Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-2018


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Eva-Maria Simms

Committee Member

Derek Hook

Committee Member

Ilyssa Manspeizer


psychology of race and place, spatial justice, health equity, environmentalism, green jobs, ethnography, phenomenology, critical theory, qualitative research


Research has increasingly demonstrated that race, class and place are powerful predictors of health and social justice. This study was conducted to identify the lived experiences of individuals who were hired and trained as part of a green job program that created trails within a city park in Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington Community. This program has historically hired individuals who were formerly incarcerated, many of whom identify as African American. We explored the personal and social experiences of working in nature to better appreciate the intersections of race, class and environment in an urban community. This current study is based on a four-month ethnography exploring the relationships between nature, work and identity in a field setting. In addition to ethnographic observations, data was acquired through individual interviews with program participants (n=5) and staff (n=4). This study uses a phenomenological perspective to understand crew members’ lived experiences of nature, work and identity. The research is contextualized within an extensive literature review in which we adopt a broader, systemic perspective to consider the complex relationships between place, race, class, community and self-identity. Recognizing the need for health care professionals to attend to social/economic/environmental justice, this study will be presented as parts of a clinical picture: Part I, Gathering a History; Part II, Sorting the Data and Part III, Summary and Recommendations.

This study combines the methodologies of phenomenology and critical thematic analysis. It integrates insights and research from philosophy, history, critical race theory, epidemiology, anthropology, and urban studies to explore the matrix of personal, social and cultural interactions between people and places. This work is therefore concerned with how places are stratified or layered according to practices that ascribe privilege to some persons while marginalizing others. In other words, we critically examine the social fabric of American society to understand how health and justice are impacted by place and race. In so doing, we advance the novel concept of a ‘spatial epidermal schema’ to understand how places become racialized and shape our encounters with others.

The data is presented in three separate chapters on the respective themes of nature, work and identity. Our analysis concentrates on a phenomenological exploration of how program participants experienced nature, work and their sense of self and others. A critical thematic analysis of both program participants and staff was also conducted to identify interpretive repertoires that structure relationships between staff, workers and the community. The results demonstrate that individuals are highly attuned to their physical and social environments as well as power structures that shape their roles and identities in relation to each other. This study can be used by community action researchers, program developers and community planners to understand the therapeutic benefits of nature as well as the developmental trajectory that participants navigate when learning job skills and forming meaningful social connections with others. Furthermore, this study highlights the complexities of identity (particularly being African American) in an urban environment divided by race and social status.

As a commitment to community action research, the findings of this study will also be translated into a textual resource or presentation that can be provided to Mount Washington and other communities for future training and program development towards working within urban green spaces. This research is intended to be read by a lay audience with broad interest in the themes of nature, work and social justice. It may also be used by those who are interested in community development and social solutions to unemployment. Furthermore, this research may be useful to psychological researchers who are interested in critically foregrounding thematic elements (i.e. interpretive repertoires) that structure social relations. It is my hope that this research will also inspire clinicians to consider how social and environmental issues impact health and wellbeing.