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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Communication

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

May

First Advisor

Donal Carbaugh

Second Advisor

Benjamin Bailey

Third Advisor

Jan E. Dizard

Subject Categories

American Studies | Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Communication | Environmental Studies | Folklore | Indigenous Studies | International and Intercultural Communication | Nature and Society Relations | Place and Environment

Abstract

This study is a description, interpretation, and comparison of talk about wolves. The study is based on diverse data—including in-depth interviews, instances of public talk, government documents, and letters to the editor—gathered over three years. An overarching research question guides the study: How do hunting communities create and use discourses concerning wolves? The study is situated within the ethnography of communication and, more specifically, the framework of cultural discourse analysis. The study employs cultural discourse analysis methods and concepts to describe and develop interpretations of how participants render wolves symbolically meaningful, and of beliefs and values underpinning such meanings.

One finding of the study is discovery of five distinct discourses: a discourse of conservation and management, two discourses of predator control, an Ojibwe discourse of kinship and shared fates, and a discourse of coinhabitation. Major descriptive and interpretive findings within each, respectively, include central imperatives to (1) recover and maintain viable wolf populations while addressing wolf-human conflict, (2) reduce an overabundant wolf population unjustly forced upon local people by outsiders, (3) manage the wolf population for the benefit of the people, especially deer hunters, (4) ensure the future of brother Ma’iingan whose fate parallels ours, and (5) appreciate wolves as members of intact, wild, natural places and communities.

Major comparative findings include contrasting conceptualizations of the following: human-wolf relations, interactions, and boundaries; wolves’ effects on deer; wolf “management”; (in)appropriate reasons for hunting or trapping wolves; the (ir)relevance of an ethic of utilization in hunting or trapping predators; wolves’ larger symbolic meanings. A broader comparative finding is resonance between two groups of discourses (2-3 and 4-5), revolving around contrasting hubs.

This research demonstrates that hunters, hunting communities, and related institutions speak about wolves in distinctly patterned ways that (A) differ from one another, (B) are deeply rooted in historically transmitted expressive systems and in historical relationships among groups of people, and (C) evolve over time. This research suggests that intergroup conflicts regarding wolves and other predators (e.g., coyotes) are deeply cultural and—more broadly—that wildlife conservation is deeply cultural: informed by science, but rooted in values and meaning.