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Examining rangeland social-ecological system change and resilience through life-history narratives of ranching women in New Mexico and Arizona




Wilmer, Hailey, author
Fernández-Giménez, María E., advisor
Cheng, Tony, committee member
Jennings, Louise, committee member

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Women ranchers are important but under-examined stakeholders in the rangeland systems of the Southwestern United States. This thesis addresses a gap in the social-ecological systems and rangeland science literatures as to how these stakeholders experience change and resilience in ranching. Rangeland researchers are increasingly interested in understanding rangelands as integrated social-ecological systems and in investigating the roles of humans as both drivers and subjects of ecological change. To address these needs, I carried out life-history interviews with 19 ranching women in the Southwestern U.S. and analyzed the resulting transcripts using narrative analysis to address two research questions: 1) how do ranching women experience change on rangelands over the course of their lifetimes? and 2) how do ranching women experience resilience in ranching? Each research question is addressed in a separate manuscript. Chapter 2 explores common themes in women's experiences with change in ranching. The results reveal the following eight common experiences of women ranchers, illustrating that ranching is a life-long learning process: 1) learning from older generations, 2) finding a personal career path, 3) operating livestock businesses, 4) breaking gender barriers, 5) leading communities, 6) aging and going on alone, 7) living close to the land, and 8) passing the ranching tradition to the next generation. These findings suggest that women contribute to social resilience in rangeland systems through their leadership and life-long career paths in ranching in the face of economic hardship and ecological challenges. Chapter 3 examines women ranchers' contradicting material and discursive ranching practices related to resilience. Material practices denote what people do and discourse denotes how people talk about what they should do. Material-discursive contradictions between women's ranching practices and ideologies of ranching culture include contradictions between ranching as a livelihood and financial hardship, between ecological disturbances and range management paradigms, and between gender discourses and women's material practices as ranchers. Discursive-discursive contradictions reveal conflicting ranching paradigms, epistemologies and discourses on the future of ranching. These contradictions demonstrate how women's ranching practices change in response to broader social, ecological and economic change events, and illustrate that assessment of social-ecological system (SES) resilience depends upon the perspective of the observer. Ranching women's narratives help us to understand which changes in material practices and discourse can be accommodated within the rangeland SES that they value, and which changes threaten the existence of that system. Material and discursive practices that appear to support resilience from an external (etic) view, may threaten resilience from an internal (emic) perspective. Analysis of ranching women's daily material and discursive practices can also help identify specific material and discursive changes--and adaptations--in ranching culture. This insight shows why it is critical for social-ecological systems scholars and practitioners to engage with social theory and methodology when studying resilience, and to broaden and deepen inquiry to understand the cultural, historical and gendered contexts of the decision-making processes of women and other stakeholders in rangeland systems.


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