Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Neva Hassanein

Commitee Members

Laurie Yung, Bruce Maxwell


Social-ecological systems, resilience, industrial agriculture, central Montana, irrigation, rural communities


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies


Agricultural systems can be understood as social-ecological systems, in which humans and the natural world interact with and influence each other. The concept of resilience within social-ecological systems has gained considerable attention in recent years. Resilience is generally defined as the system’s ability to absorb and adapt to stressors while still maintaining a similar functioning state. With the major challenges created by the overarching system of industrial agriculture, such as weed resistance to herbicides, water pollution, market consolidation, and declining numbers of farmers, resilience in agricultural systems is a critical concept to explore and understand. However, despite the popularity of social-ecological resilience research, there are major criticisms of resilience theory, including its limited study of the role of agency and power in social systems. Additionally, there are relatively few studies that attempt to understand resilience within a particular context. This project fills this gap by providing a descriptive case study of social-ecological resilience in a rural agricultural community in Montana. Data was collected through document review and in-depth interviews with 12 malt barley farmers. The analysis reveals multiple challenges facing the community, including weed pressures, frustrations with major brewing companies, and a changing community structure. Farmers also identified capacities for resilience, including knowledge and learning, access to water, and place attachment and identity. These challenges and capacities, however, have been influenced by the larger industrial agriculture system, which has limited the farmers’ individual decision-making power. Social-ecological resilience theories largely fail to account for the relationship and tension between individual agency and structural constraints. Future research in which the social dimensions of agency, choice, and power are included within resilience frameworks is needed.



© Copyright 2019 Anne Preston Harney