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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Public land and American democratic imaginaries: A case study of conflict over the management of Grand Staircase -Escalante National Monument
by Brugger, Julie V., Ph.D., University of Washington, 2009, 462; 3377336
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation undertakes a detailed ethnographic analysis of conflict over the management of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, as a way to investigate what democracy means to ordinary Americans. The creation of the 1.9 million acre Monument by Presidential Proclamation on September 18, 1996 was extremely controversial in Utah. Local opposition to the Monument remained strong from 1999 through 2006, when fieldwork was conducted, bringing participants' ideas about democracy into the foreground. In order to encompass the many ways participants' conceived of democracy and to interpret the ongoing conflict, this study approaches it as an imaginary, drawing on Charles Taylor's concept of “the social imaginary.” It also draws on Chantal Mouffe's concept of “the democratic paradox,” which recognizes conflict as an inevitable and valuable aspect of democracy.

Part One situates the conflict historically in an ongoing negotiation of the meaning of democracy and the role of the state in ordinary Americans' lives as it has played out on the public domain lands, a process I call reterritorialization. It draws attention to the role that emotional attachments to democracy and to the Western landscape play in the process, a focus that is maintained throughout the dissertation. Part Two provides three case studies of specific conflicts over livestock grazing and roads on GSENM in order to illuminate the dynamics of the reterritorialization process and to show how participants draw on and rework democratic imaginaries as they participate in these conflicts. This part concludes that public land promotes democracy because, in conflicts over its management, participants engage with difference and contest limited understandings of democracy proposed by the American state. Part Three examines participants' daily lives and their conceptions of democracy in more detail. It identifies specific democratic paradoxes that participants experience in relation to the Monument and concludes that individuals are practicing democracy in their daily lives as they negotiate these paradoxes. These conclusions indicate the many ways in which ordinary Americans conceive of, experience, and practice democracy and provide an optimistic assessment of the prospects for democracy in America today.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kahn, Miriam
School: University of Washington
School Location: United States -- Washington
Source: DAI-A 70/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Cultural anthropology, Area Planning and Development, Cultural Resources Management, Environmental management, Public administration
Keywords: Democracy, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, National monuments, Natural resource conflict, Public land, United States, Utah
Publication Number: 3377336
ISBN: 978-1-109-39578-5
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