Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Emily T. Yeh

Second Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Third Advisor

Joe Bryan


The goal of this dissertation is to explore how the construction of the ideas and actions around "nature" and "environment" are complicit and necessary in the maintenance of racial and class exclusion and white privilege in Boulder, Colorado. My primary research questions are: How did Boulder come to be seen by its residents as "so green" and "so white," how do the two representations rely on each other in Boulder's history and current articulation, and what articulations do those representations take in its residents' lives? I conclude that Boulder came to be seen as "green" through a long historical reference to the beauty and purity of the natural environment, and it came to be seen as "white" in part through a marked class politics of exclusion and also through its characterization as green in the exclusionary racial politics of the early and modern environmental movements in the twentieth century. Boulder's characterizations as green and white draw on one another throughout the city's twentieth and early twenty-first century history, with 1) early environmentalist characterizations about the purity of nature and about nature as the heart of the nation, which relied on racialized understandings of nation and of the proper practices of conduct, hygiene, and self-improvement that were seen to lead to national progress, 2) mid-twentieth century and twenty-first century valuations of nature and versions of city history that hid the social process of the protection and management of open space, and 3) twenty-first century articulations of whiteness as the hegemonic racial and cultural norm in Boulder expressed in part through the politics of environmentalism and liberal-progressivism more broadly. In residents' lives, these articulations take the form of a delight in the local environment and environmental goals and practices, paired with a political-cultural minority disdain for the same environmental politics, and they also take the form of complex expressions of exclusion of non-white residents and visitors to Boulder, often couched in well meaning desire for and efforts at "inclusion" of racial minorities and immigrants. Together, these articulations form a complicated coexistence and juxtaposition of environmentalism, progressivism, and racism in Boulder.