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Communicating environment: Cultural discourses of place in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts

Eric L Morgan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation discusses how cultural communication creates and sustains senses about the places in which humans live. Senses of place are argued to function culturally to create and sustain both practical and moral implications for how people do and should live in the land. By examining how people depict place and environment in particular ways, we can understand what aspects of the place are resonant within an expressive system and what actions are said to be viable and appropriate in these places. Places, communication, and environmental practices become inextricably linked to each other. Reinforced in this is the notion that communication is heard to make sense within situated scenes and events. These scenes and events become fundamental to an understanding of an emplaced context. Utilizing the ethnography of communication and cultural discourse theory, this project explores these issues within the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts by focusing primarily on historical narratives of place, social dramatic depictions of place, and everyday talk about land and water. A number of different findings are presented. Through the narrative analysis of historic depictions, varying conceptions of person and type were heard and analyzed. The analysis of talk about land in the Pioneer Valley highlighted a fundamental tension regarding people's relationship to land. This tension is analyzed through the key terms of “development” and “protection.” An analysis of a land use dispute as a social drama discusses an environmentally based agonistic communicative form that, in its enactment, resolves the symbolic tension between symbols for self and symbols for society. An analysis of communication about water demonstrates the manner in which natural phenomena are made sensible through speech communities. This research ultimately describes the importance of attending to locally-based environmental discourses as these are based upon deeply felt cultural premises.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Morgan, Eric L, "Communicating environment: Cultural discourses of place in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3039379.