Alexandria Digital Research Library

Drying oasis : drought and cultural ideas of nature in Santa Barbara, California

McCumber, Andrew Hammond
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Sociology
Degree Supervisor:
John Foran
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Environmental studies, Sociology, and Environmental justice
Environmental Justice
Cultural Sociology
Environmental Sociology
Sense of Place
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
M.A.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2016

This thesis looks at the relationship between residents of Santa Barbara, California's cultural ideas of nature, their sense of their city as a place, and their experience of California's recent multi-year drought. Santa Barbara is lauded for its "natural" beauty, though many aspects of the aesthetic associated with "nature" there are the product of cultural preferences and social structure. Multiple years of drought have revealed the ecological contradictions in many Santa Barbarans' definitions of nature, and exacerbated the structural, racialized inequalities on which these depend. I conducted key informant interviews with Santa Barbara's water conservation coordinator, the city arborist, and an environmental activist working to ban fracking, respectively, each of which illuminated different aspects of Santa Barbara's current cultural-environmental moment.

I also interviewed patrons of two parks in Santa Barbara (Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden and Oak Park) about their personal experiences of the drought. I conducted a comparative analysis of the data from the respective parks, which represent contrasting imaginations of nature and attract different demographic populations. One park offers a commodified nature that is produced, distributed, and consumed in the form of an aesthetic, the other offers a comparatively minimalist venue for outdoor recreation. I found that Santa Barbara's dominant nature aesthetic is, in effect, a taste associated with a set of privileged class positions. Furthermore, the production of this commodified nature, which often poorly reflects Santa Barbara's semi-arid climate, depends on a mostly Latino population of laborers.

The drought has therefore disproportionately affected Santa Barbara's Latino community, as landscaping work has become increasingly scarce with the declining ecological viability of the aesthetic preferences of the wealthy. The plight of the former constitutes a case of environmental injustice, but one that is specifically tied to Santa Barbara's cultural ideas of nature and environmental sensibilities, rather than being a direct result of the drought in any simple sense. Those same cultural ideas of nature, particularly the nature/society divide that influences them, do not promote a conscious consideration of the human labor behind much of what qualifies as nature, and thus Santa Barbara residents who are not severely affected by the drought remain largely unaware of how many members of the Latino population are.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (101 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Andrew McCumber
File Description
Access: Public access
McCumber_ucsb_0035N_12996.pdf pdf (Portable Document Format)