Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Sandra Woolthorton

Second Supervisor

Dr. Patricia Sherwood


In this extraordinary time of multiple, intersecting crises with compounded costs in social, economic, and environmental degradation, calls for transformative change are emerging from all levels of humanity – global to local. Within that setting, my study concentrated on investigating change at a local level to address the research question ’How can community development theory and practice contribute to ecological conversion, as identified in Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home?’

I commenced by reviewing two international communiques, the United Nations 2030 Agenda and Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ On Care for Our Common Home. While these proposals called for global through to local sustainability transition, I chose to undertake research in my local region, recognising people at the grassroots level do currently contribute towards change. I envisaged local level actions could lead to opportunities to progress the Laudato Si’ agenda within community development frameworks.

While community development endeavours pursue social-ecological change within an ideology that questions how our world could be organised and cared for differently, it is recognised that other approaches sit within narrowly framed neo-liberal dogma. The ecological approach of community development involves collaboration, mutuality and reciprocity, and connects social justice and ecological viability for all on this planet.

Since its release, Laudato Si’ has provoked considerable academic/theological and scientific/environmental debate that does not necessarily contain local people’s views and everyday lived experiences, given their often-limited access to those broader debates. The main argument in this thesis is that local people and communities have substantial roles to play in contributing to the transformational change called for within Laudato Si’. Exploring this premise, my study focused on ways in which local communities initiated the change they were seeking. I investigated selected historical and current case studies that demonstrated creative and innovative actions undertaken within genuine community development frameworks. These actions generated outcomes that are consistent iv with those described in Laudato Si’, releasing opportunities for ecological conversion.

The community and ecological practice research methodology developed for this study values integral ecology, which upholds that everything is interrelated, for example the relationship between people, plants, and animals, and between species and planet within systemic networks. The application of interdisciplinary, multi-focused qualitative research methods through the lens of community development practice addresses the research question. One community research method, ‘world café’, identified the themes incorporated into this study, with local case studies and storytelling playing a strong role in relating the significance of these grassroots activities.

Results from this PhD research, positioned within community development frameworks and inspired by the teachings of Laudato Si’, demonstrate theory practices for ways individuals and communities can change relationships with their ecosystem. This includes socio-ecological justice, solidarity, and planetary stewardship which are participatory actions that can lead to ecological conversion.

Recommendations resulting from this research include initiating community-based inquiry that expands engagement and planning into developing bottom-up, grassroots driven community action plans that support social, economic, and environmental change at local levels. These are important steps towards global change. Other recommendations call for embracing and expanding the value of Indigenous living cultures in this Laudato Si’ community development agenda, along with increased inclusion of human and other-than-human living systems. These are additional pathways towards ecological conversion that leads to transformational change.

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