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Political Ecologies of Cattle Ranching in Northern Mexico

By Eric P. Perramond

Publication Year: 2010

Private ranchers survived the Mexican Revolution and the era of agrarian reforms, and they continue to play key roles in the ecology and economy of northern Mexico.

In this study of the Río Sonora region of northern Mexico, where ranchers own anywhere from several hundred to tens of thousands of acres, Eric Perramond evaluates management techniques, labor expenditures, gender roles, and decision-making on private ranches of varying size. By examining the economic and ecological dimensions of daily decisions made on and off the ranch he shows that, contrary to prevailing notions, ranchers rarely collude as a class unless land titles are at issue, and that their decision-making is as varied as the landscapes they oversee.

Through first-hand observation, field measurements, and intimate ethnographies, Perramond sheds light on a complex set of decisions made, avoided, and confronted by these land managers and their families. He particularly shows that ranching has endured because of its extended kinship network, its reliance on all household members, and its close ties to local politics.

Perramond follows ranchers caught between debt, drought, and declining returns to demonstrate the novel approaches they have developed to adapt to changing economies and ecologies alike—such as strategically marketing the ranches for wild-game hunting or establishing small businesses that subsidize their lifestyles and livelihoods. Even more importantly, he reveals the false dichotomy between private and communal ranching. Political Ecologies of Cattle Ranching in Northern Mexico is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of ranching in western North America.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

List of Figures

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pp. ix

List of Tables

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pp. x

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pp. xi-xii

This book is a study of contemporary private ranches and ranchers in the state of Sonora, Mexico. It is based on long-term fieldwork, the bulk of which occurred between the years 1995 and 1997, with two return visits in 2002 and 2003 and archival work during the summers of 2006 and 2007. I keep in touch with a handful of ranchers, all of them ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

First, thanks go to Bill Doolittle in the Geography Department at the University of Texas at Austin, who served as chair of my studies and dissertation, and who continues to serve as adviser and mentor long after my exodus from Austin. Second, I am grateful to the committee members who critiqued and carefully appraised a much older ...

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1. The Secret Geographies of Mexican Cattle Ranching

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pp. 1-30

We saw Don Benito just in time. He was making his way out of the Tecate shack as we drove by. I slowed and Miguel Sarella, in the passenger seat, “Hey, haven’t you recovered yet from last night?” teased Miguel, a big grin on his face. “God, I was so drunk last night I drove past town and was halfway to Sinoquipe!” shot back ...

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2. The Development of Cattle Ranching in Sonora, Mexico

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pp. 31-56

Since their introduction to Mexico in 1521, domesticated livestock have successfully expanded into new, unfamiliar ecosystems. By the late sixteenth century, the presence of livestock was ubiquitous in the eastern lowlands of Mexico and, to a lesser extent, on the Pacific side of Mexico by the end of the seventeenth century. Historian Alfred ...

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3. Land, Labor, and Resource Management on Private Ranches

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pp. 57-87

The private ranchers of Sonora, including those in the study area of this book, have successfully defended much of their landed estates, despite the early twentieth-century land reforms. Their role in the defense of private property has been likened to a passive-aggressive nature, and while hired guns are not uncommon, they are less common today ...

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4. Ranch Ecology, Landscape Change, and Power

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pp. 88-124

The small, narrow canyon valley glowed with the orange-yellow hues of oaks and willow leaves turning, a few leaves brittle underfoot, as autumn arrived in the Río Sonora. “I’ve got the most beautiful ranch in the Río Sonora Valley, eh?” said Señor Dariel as he elbowed me in the gut. I agreed, of course. No other ranch visited had its own reservoir ...

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5. Gender, Community, and the Spatial Dynamics of Ranching

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pp. 125-149

Women, children, and the elderly are key characters in the dynamics of ranching as a livelihood, even as the importance of extended families has declined in maintaining ranch traditions. The gender and community aspects in forming the identities of ranchers are formidable, and social scientists frequently use the euphemism social reproduction to ...

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6. Private, Communal, and Privatizing Ranches in Neo-liberal Mexico

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pp. 150-175

Despite Mexico’s rhetoric of revolutionary land redistribution, the simple fact remains that the vast majority and the highest-quality grazing lands are in the hands of the wealthiest ranchers to this day. This resource imbalance, an unintended consequence of addressing large estate (latifundio) irrigated agriculture foremost among land resource ...

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7. Trail’s End: Ranching a Continent

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pp. 176-198

Ranching continues to survive, if not thrive, in most parts of the Americas. From the colonial-era Bourbon Reforms, through the so-called liberal reforms of the mid-1800s, large private estates were consolidated in Sonora. After the Mexican Revolution and its period of land distribution, private producers still remained; irrigated ...

Appendix A: Ranching and Regional Literature

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pp. 199-207

Appendix B: Research Methodology and Sources

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pp. 209-216


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pp. 217-220


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pp. 221-223

Works Cited

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pp. 225-251


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pp. 253-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780816502264
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816527212

Publication Year: 2010