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The Gender of Water and the Pleasure of Alienation: A Critical Analysis of Visiting Hoover Dam

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Hoover Dam, located on the Arizona-Nevada border and damming the Colorado River, is a well-known and often-visited place. The meanings people assign to such a structure articulate key environmental, economic and technological ideologies. An exploration of those meanings is important for understanding the forces that shape public perception and environmental policy. Specifically, this essay examines the official rhetoric of Hoover Dam from an ecofeminist perspective. Through a critical reading of the educational displays, films, plaques and other texts as well as the physical structure of the dam itself, three rhetorical strategies used in the dam's official presentation are identified. First, the Bureau of Reclamation presents the Colorado River as a chaotic, feminine entity in need of masculine control. Second, the river's rhetorical status as an Other encourages audiences to identify with the subject position of nature's master and thereby participate in the pleasures such an identity offers. Third, the Bureau uses the prevalent “common sense” of Native Americans as environmentally sensitive in combination with an “historical” Native American voice to establish the dam as both environmentally sound and a logical step in humanity's progress toward economic development and dominion over nature.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Communication, Northern Arizona University 2: Department of Communication, University of Utah

Publication date: 2004-07-01

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