Vagaries of value at California State Parks: towards a geographical axiology

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This article explores the vagaries of locating value in California’s state park system in general and Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park in particular. The practice of listing and delisting for purposes of preservation relies on accepting the premise that some places are inherently superior and more worthy of public esteem than others, and that such distinctions are detectable, indeed, measurable in gradations. In this article, I aim to undermine our confidence in these kind of valuations and the designations they proliferate through scrutiny of two occasions where value is ranked geographically. I compare Frederick Law Olmsted Jr’s 1928 statewide survey of California that identified land for acquisition as parks, with a 2011 deficit-reduction measure earmarking 70 specific state parks for closure. These two lists demonstrate how value is immanent to social relations. The article contributes to examinations of value within Human Geography by developing a relational axiology that attends to the materials, forces and practices that hold together when value becomes subject to a project of fixing. I challenge the exclusively positive conception of value in on-going policy work and outline how valuation as a technology works to produce the public in whose name it is performed. What kinds of justifications emerge when fine-grained negotiations about revenue streams come up against long-held principals about the importance of nature and cultural history? Geographical value, in the same way as any other kind of value, is not found but is made by the very act of its enunciation. Accepting this requires us to think more carefully about how and why value’s identification leads invariably to its uneven distribution
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-319
Number of pages19
JournalCultural Geographies
Issue number2
Early online date19 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2016


  • California State Parks
  • geographical value
  • listing and delisting
  • Malakoff Diggins
  • preservation


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