Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Steven W. Burr


Steven W. Burr


Terry Sharik


Chris Conte


Jennifer Peeples


Robert Schmidt


Through a grounded theory methodology data collection around early childhood experiences with nature leading towards positive civic engagement with the community, the theory of cultural entropy emerged along with a policy recommendation for reconnecting the community to the local watershed.

Through qualitative interviews with lifelong residents and analysis of essays from local high school students comparing early experiences with nature, the theory of cultural entropy emerged to explain how perceptions and interactions with the local landscape changed across generations. With the help of key information interviews, archival research, and exploration of the local watershed, cultural entropy was used to theorize how the work culture should do towards protecting and passing along ecological, cultural, and historical knowledge that might help increase civic engagement.

Lifelong residents participating in the research were found to have high levels of civic engagement through participation with the local historical society and/or recommendations from people because of their involvement with the community. More than any other theme, the importance of the Arroyo Grande Creek emerged as a significantly early experience in nature amongst all lifelong residents. In contrast, this experience was completely gone from the early experiences by the high school students participating in this study. Creation of the dam, channelization of the creek, and invasive species introduction have almost eliminated access to the creek, and invasive species introduction have almost eliminated access to the creek. Very little evidence was found along the entire stretch of creek from dam to ocean of kids playing in the creek. This is theorized to be a product of larger cultures from outside this local ecosystem diffusing into the local culture, creating disconnect from local ecosystem knowledge.

A policy recommendation is to create an interpretive greenbelt system along an already existing dirt farm road controlled by local agricultural land, promoting community engagement with the local watershed. Because so much of the key ecological, historical, and cultural knowledge of the area centers around the watershed, it is hypothesized that a greenbelt system has potential for reversing cultural entropy, increasing ecological, historical, and cultural knowledge of the area, and promoting civic engagement.