Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. Susan J. Elliott


This thesis investigates civic action around environmental concerns, using the issue of air quality in Hamilton, Ontario, as a case study. There is growing emphasis in the literature on citizen participation in environmental and health policy. However, our understanding of the factors which motivate or hinder citizen action around local environmental issues is at best limited, particularly with respect to the roles of social context and social captial in facilitating collective action. This research focusses on the need to better understand environmental action-taking by: documenting intra-urban variation in air quality perception, concern, and action in the City of Hamilton; identifying factors related to both predisposition and capacity to take action around air quality; and exploring how these factors, particularly social capital, influence the relationship between environmental risk perception, concern, and action. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods were used in this research. In-depth interviews (n=21) conducted with residents of an area experiencing poor air quality illustrated the specificity of lay understandings and concerns about exposure to air pollution, and indicated that social capital played a central role in the development of civic environmental action. A quantitative survey, administered to a random sample of households in Hamilton (n=512, stratified by area of residence), investigated environmental perception and concern, individual and social network characteristics, and environmental action. Results indicated that, while variation between areas was observed in terms of aggregate individual characteristics and perceived exposure to air pollution, little geographic variation in social network characteristics and perceived exposure to air pollution, little geographic variation in social network characteristics, air pollution concern, or environmental action was observed. Predictors of a variety of environmental actions were identified through logistic regression, and the results suggested substantial differences between types of action. Further, factors related to social networks generally played a larger role in environmental action-taking than socio-demographic factors.

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