Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Kristine Sunday

Committee Member

Angela Eckhoff

Committee Member

Laura Smithers


Rural places afford significant differences in learning opportunity than their urban and suburban counterparts, and are often viewed from deficit perspectives, with a focus on the challenges that are specific to rurality. This locally-focused, qualitative research explored how childhood learning and education in a rural, Mid-Atlantic peninsula of the United States are produced by the interactions between and influences of the place’s geography, history, and culture. Through ethnographic and sensory fieldwork and participatory research with children at a place based learning program for youth housed at a public library, I present a deep examination of both formal and informal learning structures and systems in a geographically isolated, coastal place. Findings from this study were produced through two modes of analysis, one being traditional and systematic and the other taking on a fluid and theoretical post-qualitative approach. The ethnographic and sensory fieldwork data were analyzed through Massey’s (2005) and Greene’s (2004, 2020) theories of space, time and place, and Barad’s (2007) new materialism, which focuses on the agentic qualities of matter and the concept of diffraction. Rich historical and present-day narratives from the rural place under investigation were interwoven with theory and diffractive readings to present the inherent influence of space, time and matter humans’ learning and meaning-making. I then employed thematic content analysis to analyze artifacts from the children’s place based learning program at the library, which included a co-taught photography lesson, children’s digital images taken with personal cameras, and selected captions made through Photovoice. Finally, I situated themes that emerged from the content analysis alongside iii further diffractive readings of the children’s data to both support and challenge the analysis methods used. This study presents how growing up rural, with specific attention to the geography, history, and culture of a rural place, shapes and produces children’s learning. Furthermore, rural youth’s perspectives were found to be intrinsically unique to their coastal place, and these perspectives simultaneously inform strength-based discourses about growing up rural and the development of deeply engaging place based curricula and pedagogy that attend to the inherent impact and influence of place.