The Greek word oikos, meaning whole house or household, lies at the root of both the notions of economy and ecology. When oikos is combined with nomos, meaning law or custom, to form economy, it is concerned with the management of the household. When it is combined with logos, meaning reason, word, speech, principle, or thought, to form ecology, it is concerned with knowledge of the household.

In modern times, economy and ecology have become separated and dissociated as (social) practices and as (academic) disciplines.

The word ‘ecology’ was coined in 1866 by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel to mean the study of a living organism and its surroundings.

Until the 17th or 18th centuries, economy referred to the management of the ‘whole house’, that is, of the polity as the association and community of citizens, while activities that served the purpose of making money were referred to as commerce. Economics, as a discipline, has become a narrow set of propositions dealing only with the economy as a separate and distinct subsystem of society. The economic subsystem’s impact on society and its social, ecological, cultural contexts have become ‘externalities’.

In the 21st century, there are moves to re-integrate economy and ecology so that they are not seen as separate and distinct. This is not without major difficulties, however, for example, concerning whether the entire ecology of the planet becomes narrowly commercialised, rather that the narrow discipline of economics opening to its wider contexts, ecologies and responsibbilities.


Al-Achrafi, S. (2017) Oikos: the origins of economic thought. Huffpost. Avaliable at [Accessed 5 March 2021]