REMAKING THE RURAL: NATIONAL LAND FOR PEOPLE, RECLAMATION LAW, AND AGRICULTURAL REFORM IN CALIFORNIA, 1975–1982
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Agriculture, California, Irrigation, National Land for People, Reclamation, Westlands Water District
Social and Behavioral Sciences
This thesis examines the rise of modern conservatism in California agriculture in the late 1970s and early 1980s and explores the nature-society relationships between irrigation and agriculture that varying interest groups invoked in their fight for control over California’s irrigated agricultural landscape. To date, critical geographers have approached the landscape formation of California agriculture by examining the relations of capital that order the capitalist economy—foremost, relations between workers, capitalists, and the marketplace. Separately, environmental historians have centered their analyses on understanding the social and environmental consequences of human efforts to remold the water landscape. Consigned to separate realms, neither has sufficiently reconciled these divergent understandings of landscape formation to examine how irrigation infrastructure itself functions as a site of material and ideological conflict in the process of landscape formation.
Using a case study of National Land for People and their failed campaign to homestead farmworkers in Westlands Water District in the late 1970s, this thesis provides a framework for beginning to bridge the divide between critical geography and environmental history. National Land for People’s vision for reform, which used litigation to enforce of the Reclamation Act of 1902, sought to establish an alternative agricultural economy centered on Jeffersonianism, New Left structuralism, environmentalism, and small-scale capitalism. Though they enjoyed initial success, ultimately their victories proved temporary, as a coalition of growers mobilized to deregulate the law using legislative amendment. Defeated, National Land for People moved to the Sierra Nevada and founded Sun Mountain Education Center, a New Age retreat dedicated to spiritual and environmental holism.
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Erickson, Jon, "REMAKING THE RURAL: NATIONAL LAND FOR PEOPLE, RECLAMATION LAW, AND AGRICULTURAL REFORM IN CALIFORNIA, 1975–1982" (2018). Theses - ALL. 240.