Pastoralist Ethic and a "Spirit" of Traditionalism: US Cowboys' Livestock, Land, and Kin
Faubion, James D.
Doctor of Philosophy
What kind of ethical subjects are contemporary US cowboys, or any other keepers of livestock for that matter? Moreover, how are those ethics distinctly representative of the US or its western region and its residents’ sense of character? These questions are particularly relevant to herders enveloped in folk and nationalist mythology, of these the US cowboy is one of the most popular examples. After twenty years of combined experience in ranching, farming, and rodeo as well as more than twelve months of formal ethnographic fieldwork – I submit this report: If cowboys and other herders are any sort of ethical subject, it is as pastoralists – as husbanders to livestock, stewards of land, and the caretakers of kin; and if US cowboys are a particular kind of pastoralist (as ethical subjects), the specificities are established through the practice and rhetoric of regionally identifiable traditionalism. Simply put, if cowboys are virtuous people, it is through their care for animals, land, and family; and if US cowboys are special types of role models, it is because they possess certain characteristics and ambitions that fulfill regionalized cultural categories. This ethnography and the theorizations therein abide by James Faubion’s recent re-presentation of Michel Foucault’s system of ethical inquiry. In doing so, it reveals the complex subject position pastoralists often strive to fulfill. While designed to stand as a case study in an emerging anthropology of ethics, this dissertation does offer corrective insight into theories of pastoralism, traditionalism, and the American West.