing so, I do not mean to imply that linguistics is the only source of the ecology metaphor for applied linguistics.
[x] Mühlhäusler (2002) only briefly mentions ‘applied ecological linguistics’ and asserts that it “begins with the question “What are the minimum ecological requirements to sustain a given linguistic practice over long periods of time?” It can be argued that this is a rather narrow question to lead applied linguistics as a whole. Also in many cases the aim is to change the situation in applied linguistics not to sustain it, for instance, in the case of learner errors. Fill (2001) and Mühlhäusler (2002) seem to assume that the transfer of the ecology metaphor from linguistics to applied linguistics is automatic and unproblematic.
[xi] Similar to ecolinguists, Halliday (1990) mentions environmental issues such as global warming in his talk. Different from ecolinguistics, this line of research has not been as strong in applied linguistics.
[xii] To my best knowledge, the first scholar that used an ecological metaphor for language learning was Breen (1985) where a coral reef was used as a metaphor for language classroom.
[xiii] Unfortunately due to space constraints I am unable to go into details about how each contributor to this volume interpret and describe ecology. Here I just want to list the contributors: Anne Bannink, Edward Bodine, Patricia Genung, Claire Kramsch, James Lantolf, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Jonathan Leather, Jay Lemke, Elinor Ochs, Celia Roberts, Ron Scollon, Srikant Sarangi, Jet van Dam, Leo van Lier.
[xiv] The contributors to this volume are: A. Patricia Baquedano-Lopez, Mark Fettes, Akira Ito, Hideki Kozima, Wan Shun Eva Lam, Jonathan Leather, Gabriele Pallotti, David Powers, Michael Toolan, Jet van Dam, Leo van Lier, and Jordan Zlatev.
[xv] A clarification is in order here about the selection of ecological frameworks. I chose the ones that are explained in this paper because they provide a definition of ecology or the ecology metaphor. Frameworks such as Larsen-Freeman’s Complex Systems Theory are not explained here because even though Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008) write that their approach is ecological, they do not give a definition of ecology. (Besides, they explicitly propose complex systems not ecology as a metaphor for applied linguistics). Similarly, Atkinson’s sociocognitive approach is considered an ecological approach and Atkinson (2002) uses ecological metaphors (see the prelude); however, it is not covered in this paper since his colleagues and he do not provide a definition of ecology, which is the focus of this paper. This does not mean that these two approaches are not extensions or interpretations of the ecology metaphor.
[xvi] In a more recent article, Spinuzzi and his colleagues strongly argue for the ecology metaphor in rhetoric and composition (Fleckenstein, Spinuzzi, Rickly, & Papper, 2008) in which the authors delineate their rationale for the ecology metaphor for writing.
[xvii] Myers (1985) also noted that the time was not ripe for a natural history approach to writing yet.
[xviii] See also Dobrin and Weisser (2002) and Killingsworth (2005)
[xix] Dobrin (2001) also notes that ecocomposition does not limit its subject matter to environmental issues since all ecologies—natural and human-made—are within the domain of ecocomposition.

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