Integrative concepts and practices of health in transdisciplinary social ecology

Assmuth, T and Chen, X and Degeling, C and Haahtela, T and Irvine, K N and Keune, H and Kock, R A and Rantala, S and Rüegg, S and Vikström, S (2019) Integrative concepts and practices of health in transdisciplinary social ecology. Socio-Ecological Practice Research.

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Abstract

Increasing recognition of interdependencies of the health of humans, other organisms and ecosystems, and of their importance to socio-ecological systems, necessitates application of integrative concepts such as One Health and EcoHealth. These concepts open new perspectives for research and practice but also generate confusion and divergent opinion, prompting new theories, and call for empirical clarification and evaluation. Through a semi-systematic evaluation of knowledge generation in scientific publications (comprised of literature reviews, conceptual models and analyses of communities of practice), we show how integrative concepts and approaches to health evolve and are adopted. Our findings indicate that while their contexts, goals and rationales vary, integrative concepts of health essentially arise from shared interests in living systems. Despite recent increased attention to ecological and societal aspects of health including broader sustainability issues, the focus remains anthropocentric and oriented towards biomedicine. Practices reflect and in turn transform these concepts, which together with practices also influence ways of integration. Overarching narratives vary between optimism and pessimism towards integrated health and knowledge. We conclude that there is an urgent need for better, coherent and more deeply integrative health concepts, approaches and practices to foster the well-being of humans, other animals and ecosystems. Consideration of these concepts and practices has methodological and political importance, as it will transform thinking and action on both society and nature and specifically can enrich science and practice, expanding their scope and linking them better. Transdisciplinary efforts are crucial to developing such concepts and practices to properly address the multiple facets of health and to achieve their appropriate integration for the socio-ecological systems at stake. We propose the term “transdisciplinary health” to denote the new approaches needed.