Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Patricia A. Stokowski


This dissertation examines people’s relationships to place and community. The papers are linked by three broad themes: 1) place meanings, 2) community connections to resource places, and 3) innovative qualitative research methodologies.

The first paper used ethnographic methods in a case study of Vermont’s Winooski Valley Park District to examine how regional park districts can strengthen community relationships. It explored how the district serves visitors and communities, stimulates community interactions and cohesion, and perceives the outcomes of these efforts. Results showed that regional park districts connect people with nature and with others across neighborhoods, communities, and regions. These unique places require partnership and programming to link citizens, formalize commitments to diversity, and provide opportunities to develop social relationships.

The second study used rhetorical discourse analysis to examine narratives associated with forest-based settings. Research about place meanings in outdoor settings often focuses on the positive attachments individuals have with places, but the role of rhetorical discourse in constructing meanings about place and self is often overlooked. This study examined the modes of argumentation used by narrators to organize stories, and analyzed narrators’ explicit and implicit claims and rhetorical styles in shaping place meanings. The findings reveal that place meanings intersect across personal, social and cultural contexts, with rhetoric associated with place ownership, unusual events, and memory as key elements of place meanings.

The third paper is a case study of Burke, Vermont, examining how interviewees use imaginaries to think about communities and to reinforce meanings about place and people. This study explored how community leaders, permanent residents, and second homeowners discursively (and differentially) imagined Burke and explained its changes over time. Results show that the three groups of interviewees approached the topic in quite different ways. Community leaders discussed imaginaries within discourses of growth, local residents discussed imaginaries within discourses of history, and second homeowners discussed imaginaries within discourses of utopia. This research expands traditional approaches to understanding rural community change effects, and considers the role and functions of imaginaries in addressing social change and community planning processes in transitioning communities.

These studies are relevant to environmental professionals and community planners by showing that planning and management of place is not only about organizing physical spaces – but rather about the careful attention given to understanding people, their relationships, and their ideas about place. These studies also inform theory about the social construction of place meanings associated with parks, communities and places generally.



Number of Pages

140 p.