Writing the New West: A Critical Review*


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    This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #0624141. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We thank David Bennett, David McGinnis, and Sheila McGinnis.


Abstract  A vast and growing interdisciplinary research effort has focused on the rise of the so-called New West, purportedly the product of regional socioeconomic, political, and ecological upheavals in states like Montana and Colorado. Reviewing the growing research on this problem in sociology, economics, geography, and conservation science, this article identifies four central questions at the core of this diverse scholarship. Our review demonstrates that none of these central questions has generated consensus conclusions and that there is untapped potential for more structurally robust analyses of the drivers and outcomes of rapid change in the region. Indeed, supporting other analyses that have called the consistency of the region into question, our survey suggests the ways in which this region is not unique, but largely reflective of larger scale socioecological forces playing out in similar ways around the postindustrial world. We conclude, therefore, with a series of crucial questions, which may be unanswerable by assuming the “New West” as a coherent geography.