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Cow Talk: Ecology, Culture, and Power in the Intermountain West Range Cattle Industry, 1945-1965

by Berry, Michelle Kathleen.

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation offers a cultural history of a special interest group – namely, the range cattle ranchers in the intermountain West states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico from 1945-1965. In these years, ranchers joined together in their special interest group organizations in unprecedented numbers and proceeded to create and present a dominant culture which helped them to appear more unified than perhaps they really were. This, then, is a cultural history of a political group as opposed to a study of the politics of a cultural group. Rather than taking for granted the status of their political, economic, and environmental power in the postwar decades, ranchers came to fear for their place in the West. This fear motivated them to gather together in their collective organizations and enabled them to present to the non-ranching public an image of a cultural group well-congealed. This dissertation utilizes ranchers’ personal papers, ranchers’ publications, and cattlegrower association records to examine the varied components of ranch culture that dominated ranchers’ collective conversations (including their cultural valuation of masculine labor with cows, the importance of ranch women in promoting the culture, and the magnitude of technological modernization of the ranching industry) and suggests that in spite of profound tensions within ranch society, a dominant culture facilitated ranchers’ unity and helped them to assert claims to political power. The shared symbolic universe of ranchers’ everyday lives manifested itself in a cultural system of language and images (cow talk) that had prevailing patterns across the region. These patterns allowed ranchers to unify around a dominant culture. And although ranchers certainly did not agree on everything, their divergences were of degree so that 9 while ranchers sometimes disagreed about specific policies or which insecticide really worked best on bed bugs, they did not disagree on cultural principles. They then used those principles to justify their claims to political, economic, and environmental power.
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School:The University of Arizona

School Location:USA - Arizona

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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