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My place through my eyes : a social constructionist approach to researching the relationships between socioeconomic living contexts and physical activity

Carroll, Julie-Anne (2008) My place through my eyes : a social constructionist approach to researching the relationships between socioeconomic living contexts and physical activity. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


There is a growing evidence-base in the epidemiological literature that demonstrates significant associations between people’s living circumstances – including their place of residence – and their health-related practices and outcomes (Leslie, 2005; Karpati, Bassett, & McCord, 2006; Monden, Van Lenthe, & Mackenbach, 2006; Parkes & Kearns, 2006; Cummins, Curtis, Diez-Roux, & Macintyre, 2007; Turrell, Kavanagh, Draper, & Subramanian, 2007). However, these findings raise questions about the ways in which living places, such as households and neighbourhoods, figure in the pathways connecting people and health (Frolich, Potvin, Chabot, & Corin, 2002; Giles-Corti, 2006; Brown et al, 2006; Diez Roux, 2007). This thesis addressed these questions via a mixed methods investigation of the patterns and processes connecting people, place, and their propensity to be physically active. Specifically, the research in this thesis examines a group of lower-socioeconomic residents who had recently relocated from poorer suburbs to a new urban village with a range of health-related resources. Importantly, the study contrasts their historical relationship with physical activity with their reactions to, and everyday practices in, a new urban setting designed to encourage pedestrian mobility and autonomy. The study applies a phenomenological approach to understanding living contexts based on Berger and Luckman’s (1966) conceptual framework in The Social Construction of Reality. This framework enables a questioning of the concept of context itself, and a treatment of it beyond environmental factors to the processes via which experiences and interactions are made meaningful. This approach makes reference to people’s histories, habituations, and dispositions in an exploration between social contexts and human behaviour. This framework for thinking about context is used to generate an empirical focus on the ways in which this residential group interacts with various living contexts over time to create a particular construction of physical activity in their lives. A methodological approach suited to this thinking was found in Charmaz’s (1996; 2001; 2006) adoption of a social constructionist approach to grounded theory. This approach enabled a focus on people’s own constructions and versions of their experiences through a rigorous inductive method, which provided a systematic strategy for identifying patterns in the data. The findings of the study point to factors such as ‘childhood abuse and neglect’, ‘early homelessness’, ‘fear and mistrust’, ‘staying indoors and keeping to yourself’, ‘conflict and violence’, and ‘feeling fat and ugly’ as contributors to an ongoing core category of ‘identity management’, which mediates the relationship between participants’ living contexts and their physical activity levels. It identifies barriers at the individual, neighbourhood, and broader ecological levels that prevent this residential group from being more physically active, and which contribute to the ways in which they think about, or conceptualise, this health-related behaviour in relationship to their identity and sense of place – both geographic and societal. The challenges of living well and staying active in poorer neighbourhoods and in places where poverty is concentrated were highlighted in detail by participants. Participants’ reactions to the new urban neighbourhood, and the depth of their engagement with the resources present, are revealed in the context of their previous life-experiences with both living places and physical activity. Moreover, an understanding of context as participants’ psychological constructions of various social and living situations based on prior experience, attitudes, and beliefs was formulated with implications for how the relationship between socioeconomic contextual effects on health are studied in the future. More detailed findings are presented in three published papers with implications for health promotion, urban design, and health inequalities research. This thesis makes a substantive, conceptual, and methodological contribution to future research efforts interested in how physical activity is conceptualised and constructed within lower socioeconomic living contexts, and why this is. The data that was collected and analysed for this PhD generates knowledge about the psychosocial processes and mechanisms behind the patterns observed in epidemiological research regarding socioeconomic health inequalities. Further, it highlights the ways in which lower socioeconomic living contexts tend to shape dispositions, attitudes, and lifestyles, ultimately resulting in worse health and life chances for those who occupy them.

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ID Code: 27965
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Adkins, Barbara & Parker, Elizabeth
Keywords: socioeconomic, contexts, physical activity, urban, social constructionism, grounded theory
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > QUT Carseldine - Humanities & Human Services
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 13 Oct 2009 04:14
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:53

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