Date of this Version

Spring 4-8-2011


A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Geography, Under the Supervision of Professor David Wishart. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2011

Copyright 2011 Cynthia M. Williams


In the literature, numerous theoretical perspectives have defined and interpreted what is meant by “neighborhood.” A criticism of these perspectives is a lack of a universal definition, with no one-to-one empirical counterpart. The intent of this dissertation is to develop experiential conceptualizations of the construct neighborhood. Residents, those who experience and interact on a daily bases will provide the meaning and interpretation of what is meant by neighborhood.

The “levels of response” are the means of identifying and interpreting the systematic differences in the cognitive processing involved in the construal of neighborhood. Five cognitive levels of response were identified: Affective, orientation, categorization, evaluation, and adaptation. The incidence of the level of response in the mental representations of participants reveals something about how these everyday surrounds are construed. An assumption is that how we cognitively process, interpret, and attach meaning to neighborhood is directly influenced by who we are (i.e., gender, age, family status, ethnicity, and so on), how we are socialized (i.e., social positions, roles, predisposition, and acculturation), and the form or structure of the environment (i.e., the socio-physical surround). Since the construct neighborhood is a mental representation, it is assumed that there will be multiple versions of the construct neighborhood.

A mixed method approach (i.e., qualitative and quantitative techniques), in association with a comprehensive theoretical framework (person-environment-behavior, social cognition, and feminist perspective), facilitated an in-depth analysis of the experiential conceptualizations of neighborhood. The objective was to link the theoretical component to the empirical component (i.e., open-ended interviewing process relating to the individuals perception of what constituted a neighborhood). The intent here is to establish understanding of what constitutes “social reality” for each participant.

The findings suggest that the levels of cognitive response are useful in determining if distinctive versions of neighborhood exist. In addition, the research demonstrated that gender is a significant factor in the construal of neighborhood renditions.

Adviser: David J. Wishart