“This is not a normal path that a normal, sane person would take”: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of diverse experiences in nature

Date of Award

Summer 2022

Project Type


Program or Major

Recreation Management and Policy

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Jayson Seaman

Second Advisor

Andrew Coppens

Third Advisor

Thomas Schram


Nature has long been conceived as a sublime backdrop for self-discovery and a venue for American nation-building and the establishment of a national identity. This romantic conception has recently been called into question due to its implicit marginalization of persons from diverse backgrounds. As outdoor education programs, conservationists and land managers, and private corporations are called upon to increase diversity in their educational, interpretative, and marketing materials, a need to understand the many ways people constitute nature in their everyday lives has arisen. To examine the ways diverse outdoor recreationists from an array of family and community backgrounds experience nature, this research draws on the theoretical frameworks of master narratives, funds of knowledge, and funds of identity to understand if and how romantic conceptions of nature, learned through processes of cultural socialization in family and community, shape how people describe their experiences from childhood to adulthood. To do so, the present study involved semi-structured interviews with six adults from various racial, familial, geographic, and professional backgrounds using the phenomenological method of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The findings suggest that ideological and cultural barriers rooted in people’s family and community contexts shape the way participants describe experiencing nature, but that the tendency to describe having experienced nature in a “romantic” way was shared regardless of participants’ membership in a marginalized population. Despite this common foundational element, participants’ accounts also vary in the degree to which race has shaped and continues to shape their experiences, revealed in the different ways individuals employed a “path less traveled” narrative to describe their lives as outdoorspeople.

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