Political Economy of Agriculture in the Yazoo Delta: How Federal Policies Shape Environmental Quality, Livelihood Possibilities and Social Justice

Moria T McDonald, Eric Sheppard

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis


This dissertation examines the environmental, social and economic consequences of federal flood control and agricultural policy in the Yazoo Delta, that portion of the Mississippi alluvial valley located in the state of Mississippi. It traces the history and development of the regional economy and explores its implications for economic and social justice and environmental restoration, using an approach that integrates political economy, natural resource analysis, and public policy. It contributes to several current geographic debates. First, this work brings renewed attention to the states role in regulating agricultural production by suggesting that federal policy and practices have played important roles in determining not only what crops are planted, which plots of land they are planted on and how they will be cultivated (industrialization), but also in selecting who would farm. Second, this work addresses recent scholarship on neoliberalism and the environment. In contrast to scholarship that highlights the transformative effect of neoliberalization, this research documents a more nuanced and unpredictable dynamic. On the one hand, this work suggests that programs designed to transform nature, like the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers, may be less affected by neoliberal practices than those designed to regulate nature. On the other hand, this dissertation examines how and under what circumstances environmentalists deploy neoliberal rhetoric to advance their goals of creating more Dpublic goods, like improved water quality and expanded wildlife habitat, whereas farmers use rhetoric associated with state-led regulation to argue that an entitlement approach will make them more globally competitive. Finally, this work contributes to the literature on thevenvironment and justice by examining the ramification of the political success of environmental justice movement. Specifically, this research details how advocates of flood control policies that would primarily benefit wealthy landowners have mobilized discourses of racial equality to suggest that federal funds should be used to support flood control rather than other measures that might more directly address racial and economic inequality.
Original languageEnglish (US)
  • Sheppard, Eric, Advisor, External person
Place of PublicationMinneapolis, MN
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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