Date of Award

Spring 2016

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

John Carroll

Second Advisor

Tom Lee

Third Advisor

Barbara Houston


The world’s environmental problems call out for solutions. At root, many of the solutions currently being offered revolve around how modern humans relate to the environment. An array of theorists have offered perspectives and prescriptions for improvement of this relationship, with many seeking to promote a sense of closeness between human and nonhuman. But, in attempting to offer perspectives on how this might be achieved, theorists tend to neglect the relational structure and dynamics that produce closeness or, if exploring it, tend to characterize the nonhuman as incapable of participating in it as a truly close, relational partner. In this dissertation, I argue that the rejection of nonhumans as potential close relational partners rests upon a priori ontological commitments that erroneously contain what ecofeminists call “human/nature dualisms.” The work of this dissertation is to root out those dualisms, correct for them, and through that, begin to rehabilitate the ontological possibilities for human-nature relational closeness. I begin my work by articulating, and committing to, a basic human-nature relational model rooted in the “interdependence” theory of close interhuman relationships offered by Kelley et al. (1983). Leveraging that model, I then go on to show that humans and nonhumans have both the capacity to enter into close relations with each other and more than ample opportunity to do so in their daily lives. The effects of this ontological reorientation are broad-ranging, and call out for fundamental correction of the way that predominant, modern human-nature relationships are carried out, from techniques for environmental education to prescriptions for sustainable development.