Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Perceptions of Outdoor Recreation Professionals toward Place Meanings in Natural Environments: A Q-Method Inquiry

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Perceptions of Outdoor Recreation Professionals toward Place Meanings in Natural Environments: A Q-Method Inquiry

Article excerpt


The meanings people attach to places have been featured in research literature to explore the ways persons develop bonds to their physical surroundings. Researchers and theorists have suggested place meanings are results of affective, cognitive, and experiential elements, which coalesce to create meanings and preferences in relation to particular settings (KyIe, Mowen, Tarrant, 2004; Low & Altman, 1992; Moore Si Graefe, 1994; Tuan, 1977). Additionally, researchers have explored and debated the subject of place using a variety of constructs, such as place attachment (place identity and place dependence; see Williams & Roggenbuck, 1989), and sense of place. Delineating these constructs has made valuable contributions to our understanding of the meanings people attach to places and the ways those meanings are developed and sustained (Manzo, 2005). For the purposes of this paper, place meanings represent wide ranging characterizations of the personal and thus subjective attachments people use in the ways they construct meaning through experiencing an array of outdoor and natural settings (Gustafson, 2001; Manzo).

Researchers have taken great notice of place-based research constructs due to their possible link to environmental behaviors and potential to resolve conflicts within outdoor recreation contexts (Bonaiuto, Carrus, Martorella, & Bonnes, 2002; Borrie & Roggenbuck, 1996; KyIe, Graefe, Manning, & Bacon, 2004; Williams & Stewart, 1998). Qualitative studies have elaborated on the spiritual dimensions of place (Frederickson & Anderson, 1999), the importance of the roles interpersonal relationships have with leisure setting involvement (KyIe & Chick, 2004), and the ways people find meaning and attach importance to settings over time (Gustafson, 2001). Quantitative approaches have delineated the nature of place attachment (Williams & Roggenbuck, 1989), explored relationships between motivations to visit particular settings and dimensions of place attachment (KyIe, Mowen, & Tarrant, 2004), and have illuminated links between place identity and attitudes toward fees at recreation sites (KyIe, Absher, & Graefe, 2003).

Place-based empirical studies have continued to push the limits of our understandings of place, the meanings attached to it, and its usefulness to the outdoor recreation profession. The purpose of this study was to demonstrate how another innovative, but little known research strategy called Q methodology adds to the diversity of findings on the topic of place meanings. Q methodology is systematic and exploratory as a research process that is grounded in theory with results described through the perceptions of a relevant group of individuals. Q methodology combines qualitative and quantitative techniques by using the mathematical rigor of factor analysis in indentifying patterns of correlation to highlight the subjectivity that operates within individual points of view.

Continuing to explore person-place relationships within outdoor recreational contexts can improve our understandings of place meanings and their use for the profession. Although an abundance of place-based research has been conducted on outdoor recreation participants and stakeholders (see Bricker, 1998; Bricker & Kerstetter, 2000; Driver, 1976; KyIe, Graefe, Manning, & Bacon, 2004), the authors are not aware of any research studies that focus on how professionals within outdoor recreation understand the place meanings that they attribute to natural environments. Recognizing how outdoor recreation professionals perceive and experience places in the out-of-doors has the potential to illuminate some of the place-based attitudes that operate within the profession as well as those that potentially shape it.

Cheng, Kruger, and Daniels (2003) suggested the ways place meanings emerge in natural environments offer expectations for socially-constructed behaviors within those environments. …

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