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The Struggle for Water

Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest

Nearly fifty years ago, the Bureau of Reclamation proposed building a dam at the confluence of two rivers in Central Arizona. While the dam would bring valuable water to this arid plain, it would also destroy a wildlife habitat, flood archaeological sites, and force the Yavapai Indians off their ancestral home. The Struggle for Water is not only the fascinating story of this controversial and ultimately thwarted public works project but also a study of rationality as a cultural, organizational, and political construct.

In the 1970s, the three groups most intimately involved in the Orme Dam—younger Bureau of Reclamation employees committed to "rational choice" decision making, older Bureau engineers committed to the dam, and the Yavapai community—all found themselves and their values transformed by their struggles. Wendy Nelson Espeland lays bare the relations between interests and identities that emerged during the conflict, creating a contemporary tale of power and colonization, bureaucracies and democratic practice, that asks the crucial question of what it means to be "rational."

298 pages | 1 map, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 1998

Chicago Series in Law and Society

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Political Science: Public Policy

Sociology: General Sociology

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Contested Rationalities
2. Nature by Design: The Bureau of Reclamation’s Western Conquest
3. The Old Guard: Stand by Your Dam
4. The New Guard: Agents of Rationality, Arbiters of Democracy
5. Views from the Reservation: The Politics and Perspective of Yavapai People
6. Rationality, Form, and Power
Primary Documents and Printed Sources
Secondary Sources


National Academy of Public Administration: Louis Brownlow Book Award

ASA Culture Section: Mary Douglas Prize

Society for Social Studies of Science: Rachel Carson Prize

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