College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

Critical Ethnic Studies


wilderness, settler colonialism, whiteness, multiculturalism, racial capitalism


This project investigates discourse about American wilderness, from the first European explorers through contemporary outdoor recreation, to reveal that wilderness is a socially constructed concept. By uncovering nine essential myths, this project argues that wilderness discourse is both influenced by and perpetuates American settler colonialism and racial capitalism. Section One traces a history of wilderness discourse to demonstrate that wilderness discourse establishes whites as citizens, as civilized, as courageous conquerors, as rightful owners to land, as protectors of space, and as beneficiaries of any potential profit. Section Two uses a content analysis of contemporary outdoor recreation websites to argue that attempts at multiculturalism in wilderness recreation fail to address underlying structures of power that justify settler colonialism and racial capitalism. Ultimately, Section Three advocates for “race radical” epistemologies of wilderness, using an analysis of visual art, as a means to challenge the structures of power embedded in wilderness discourse.