Place that Matter: an exploration of adolescents’ valued places, spaces and nature connectedness

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Widdop Quinton, Helen ORCID: 0000-0002-1020-2672 (2015) Place that Matter: an exploration of adolescents’ valued places, spaces and nature connectedness. PhD thesis, Southern Cross University.


This study originates in a concern that teenagers are frequently lost in nature-connectedness and environmental education discourses, and an awareness of the challenges they face navigating our increasingly globalised and digitised world. It takes an insiders’ view of the places and spaces that are important in an adolescent’s life, in both affluent Western modernity (Melbourne, Australia) and less-privileged rural (remote northeast India) contexts. The study charts both familiar and new territories of adolescent experiences and use of their valued and favourite places and nature, broadening and building on the childhood-nature connectedness discourses and addressing blind spots in environmental education literature. Adolescent development, socioecological theory and environmental psychology theoretically informed this exploration of young people’s relationships with their valued places. This prompted consideration of adolescent developmental imperatives, place-making activities and socioecological system elements as key influences on the adolescents’ place valuing and interacting. Employing Barratt Hacking, Cutter-Mackenzie and Barratt’s ‘child-framed’ methodology (2013) of co-opting teenagers as partners in the research gave adolescents in the study agency and voice. Through a mixture of photo elucidation, Facebook ‘diarising’, iterative focus groups and an eventual survey in Melbourne, perceptions and conceptions about the adolescents’ favourite, everyday, natural and school places, and how they engage with these were revealed through visually rich narratives of the young researchers’ valued places. By illuminating the in-between spaces – between childhood and adulthood, affluent and less privileged lifestyles, rural – urban settings, the real or virtual, and between development, wellbeing and learning - the relevance of home, family, friends and nature was revealed, consistent with past (predominantly affluent context) adolescent place studies. Connectedness and belonging, to places and people, was important to all the adolescents. Friends, fun and being active also dominated the Melbourne teenagers’ choice of places and interactions while the young people in India valued the places and activities that supported their village community, reflecting the individualist and collectivist cultural differences between the adolescents. The role of places of retreat (home, nature and digital) for the ‘hurried’, self-focused Melbourne teenagers and the harsh realities of life for the nature-rich, community-centric young people in India emerged. The lives (and survival) of the adolescents in India were intimately interwoven with nature. They evidenced high level ecoliteracy and appreciation of nature illuminating a nature connectedness contrary to perceptions of adolescents as disinterested in nature. Nature tended to be peripherally positioned in the Melbourne adolescents’ lives, although they often valued nature as significant to their psycho-emotional wellbeing. Nature was perceived as a functional and enjoyable setting as they focused on socialising and embracing experiences in their quest for development of their personal and social identity. Family and social learning became apparent as factors that mediated the young people’s experiences with nature, with nature-familiarity promoting stronger connectedness. Generalising beyond these narratives of adolescents’ valued places amongst the multiplicity of those around the world is not possible, but the spotlighting of the factors that facilitated the young people’s nature connectedness suggests a nature connectedness-wellbeing effect at adolescence that has pro-environmental consciousness implications. A model for a social, embodied and storied place pedagogy with a wellbeing focus that is responsive to both place and adolescent imperatives is proposed. Such a socioecological learning approach, that incorporates different ways of knowing outdoor places, particularly the local nearby nature, is advanced as a way to enable adolescents’ connection to nature that promotes wellbeing and socioecological learning.

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Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Official URL
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1608 Sociology
Historical > FOR Classification > 2002 Cultural Studies
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > College of Education
Keywords environmental education; adolescents; wellbeing; place
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