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A Place for Dialogue

Language, Land Use, and Politics in Southern Arizona

Sharon McKenzie Stevens, Wayne Franklin

Publication Year: 2007

In A Place for Dialogue, Sharon McKenzie Stevens views the contradictions and collaborations involved in the management of public land in southern Arizona—and by extension the entire arid West—through the lens of political rhetoric. Revealing the socioecological relationships among cattlemen and environmentalists as well as developers and recreationists, she analyzes the ways that language shapes landscape by shaping decisions about land use.

Stevens focuses on the collaborative Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan initiated by Pima County, Arizona, the ubiquitous use of scientific argument to defend contradictory practices, and the construction and negotiation of rancher/environmentalist identities to illuminate both literally and metaphorically the dynamics of land use politics. Drawing specifically upon extensive interviews with a diverse array of agents on all sides of the debate—ranchers, environmentalists, scientists, land managers, government officials—on historical narratives, and on her own conflicting experiences as someone who grew up with those who work the western lands, she demonstrates that it is possible to use differences to solve, rather than to aggravate, the entrenched problems that bridge land and language.

By integrating her richly textured case study of a fragile region with rhetorical approaches to narrative, science-based argument, and collective identities, Stevens makes a significant contribution to the fields of rhetoric, land management, and cultural studies.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

What do we talk about when we talk about land? Sharon Stevens deftly answers this question by redirecting it. She attends to what we say about land, to be sure; but more than that, she attends to how we say it. Not that she is interested in the literary “style” of environmental discourse. What attracts her far more than that is the social rhetoric by which we constitute...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I owe first thanks to those men and women who allowed me to interview them for this study. They shared their time, their words, and often their homes with me; they welcomed me into their world of concerns and ideas and hopes; and they allowed me to be a student learning about qualitative research, about rhetoric, and about Arizona. I additionally thank Nicole Fyffe from the Pima...

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pp. 1-6

Early morning, somewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border, sitting on a bench on the wood porch of a near-permanently boarded-up general store. We are surrounded by desert floor, by dry state lands, but around us we can see the National Forest Service’s “sky islands,” mountain forests that mark Arizona by suddenly rising into cooler air. An employee of a government...

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1. The Range of Rhetoric

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pp. 7-37

Once a year, my maternal uncle allowed my parents to hunt on the southern Oregon ranch that had once belonged to my great-grandfather, who had bought the land as an investment. My parents’ hunting trips were my autumn vacation, my opportunity to know firsthand a landscape of my mother’s childhood. While my mother and father hunted, I would run through cattle...

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2. Open Space, Conservation, and Endangerment

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pp. 38-71

Early one January, my partner, Phil, and I took advantage of a rare overcast day and drove into the Sierrita Mountains looking for a small but still vital 1895 settlement, the McGee Ranch. The community is currently home to around 350 inhabitants, many of whom work in construction, mining, or, more irregularly, as ranch hands (“Our Common” 3). In October 1998,...

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3. From Battle Lines to Collaborative Space

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pp. 72-104

The concept of socioecology serves as a potential tool for renewed thinking about how our relationships to both human and nonhuman others fundamentally make up our world. Defined as a potentially dynamic and mutable set of mutually constitutive relationships between humans and nonhumans, the concept requires letting go of discrete distinctions between, for example,...

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4. Socioecology and the Future of the Land

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pp. 105-136

The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge lies in south-central Arizona, sharing a border with Sonora, Mexico, stretching up through the Altar Valley to the west of the Baboquivari wilderness and the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. These 116,095 acres were purchased using congressional appropriations to “provide habitat for threatened and endangered...

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5. From Identity Politics to Dialogic Identities

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pp. 137-170

Throughout this book, I have argued that the claims speakers make help to constitute knowledge and, through human agency, to turn understanding into action, to give substance to reality. This argument is not a particularly new one: it is fairly typical within the contemporary human sciences to reject what James Carey and others have critically characterized as a “transmission"...

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pp. 171-181

In their introduction to Ecospeak, Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline Palmer argue that rhetorical analysis can reflectively mediate public arguments “by identifying various discourses,” including environmental discourses, “before they are galvanized by dichotomous political rhetoric. . . At the very least, such analysis can reveal possible identifications and real conflicts...

Methodological Appendix

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pp. 183-187


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pp. 189-197

Works Cited

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pp. 199-213


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pp. 215-221

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297656
E-ISBN-10: 1587297655
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295348
Print-ISBN-10: 1587295342

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2007