Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Political Science

First Advisor

Jeffrey E. Green


This dissertation offers an original approach to environmental political theory that avoids the democratic deficits of prevalent strands of environmental social criticism while confronting the norms and institutions that prize unrestrained economic development and threaten ecological health and human flourishing. My theory focuses on a phenomenon I call “ecological belonging” in which everyday people come to feel at home in their environs through experiences of value and attachment. The Introduction identifies problems with prevailing perspectives in environmental thought and outlines my alternative approach that addresses the range of values and attachments to the land that everyday people actually experience. The next three chapters analyze the resonant human values in the environment defended by the politics of ecological belonging. Chapter 1 focuses on property in habitations, or the physical homes that people inhabit on the land, and argues that environmentalists might frame their economic efforts as a defense of property in habitations against a tendency in economic thought and policy, which I call “developmentalism,” to ignore and destroy property in habitations in pursuit of monetary wealth. Chapter 2 turns to the eminent conservationist Aldo Leopold for a vision of environmental stewardship that offers a sense of human purpose in nature while demanding a robust commitment to protecting natural habitats for their own sake. Chapter 3 discusses emotional attachments to environmental homeplaces and offers an approach to place that incorporates both the rootedness and mobility inherent in the human relationship to home, speaking to the experiences of both the ecological refugee and the rooted resident. Chapter 4 draws on the legacy of the 19th-century American Populists to describe an ecological populism in which everyday people act to curb developmentalist policies and institutions in defense of the places they call home. The Conclusion reflects on the contributions my theory makes to our understanding of the environment and its relationship to democracy, the economy, and humanity.