We are called Macroscopia because we wanted to convey the idea that we are working with the big picture and detail. The ecologist Howard T Odum coined the term macroscope to refer to the analysis of ecological systems which needs to embrace the detail of the microscope about how individual organisms work, but moves the focus to the biosphere, as it might be seen through a telescope. Related to this is the idea that a (traditional) microscope or telescope observes through one arrangement of lenses. Modern ’scopes use multiple lenses or waves to observe from multiple perspectives. Odum sought to reduce the complexity of systems to manageable dimensions. He talked about analysing biological systems on all levels. In our analysis of social systems, we identify four levels:
- The individual or internal level in which people’s personal sense of agency or their ability to reflect or be reflexive is central
- The interpersonal level of how people interact with each other: the value of multiple perspectives but, also the challenges of understanding and reconciling them; how people influence each other; ways of and implications of ‘othering’ or identifying with other people; how peer support and pressure operate; how groups function.
- The institutional level: both the internal operations of organisations but how they operate together or against each other in economic, social and political systems
- The ideological level: how issues are framed
As Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology says ‘everything is connected to everything else’: the four levels connect to each other and, often apparently unrelated issues connect. Odum had a particular interest in self-organising systems as we do: alternatives to command and control systems, dominating and subordinated people, movements and systems.
Nearly a century before Odum, Lewis Carroll invented the idea of a megaloscope in his novel SYLVIE AND BRUNO CONCLUDED.
an Elephant. You will observe——.” Here he beckoned to the Gardener to come up on the platform, and with his help began putting together what looked like an enormous dog-kennel, with short tubes projecting out of it on both sides.
“But we’ve seen Elephants before,” the Emperor grumbled.
“Yes, but not through a Megaloscope!” the Professor eagerly replied. “You know you can’t see a Flea, properly, without a magnifying-glass——what we call a Microscope. Well, just in the same way, you can’t see an Elephant, properly, without a minimifying-glass. There’s one in each of these little tubes. And this is a Megaloscope! The Gardener will now bring in the next Specimen. Please open both curtains, down at the end there, and make way for the Elephant!”
The illustrations in the book were done by Harry Furniss who was born in Wexford and also illustrated for Charles Dickens and the Illustrated London News until he fell out with them over a carton which he sold to the Pears soap company.
Commoner, B. (1971/2020) The Closing Circle Dover
M.T. Brown and C.A.S. Hall (2004) ‘Through the MACROSCOPE: the legacy of H.T. Odum’ Ecological Modelling Volume 178, Issues 1–2, pages 1-294 (15 October 2004)
Carroll, Lewis (1893) Sylvie and Bruno Concluded London: MacMillan
Odum, Howard T. (1971) Environment, Power, and Society Rutgers
Rosnay de, J. (2004) The Macroscope
Macroscope is the title of a science fiction novel by Piers Anthony published in 1969.