DECOLONIZING EXPERIENCES: AN ECOPHENOMENOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION OF THE LIVED-EXPERIENCE OF APPALACHIAN TRAIL THRU-HIKERS
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Rooted in a critical dialogue that endeavours to theorize experience in contrast to the colonial impetus, this dissertation explores the lived experience of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. As a result of this disposition, the purpose of this dissertation is to expose the dynamics associated with colonized experiences and empirically research the lived experience of thru-hikers from an ecophenomenological perspective. The subsequent approach views the activities of the lived human body as the process through which the world comes into being. Building on Merleau-Pontian phenomenology, ecophenomenology provides the foundation of the experiential self, and thus underlies the representation of the trail environment as a sensuous field of human activity where one is merged with one's socio-ecological surroundings. Explication of empirical materials from 27 participant interviews resulted in a wide range of thru-hiking experiences representing the operative essence of Appalachian Trail thru-hiking. The operative essence was identified across 4 broad dimensions: Perseity, Sojourning, Kinship, and Wild Imbrication. Each dimension comprised a dialectic which emerged from interview excerpts both congruent with and in contrast to wilderness ideology. Further exploration of wilderness ideals resulted in thru-hikers negotiating tensions related to ideological wilderness meanings and their own actual thru-hiking experiences. This negotiation allowed a broader conception of wilderness to be illustrated as a continuum of meaningful experiences. In addition, ecoliteracy emerged as an experientially driven learning process whereby thru-hikers negotiate alternative meanings of wilderness with ideological meanings. The implications for experiential and wilderness related research along with management concerns are discussed.