Explorations in discursive ecology: addressing landscape change with rural North Carolinians Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Cumming, Gabriel Benjamin
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Curriculum in Environment and Ecology
  • The rapid spread of suburban and exurban development is dramatically altering landscapes across North Carolina, thereby threatening the ecological and cultural heritage of numerous rural communities. These communities typically lack the institutional capacity for organized response to landscape change, so rural residents who deplore the degradation of valued local assets often feel powerless to protect them. Conservation and land use planning advocates, meanwhile, have failed to involve most of these rural North Carolinians in natural resource management initiatives. In order to attract broader support, I argue that resource management agents must establish the relevance of their campaigns to the values, experiences, and concerns that rural community members share. Toward that end, I propose that natural resource management initiatives be designed with regard for local ecological discourses: ways in which members of a particular community socially construct their environment through communication. This study tested the hypotheses that 1) local discourses are ecologically interrelated with other elements of local ecosystems and therefore differ among communities and regions, and 2) arguments for collective natural resource management can garner broad-based community support if framed through these local discourses. I collaborated with local partners to conduct community projects at five sites in rural North Carolina. Four of the sites were located in the Piedmont region near Charlotte; the fifth site (Macon County) was located in the Mountain region. At each site, we employed an iterative participatory research model, in which analyses were repeatedly refined through community input. Through analysis of project data within and across sites and regions, I characterize discourse as an ecological phenomenon: its interactions with other ecosystem properties, as well as its within-site (alpha), between-site (beta) and regional/inter-regional (gamma) diversities. Then I present evidence that the salient narratives (shared stories) identified through each community project were persuasive to local community members at large, including those who had not previously participated in the projects. This study’s findings suggest that a discursive approach could improve resource management agents’ ability to help communities protect the landscapes they call home.
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  • In Copyright
  • Cox, J. Robert
  • Open access

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