Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2015

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forest Resources


Jessica Leahy

Second Committee Member

John Daigle

Third Committee Member

Lois-Ann Kuntz


Dignity is “an internal state of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things” (Hicks, 2011, p. 1). Dignity is a crucial element in effective governance arrangements. This study applies dignity theory, and related theories of natural resource governance and environmental communication, to understand and overcome barriers to effective governance of common pool resources in rural communities. Chapter 1 reviews relevant literature on natural resource governance and develops a theoretical framework for dignity. Chapter 2 applies dignity theory to a contentious comprehensive planning process in a small Maine town in order to understand dignity is constructed and experienced in a collective governance process. Meeting minutes and newspaper articles were coded for themes related to conflict and decision-making. Results showed parts of the planning process ignored dignity considerations. Newspaper articles reported negative or exclusionary events twice as often as positive or inclusive events. Chapter 3 outlines literature relevant to improving capacity of rural communities to adapt to climate change. It then relates a case study from rural Maine in which best practices gleaned from the literature were implemented in creating climate vulnerability assessments and interactive, web-based storm surge mapping tools for use in adaptation planning. Results suggest best practices can enable proactive adaptation without sparking debate over climate science. The survey study described in Chapter 4 examined patterns of beliefs related to climate change and its impacts among people involved in municipal government in a rural Maine county. Results indicate that one-third of respondents were doubtful or unsure about the reality of climate change, but 87% reported observing phenomena related to the warming climate. The web-based survey presented in Chapter 5 examined involvement (perceived relevance and priority) in climate change and other issues affecting rural communities, as well as perceived self- and community efficacy for addressing local problems. Results indicate climate change, per se, is not a high priority, but some climate-related issues do rank highly, suggesting areas for initiating adaptation efforts. Chapter 6 concludes by placing the results of the preceding studies within the context of the dignity framework and presents recommendations for future research.

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