Class: An Essential Aspect of Watershed Planning

Jane Adams, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (2005) 18: 533–556


A study of a watershed planning process in the Cache River Watershed in southern Illinois revealed that class divisions, based on property ownership, underlay key conflicts over land use and decision-making relevant to resource use. A class analysis of the region indicates that the planning process served to endorse and solidify the locally-dominant theory that landownership confers the right to govern. This obscured the class differences between large full-time farmers and small-holders whose livelihood depends on non-farm labor. These two groups generally opposed one another regarding wetland drainage. Their common identity as ‘‘property owner’’ consolidated the power wielded locally by large farmers. It also provided an instrument – the planning document – for state and federal government agencies to enhance their power and to bring resources to the region. The planning process simultaneously ameliorated conflicts between government agencies and the large farmers, while enhancing the agencies’ capacity to reclaim wetlands. In this contradictory manner, the plan promoted the environmental aims of many smallholders, and simultaneously disempowered them as actors in the region’s political economy.