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Title: Journeys to the ideal self : personal transformation through group encounters of rural landscape in Scotland
Author: Crowther, Rebecca Louise
ISNI:       0000 0004 7224 3968
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis focuses on explaining why group encounters with rural landscapes in Scotland are deemed to be positive for mental wellbeing. The relationship between greenspace and human wellbeing is a phenomenon that researchers across multiple disciplines are grappling with, though little research engages qualitatively. This thesis clarifies, ethnographically, why some people make excursions into rural spaces and why these excursions are believed to be positively transformational and associated with mental wellbeing. It outlines motivations for engaging in excursions from urban central Scotland to areas in rural Scotland. My research explores the intangible, ineffable and ephemeral experience of case study groups in ‘natural’ rural landscapes and what is relevant in the relations between the self and non-human in these circumstances. This thesis describes how and why group interactions within ‘natural’ space is adopted as a positive self-transformation strategy. It considers the ‘nature experience’ as relational between the self, the social and place - with what constitutes the social as ambiguous within case study interaction. This project was multi-sited: I travelled with my case study groups to rural spaces around the lowlands, highlands, and islands of Scotland. Case studies were multiple and diverse: A community living initiative, a youth development project, a mental health initiative, a forestry management project, and a loose community of artistic, neo-shamanic and psychotherapeutic practitioners. To remain responsive to my research communities and their activities I have developed a framework for a serendipitous ethnography which is outlined within the thesis. This project adopted a transdisciplinary research strategy, engaging with a theoretical framework spanning psychotherapy, psychology and eco-psychology, sociology, philosophy, human geography, anthropology and outdoor education as well as landscape and performance studies. This transdisciplinary thesis contributes to understandings of human and nature connectedness providing an account of cognitive, social and cultural experience. Primarily, this research was concerned with the self, the perception of the ideal and ought self in relation to motivations to journey in this manner and the self as part of a group and within the landscape as a dynamic and relational subject. I have considered the sense of self within these experiences as a metaphorical liminal site. I have discussed the group collectively as a site of dynamism and thus liminality. I then argue that this allows for the way that the landscape is perceived to be a site of liminality. With this we see the importance of temporality and structure, or indeed anti-structure, within these excursions as something which aids in the perspective that they are transformative. I have considered notions of perceived affordance and how this changes throughout experience with the increasing ability to associate ideas and abstract experience within one’s personal narrative. I explain how each group differs in how they perceive the rural landscape as something to instrumentalise, personify or anthropomorphise. With this comes an exploration of complex anthropocentric mindsets and the influence of these ways of thinking on experience. I suggest that individuals choose to journey to ‘natural’ rural environments to self-verify an aspect of their ought or ideal self with a desire to re-imagine the self through engagement with others. In self-verifying one’s ideal or ought sense of self, finding a sense of belonging within a group and believing oneself to be doing something good in relation to the ‘natural’ rural space, individuals and groups experience a sense of personal and social transformation.
Supervisor: Travlou, Penny ; Thin, Neil ; McClanahan, Angela Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: rural Scotland ; personal transformation ; group dynamics ; agency ; liminality ; anthropocentrism ; Scotland ; well-being ; the self ; nature