Watershed: Conserving a Common-Place
2012-04-18T00:00:00Z (GMT) by
Relying on three years of ethnographic fieldwork, this dissertation argues that the watershed-based conservation effort in the Clear Creek watershed in eastern Iowa helps watershed farmers negotiate competing logics of hyper-stewardship and grounded stewardship by transforming the watershed from scientific into rhetorical language, prompting a measure of identification with the symbolic and material watershed that serves as an inducement to make changes to the landscape for the sake of soil and water conservation. Emerging from this main argument are the related arguments that rhetorical change and landscape change are deeply intertwined, that an emplaced study of conservation rhetoric can inform the growing study of rhetoric-in-action, and that a rhetorical perspective can and should play a significant role in future conservation research and practice. In these pages, I describe the shifting ideology of stewardship that permeates American agriculture and chronicle efforts on the part of conservation agencies to invent and promote the watershed as a topos, or commonplace, to appeal to and yet transform that ideology. Adopting Kenneth Burke’s framing of rhetoric as identification, I describe the invention of the topos watershed and suggest that this topos, in its transformation from scientific to rhetorical language, serves as a particularly potent material and symbolic site for identification. Offering qualitative data collected from landowners and operators in the Clear Creek watershed, I map the rhetorical landscape of agricultural stewardship, paying close attention to what happens when universal rhetorics of stewardship enter the fray at the vernacular level. I then consider whether the topos watershed, as it is mobilized by conservation agency staff, succeeds in its rhetorical work to become not only a site of identification but what Burke calls “an inducement to action” (A Rhetoric of Motives 42), prompting landowners and operators to embrace conservation efforts in the watershed.