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Title: The construction of group ecological identity : a case study of communities in Hout Bay, South Africa
Author: Trevenen-Jones, Ann
ISNI:       0000 0004 2738 9319
Awarding Body: Open University
Current Institution: Open University
Date of Award: 2011
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The interactions between people and their environments have been of interest to writers and academics from different disciplines for many years. Understanding how identity is linked to environment at a group level, such as local communities, has increasingly become more topical. This research aims to further our understanding by focussing on how groups experience, interpret and define themselves in respect of their environment. In seeking to make sense of how group ecological identities are constructed, the research questions of this study focus on: understanding how environment is understood and used by groups in the construction of their ecological identity; identifying key factors that influence group ecological identity; and exploring how groups maintain and/or redefine themselves in a changing environment and in a changing political landscape. This research is framed by an interpretivist constructionist perspective, holding to the view that identity is informed by notions of self and the experience of being in the world. A case study of Hout Bay, Cape Town (South Africa) - particularly three key residential communities: the Cape Coloured Harbour, Valley and Imizamo Yethu communities - was undertaken. A qualitative methodology was adopted throughout the research design. A pilot study, involving eight participants from the Harbour and Valley communities, was conducted in 2002. Semi-structured individual interviews and focus groups were used to explore the research context, refine the research questions and to evaluate different data collection and analytical methods. Informed by the experiences of the pilot study, six main study focus groups (two per community), comprising a total of 36 people, were conducted in Hout Bay, between 2004 and 2005. Data analysis broadly focused on the stories groups told about themselves and the environment. The findings reveal that the communities' focus groups define themselves and others ecologically, in the course of their existence within the environment. Environment is interpreted by groups as more than their surroundings; it is about being emotionally and ecologically embedded in an ecological space that encompasses groups' social existence. Groups' interpret this ecological space as being about their perceptual engagement and experience of complex webs of social as well as human-non-human and non-human-non- human relations. Living in and as part of the environment, according to the groups, is informed by a sense of a moral way of being, closely linked to the groups' perceived 'right' and 'wrong' ways of how 'to be' ecological. Six key factors which shape the way groups construct their ecological identity were identified. These relate to the way groups: define environment and nature; experience and interpret shared early formative environments; identify with a particular community; are ecologically knowledgeable and skilful; pursue different understandings of a good life; and make sense of ecological risk. Similarities and differences between groups are evident and explored. This is especially revealed as groups' ecological identity constructions play out in a dynamic between different groups' pursuit of their desired good life and identities and their attempts to make sense of, and manage, ecological risk. The findings also reveal that the groups' constructions often draw on wider social and ecological stories in circulation within their communities and South Africa. In doing so, traditional and modern as well as political - colonial-apartheid and democratic - ways of dwelling and knowing themselves and others in an ecological space are revealed. The groups are consistent in displaying an on-going need to make sense of themselves and their surrounds in terms of belonging ecologically as well as socially. In making coherent their past, present and imagined future, groups' identity constructions reflect a mix of positive, negative and ambivalent experiences of who they (and others) were, are and could be. These findings challenge the familiar understanding of groups as socially defined - widening the exploration of how 'groups define themselves and engage from a social to an ecological perspective. Further research needs to be undertaken in respect of understanding how groups define and engage socially and how this shapes and is shaped by their ecological engagement, experience and interpretation. This includes studying intra and intergroup dynamics.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral