Cathy Setterlin, Ph.D., is a 2008 graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England.

Dissertation Committee

  • Mitchell Thomashow, PhD (Committee Chair)
  • Meade Cadot, PhD (Committee Member)
  • Averell Manes, PhD (Committee Member)


land use-moral aspects, land ethics, environmental philosophy, human-nature relationship, land use conflict, environmental ethics

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This narrative inquiry, which draws on my experience as a land use decision maker, environmental educator, and scholar, examines the complexities of our human-nature relationship as we use and protect the life of the land in local communities. I began this research by interviewing seventeen land use decision makers representing a range of land use perspectives in New Milford, Connecticut, focusing on their views of land as a living community, their connections to land, and their sense of duty and responsibility.

Their responses led me to further inquiry and drew me into a process that transformed my views of both land use policy and environmental education. This dissertation focuses on four processes: using a narrative approach to address land use conflict in order to better understand differing aspects of our relationship to land; finding new ways to talk about land and land use, drawing on our connections with nature and our awareness of ourselves as part of a larger community; shifting land use conversations from individual interests to our role as citizens in a community in order to gain new perspectives and begin to define land as more than a personal asset; and extending our consideration to resident natural communities as contributing members of our community, while moving towards a relationship with nature that is a conscious and integral part of our land use decision making.

I conclude that learning and talking about our relationship with nature is integral to land use decision making as a democratic process. This knowledge and expression enables us to consider what we value about our resident land communities and what interests we will uphold. Otherwise, by default we will continue to make human-oriented land use decisions where the life of the land is ignored.

The electronic version of this dissertation is accessible through the OhioLINK ETD center (