The Ecology of Belonging: Cultural Dynamics of Environmental Change in the US Great Basin
My dissertation examines how rural communities with strong cultural ties to landscapes and land-based practices are impacted by socioecological change in Nevada and California. It investigates changing configurations of plants and animals on landscapes as they intersect with the cultural practices of Paiute people and ranchers on public lands by attending to experiences of social belonging and sense of place among rural communities and the role of environmental governance in managing novel ecosystems, cultural resources, and the restoration of native species. This project offers insight into the implications of land management and public lands policy for rural communities facing rapid socioecological change in the rural US West. It links material changes on the landscape to historic land management practices and shifting experiences of place that are affecting the land-based practices and cultural attachments that natural resource-dependent communities maintain with rural lands. This project uses participant observation, semi-structured interviews, life history interviews, household surveys, archival analysis, and descriptive sociodemographic and ecological mapping, as part of a mixed social science methodology grounded in long-term ethnographic field research. There is a urgent need to better understand how new socioecological configurations of diverse human, plant and animal communities shape each other. This work informs efforts to help rural communities navigating environmental change in the Anthropocene on socially and ecologically vulnerable rural landscapes in the US West and beyond.