This dissertation examines people's place experiences more fully than has been done by others in the field of education, and in doing so, it opens new ways of thinking about place in place-based education. Place-based education, in its effort to connect educational processes with the local places in which students and teachers carry out their daily lives, has become an increasingly popular reform movement that challenges assumptions about the purpose and meaning of education in a rapidly globalizing world. Though the scholarship on place-based education describes, justifies, and advocates for turning the educational focus toward local places, it does not necessarily bring forth an explicit understanding of how people experience place.
Grounded in phenomenology, this qualitative study explores the place experiences of five individuals who were born and raised in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. Experiential descriptions were gathered through three, in-depth, iterative interviews with each participant. Documents considered for this study included interview transcriptions as well as photographs, observations, and descriptions of places in the White Mountains that were deemed significant to the individuals. A phenomenological framework, specifically Edward Relph's explications of place and insideness and outsideness, structured the methodological processes, contextualized participant narratives, and facilitated and informed an understanding of participants' place experiences.
Through the coding and analyzing of interviews for common themes and subthemes, as well as through the crafting of individual profiles, participant place experiences emerged as a dialectical relationship between insideness and outsideness and consisted of Part-of-Place (play-and-exploration, cultivation-of-place, stories-of-place, dangerous-endeavors, and care-of-place), Place-Sensations (remarkable-moments, sensory-triggers, and features-marked-in-time), and Ruptures-in-the-Place-World (pivotal-moments, barriers-borders-boundaries, drastic-changes, and injuries).
While the research was exploratory and only investigated a limited number of place experiences, the findings, coupled with theoretical and conceptual understandings of place anchored in phenomenological perspectives, strengthen a discussion in place-based education of place, how place is experienced, and how these experiences matter in people's lives. Furthermore, the findings of this dissertation support a proposed pedagogical method that blends place-based education and culturally relevant practices into a place-responsive pedagogy.