Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Natural Sciences


Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Professor Pierre Horwitz


The literature suggests that a subtle relationship exists for communities between the meaning of water and sense of place, making fertile ground for systematic investigation. The relationship has obvious importance in today’s world, where people’s reliance on water, and the need for reliable supplies, form part of a common discourse in natural resource management. Yet, there has been much less discussion of what water means to people, how it connects with peoples’ sense of place, and what that might mean for the way people interact with their surroundings. The methodology of constructivist grounded theory was therefore appropriate to investigate this issue, and to derive a conceptual framework from the perspectives, the feelings, the experiences, and the actions of local insiders to water and to a place in which they lived. A systematic application of this methodology allowed me to constantly interact with data, create descriptions, and build conceptual frameworks from the ground.

This process was conducted in particular settings: at Pok and Pang Jum Pee Villages near Chiang Mai City in the north of Thailand, where people interacted and relied on forests and the Mae Lai Noi stream in that forested mountain area. Two explanatory frameworks were derived from these settings. One sought to understand the constant features of the relationship between water, forests and livelihoods of community members during historical periods, driven by external and internal changes. Another examined the role of Buddhist rituals during, and as a consequence of, these changes, and how the rituals stimulated attitudes to, and actions of, forest and water conservation.

The explanatory frameworks enabled the construction of a conceptual framework, proposed to explain the dynamic relationship between meaning of water and sense of place. The conceptual framework shows how a local reciprocity found in this relationship is consistent with the interaction between people, water, and place in the context of local communities. This relationship appears in particular settings and local contexts: in this case, where forest was meaningful as the pivotal physical setting and water was a part of forest. Additionally, economic well-being of local communities relied on both the forest and water, and people’s interaction influenced the nature of both water and forest. Together, sense of place or belongingness to a physical setting (forest) and the recognition of the meaning of water are vulnerable to loss. This responds to changing economic needs in local communities which themselves rely upon ecological conditions and connect with cultural and socio-political circumstances. Leadership plays an essential role, when such vulnerabilities are present, to evoke a sense of place and make explicit the meaning of water, driving the collective requirement for, and actions to protect and manage, water and place.

Overall, the conceptual framework presented in this study provides a holistic and systematic perspective for investigating the relationship between the meaning of water and sense of place and may contribute to academic discourse and to natural resource management. This framework, however, requires verification and theoretical saturation in further research to be applicable when explaining the relationship between the meaning of water and sense of place in other settings or situations.