Environmental Justice and the Role of Social Capital in an Underserved Urban Community

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community & Environmental Health


Community Health

Committee Director

Clare Houseman

Committee Member

Michele Darby

Committee Member

H. Anna Jeng

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.C48 D55 2006


The purpose of this qualitative study was to evaluate a community's beliefs, attitudes, and experiences regarding their neighborhood's environmental health issues and the ways in which individuals utilize social capital (the degree to which a community collaborates and cooperates) to improve their environmental health. Research correlating social capital with health status shows that the higher the level of social capital in a community, the better the health. An understanding of why some groups exhibit more social capital than others is important in improving the public health system. The study was accomplished by comparing a convenience sample of two specific groups who reside within the geographic boundaries of a poor, urban community in Norfolk, Virginia: members of the politically active civic league, and adults recruited via a local church. A qualitative method, the focus group interview and demographic information on each participant was used for collection of data. The issue of trust, which is the underpinning concept of social capital, was extensively examined and the interviews gathered insight on how each group uses social capital as a means for health issue communication. Transcriptions of tape-recorded interviews were categorized and systematically coded. Data was analyzed using the constant comparative method.

Results indicated that both focus groups exhibited a heightened level of social capital and were able to identify and solve some of their environmental health problems. This was verified through elements of: trust and cooperation; communication; and community support demonstrated through the focus groups. In addition, elevated participation and collective action manifested itself further in the civic league group as they actively sought ways in which they could make their neighborhood a better place to live.

Based on this study, it is apparent that social capital remains a theory that should be further researched in its contribution to environmental health. An understanding of why some groups exhibit more social capital than others is important to improving the public health system. What's more, the recognition that social and physical factors work together to create a healthy environment will enhance understanding of health inequalities and advancement of environmental justice.


91 pp.


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