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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Telling stories about places for sustainability : a case study of the Islands in the Salish Sea Community Mapping Project Sparrow, Vanessa


This thesis is about the ways in which people tell stories about places and the importance of those stories to a community's capacity for adaptation and sustainability. I argue that the traditional discourse of sustainability is embedded within a rationalist, techno-scientific paradigm that precludes the inclusion of subjective, contextualised knowledge. If genuine sustainability is predicated on social and environmental justice, as I argue it is, then it requires an inclusive, ethical framework that can value beliefs, imagination, desires, experiences and relationships. The concept of place, seen as an articulation of the dynamic relationships between the material, cultural and experiential, offers a powerful basis upon which to develop such an approach. Drawing on the theoretical relationship between narrative and place, my aim is to investigate the potential of artistic community mapping to offer an engaging, inclusive form of story-telling and place-making for sustainability. I do this by presenting a case study of the Islands in the Salish Sea Community Mapping Project, which took place in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia's Strait of Georgia between 1999 and 2004. This project worked with local artists and coordinators on 17 of the most populated islands to engage local communities in identifying and documenting via handcrafted maps what they valued about their home places. How this was achieved, the successes, limitations and further possibilities of this way of working with communities to tell stories about their places, are the concerns of this research. By reviewing the theoretical foundations of this project, together with undertaking interviews with coordinators, artists and other participants, it is my aim to present not a comprehensive evaluation, but a detailed case study of how concepts of community story-telling and placemaking can be realised "on the ground" and effectively used to help us in the work of sustainability. Specifically, my objectives were: to review the literature pertaining to the question of whether place-based narratives, such as artistic community mapping, can help in the work of sustainability; and to investigate the Islands in the Salish Sea Community Mapping Project as a case study of how such work might be possible.

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