The University of Arizona

Arizona: The Political Ecology of a Desert State

Thomas E. Sheridan


In this paper, I argue that the emerging research strategy of political ecology needs to incorporate an active nature into its analysis of the commodification of natural resources and the politics of resource control. I make reference to earlier work among small rancher-farmers in Cucurpe, Sonora, where the nature of the crucial resources themselves--arable land, grazing land, and irrigation water--determined local agrarian politics as much or more as transnational market demand and Mexican federal agrarian policies. Then I examine water control in Arizona during the past century. I contend that one of the best ways to pursue political ecology is to focus upon the historical dialectic that determines how and why certain natural resources are converted into commodities at particular places and times and how commodity production transforms, and is transformed by, local ecosystems and local societies. Finally, I concur with anthropologist Thomas McGuire that this analysis must be resolutely empirical rather than based upon a priori models or assumptions.

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