Exploring the well-being and ecosystem services relationship through the capability approach
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
The thesis contains unpublished findings - currently in the process of writing publications.
This thesis investigates the relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being through a case study in Cornwall, UK. The study examines how aspects of the economic and socio-cultural environment interact and influence participants’ constructs of well-being, as well as mediate, through mechanisms of access, their ability to benefit from ecosystem services. The research design is informed by Sen’s capability approach as well as insights from literatures on access theory, human well-being, and ecosystem services. While Sen’s approach potentially offers a novel means to explore the ecosystem services and well-being relationship, it is currently underutilised in this research context. Adopting an in-depth qualitative research approach, data collection took place over 21 months with the same cohort of participants, who face various types of socio-economic disadvantage. Focus groups, life history interviews, photo elicitation, and semi-structured interviews were used to (a) elicit local constructs of well-being, (b) explore the role of ecosystem services for well-being, and (c) identify mechanisms of access that mediate participants’ ability to benefit from valued ecosystem services. The analysis shows that capabilities are interlinked and multidimensional. Therefore, existing socio-economic constraints have important implications for capability formation, and also lead to a series of trade-offs in converting capabilities into well-being. The findings deliver new insights into existing conceptualizations of the ecosystem services and well-being relationship, highlighting the role of cultural practices as sources of well-being, and identifying cultural ecosystem services as an overarching theme rather than a discrete service type. Four types of access mechanisms emerge from the data, including psychological mechanisms, demonstrating that physical distance is an insufficient indicator of exposure to ecosystem services. The thesis concludes by suggesting that developing a capability theory for ecosystem services could aid disaggregated analyses and deliver more nuanced insights into the complex links between ecosystem services and well-being, by shifting the focus from outcomes to opportunities and the processes that contribute to particular outcomes.
PhD in Geography (Human)