Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Jennifer D. Adams

Committee Members

Gillian Bayne

Roger Hart

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Education | Environmental Studies


Environmental Education, Youth Participatory Action Research, Urban Education, Youth


This work addresses ways to actively engage youth, particularly those growing up in urban contexts, in the rapidly expanding field of urban environmental education (EE). By inviting youth into the urban EE discourse, this study created opportunities to redefine what EE could look like when it is built on relevance to youth daily lives and is locally situated in urban settings. A critical urban environmental pedagogy, as conceptualized in this dissertation, brings together critical pedagogy and youth participatory action research to investigate the diversity of urban neighborhoods by youth who live there. These investigations reveal neoliberal urbanization processes and their resulting environmental injustices while creating space for youth to reimagine a more democratic process by which these socio-environmental conditions are made and (re)produced. This study explores how a critical urban environmental pedagogy was enacted and evolved in an urban environmental science classroom over the course of three years. Student perceptions of their environments, their connection to learning, and their emergence as critically conscious citizens are explored.

In the first chapter of the dissertation, I introduce the overall context of the study including overarching theoretical and conceptual frameworks that organize the study. Chapters two and three introduce youth participatory action research (PAR) including the ways in which PAR methodologies, primarily photovoice and narratives, were enacted and evolved during the course of the study. The fourth chapter takes a macro view of the ways in which youth interact with their environments by looking closely at one year of photovoice data to describe youth’s experiences of growing up in their various urban environments. Chapter five zooms in on four students and follows their unique journey through the course. This chapter brings the voices of youth to the forefront, where each case study is deeply voiced by the youth, using multiple texts produced throughout the second year of the course. Chapter six discusses how incorporating a political ecology lens into a critical urban environmental pedagogy creates opportunities to problematize the impact of neoliberalism on urban EE and youth as well as reconceptualize nature for urban environments. This chapter highlights three pedagogical factors that emerged from working with youth in a critical classroom as well as the affordances, challenges, and tensions that arose. Chapter seven introduces a participatory analysis methodology, “the Data Carnival”, in which participants from all three years of the study collectively looked across multiple data sources from multiple years. This analysis allowed all participants to explore the ways the three years of data all hang together, as well as explore the epistemological, ontological, and axiological shifts that occurred in the classroom. The final chapter (Chapter eight) presents pedagogical reflections on the research as it pertains to both the larger conceptualization of a critical urban environmental pedagogy and the intersection of neoliberalism and EE. This chapter reimagines an EE that challenges neoliberal ideologies through the enactment of pedagogy that utilizes participatory research methodologies in conjunction with critical and social theory with the explicit goal of facilitating opportunities for the emergence of critical consciousness. This final chapter also discusses the implications this study has for educators, particularly environmental and teacher educators who are responsible for either reproducing or transforming EE. In reimagining EE as a process of continued exploration and understanding of ones local and lived community, we can better understand how to engage youth in processes of defining and investigating their socio-environmental contexts.