Social wellness amidst toxic pollution: The story of Sydney, Cape Breton

Dorothy J. Treisner, (2006)

This dissertation develops and applies a social wellness model, where social wellness is defined as the process through which people create meaning out of seemingly insurmountable social, economic, environmental, and physical problems. Objectification and denial are identified as the two primary factors that lead to imbalances in our perception of health and illness, and in the nature of the power relationships surrounding them. By liberating thought from the dangers of objectification and denial, the social wellness process recognizes the potential wealth of meaning in both health and illness; exposes and acknowledges oppression and victimization; and embraces the catalytic role of change agents. In the end, equality of all parties and perspectives can lead to healing and lasting positive change. This dissertation identified historical and social elements of objectification and denial in Sydney, a city on the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. Considered one of the continent's most beautiful landscapes, Sydney also has the largest toxic waste site in North America, the legacy of a century of steel- and coke-making. The plight of Sydney is discussed from an environmental justice standpoint, using a meta-narrative of one of the most famous environmental justice cases studied to date---Love Canal, New York, to illustrate how power imbalance plays a critical role in environmental pollution issues. Holistic medicine and wellness models are also emphasized in this discussion. These models focus on connection, multidimensionality, and balance, all of which provide an important grounding for the social wellness process. Other methods and models used in developing the social wellness model include asset-based community development, an approach that focuses on community strengths and utilizes capacity-building techniques to strengthen community relationships, thereby improving the community's overall development.