Dissertation Research

Here's the first couple sections of the current draft of my dissertation proposal, just to give you an idea of what I am interested in doing:

Land Tenure and Environmental Change: A Research Proposal

C. Dahl

Department of Geography The University of Hawaii


Land tenure is a set of property relations that critically affects economic development and normative efforts at environmental protection. Within the past decade, and especially after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, the close relationship between economic well-being and a healthy environment has received greater attention. The goal of this research, an understanding of how changes in land tenure may influence the environment, driven by changes in economy, will give valuable insight into how sustainable development might be achieved.

Field work will be conducted on a Pacific island. In much of the Pacific land tenure systems, often the product of cultural heritage and changes wrought by colonial history, have been problemetized as a barrier to development. Others have noted islanders' enduring and successful stewardship in resource-limited settings. The relation between these two observations is central to a debate about sustainable development. This suggests that a Pacific island offers a particularly appropriate setting for an investigation of the relation between economy, land tenure, and environment.

Statement of the Problem

Patterns of land use have a direct influence on the natural environment. Changes in land use result in environmental change, which is often seen as problematic at the political or policy level. Environmental change generates issues, socially articulated problems that must be addressed through changes in institutional or individual behavior. It is argued that the motive force behind patterns of land use are property relations (land tenure) which are a facet of a set of social relations referred to as economy. The purpose of this study is describe the system (or systems) of property relations in a specific setting and to suggest how changes in property relations result in environmental impacts. From such a study a framework can be elucidated for prediction of future land-use related environmental change. This predictive capacity is based on an understanding of the attributes comprising property relations and the local process of change in these attributes. To summarize, the broad intellectual goals of this study are to:

  1. Propose and test a model that describes the links between economy, property relations, and environmental change;
  2. Develop a framework for predicting environmental change based on assessment of probable changes in economy and property relations.
The study will focus on a specific setting (the tropical Pacific island of Pohnpei) and thus propositions that are made can only have direct applicability to that place. However, just as prediction based on a well established theoretical framework creates some possibility for the description of conditions at a future time, so it will be possible to apply the findings to better understand the dynamics of property relations and environmental change in other places.

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