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The Significance of ‘Place’ as Identity to Social Change in Appalachia
In Transforming Places: Lessons from Appalachia, Fisher and Smith’s perspective of the concept of ‘place’ is that which we call home, specifically, the mountain landscape of Appalachia is symbolic of this home. Appalachians have an emotional relationship attached to the memories of the mountains that evokes a sense of protection of the place. Appalachian’s ties to the mountains then becomes a place-based political mobilization in the form of social justice organization to defend the home. Because of the inequalities and historical exploitation faced by Appalachians, political mobilization is especially significant. This paper dives into the concept of ‘place’ and its usefulness to understanding how it helps to understand the political significance of place, ‘scaling up’, and looking towards the future of grassroots organizing in Appalachia to resist forms of oppression and domination, including the ‘hegemony of growth’ (Fisher & Smith, 2012.)
Moreover, understanding the “place” helps to understand its political significance and potential. As we say the personal is political, the same applies to the concept of place, where the place is personal, thus the place is political. The concept of place is internalized to be a source of identity (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) This means people are concerned about social issues that are personal to them in their ‘place’ (home.) The implications of ‘place’ and place-based organizations means that it is limited to that area, and aims to help those in that one region, which is at risk of being exclusionary to others (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) One region’s social issues may not be the same as other regions, then solutions should not be the same. Additionally, we need the historical context and narratives of place to understand the region, how the social issues developed over time, and the social issues can be linked to the historical exploitation of the land and people.
Much of the examples in Transforming Places see the political significance and potential of place-based organizations. In Appalachian Elegy, bell hooks says “the passion for freedom and the wildness I had experienced as a child with anarchy, with the belief in the power of the individual to be self-determining” (p. 67-68.) This is an example of how our interconnectedness with the wild of the Appalachian Mountains fuels our own political significance and potential. Again, she is quoted “Living my early childhood in the isolated hills of Kentucky, I made a place for myself in nature there— roaming the hills” (p. 110-111.) This exemplifies the narratives in Transforming Places: Lessons from Appalachia. For example, the RAIL Solution, made up people with a collective attachment to the shared place, worked to end the corporate giant that was the privatization of I-81. “The political potential of this fundamental tension between public claims to and private appropriations of place raises tough, unanswered questions for organized labor in the United States” (p. 276.) The potential and political significance of a place-based organization then turns oppression and domination into ‘political solidarity’ (Fisher & Smith, 2012, p. 281.)
The organizations discussed in Transforming Places, had common goals to preserve their home, identity, environment, and community from environmental degradation and resist the imperialist capitalist patriarchal system. Another example of political significance and potential was the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA.) The efforts of OREPA was to call attention to the Uranium Processing Facility at Y12 in Oak Ridge (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) OREPA took the position that nuclear weapons production is bad for the environment, and because bombs made in America are intended to kill countries of black and brown people, the root of the issue is imperialist white supremacy. This further initiated the Stop the Bombs campaign. Despite an unfinished goal of halting the production of nuclear weapons, OREPA has placed pressure on state and federal regulators to prevent environmental destruction, and the organization grew, encompassing diverse groups of people to address violence as a production—including many religious groups.
Additionally, the Listening Project exemplified the political significance and potential by including part of their history into storytelling. Similarly, the mention of self-awareness and embracing the Appalachian identity of the Women’s Wellness Group in Chapter four, was a way of addressing local issues that are central to understanding our specific history. This ties into the arts project mentioned in chapter six, because of the ways they are linking their stories to the Appalachian heritage, and connecting how the economic, political, and environmental climate of our region has shaped our values and addresses our specific needs. Likewise, chapter five addressed issues that are specific to the Appalachian region through media projects like AMI (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) The narratives of the people of the region help facilitate change and intervention, like a video made by the interns at AMI on domestic violence in the region, is still used for prevention efforts by regional health organizations. Appalachian Women’s Alliance allied more than two hundred women to facilitate change, where the Appalachian Women’s Caravan voiced their message about violence against women through the mountains in 1999 (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) These efforts made by diverse groups of unified women were to dismantle stereotypes and vocally call attention to a silent issue among all women. The political significance of this is that Appalachia has crisis centers, shelters, therapy centers, and other organizations to help others. When one person tells their story and when we begin to hear the narratives of others, the struggle bonds us to work to end the hate, discrimination, violence, and inequality. The stories we hear facilitate empathy, in turn the work of the women has fostered organizations in Appalachia to alleviate fear and suffering of abuse survivors.
‘Place’ matters in understanding the history of exploitation to suggest strategies and prospects to the specific social issues of that region. Although there are spatial and racial differences of specific places, globalization and neoliberalism generate similarities of many different regions (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) As mentioned, there should not be one solution across different regions for specific social issues but place-based strategies and solutions also address the issues and needed solutions across the globe. Place-based organizations reach outside the region—like Occupy Wall Street, Standing Up for Standing Rock, and Black Lives Matter (not mentioned in the book)—linking people nationally and globally due to the global access to the Internet. Subsequently, place-based strategies and prospects for the future should be shared globally. Organizations and grassroots movements may be place-based in the sense of addressing different struggles, but the goal of the global population should be similar.
For instance, the goal across the globe should be social and environmental justice. When there is an attachment to the place called home, it must be viewed in a way of preserving its integrity rather than deconstructing it for the sole purpose of job creation. For example, coal mining jobs are symbolic to Appalachians in their region; thus, it feels threatening when outsiders suggest creating green jobs to replace them (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) However, the goal of the transition work globally and at the local level should aim to create a working world that functions to preserve the environment and make a safe and healthy world for the life within the environment. There is a romanticism attached to the memories of the past (Fisher & Smith, 2012), but this is not an invitation to recreate the past in ways that continue to exploit land, oppress poor people and people of color. Instead we need to focus on the potential future of Appalachia as a place with a self-sustainable food system, locally-based economy, environmentally-conscious companies, and a place of social justice, liberation, revolution, and equity.
Some stories of additional organizations have been discussed from the book, but one single story featured in Transforming Places was meaningful to my own understanding and attachment to the ‘place.’ From my perspective, the organization that stood out the most was the Community Farm Alliance (CFA.) Chapter 14 discussed a Kentucky-based issue, where the CFA aimed to ease the transition farmers from tobacco growing towards a local food growing system and distribution in a low-income region among small-scale farmers (known as Locally Integrated Food Economy.) There was a coherent alternative proposed by the CFA when they opposed biotechnology spending and cuts towards tobacco farmers. This is unique to “Appalachianess” because tobacco was Kentucky’s ‘number one cash crop’ and Kentucky ‘had one of the highest numbers of family farms in the country in 1997’, and ‘a unique kind of agrarianism’ in Kentucky (p. 210). This is also a reflection on my family’s experience growing tobacco for many years. In the late ‘90s, it was clear that there was a shift in the consumerism market of tobacco, and it was also clear that small-scale farmers would likely quit growing altogether. When my family quit growing tobacco, they grew large scale gardens for the family instead. I admired that, and something in me is still attached to that relationship with the land they grew tobacco on, and I have a relationship with growing food because it feels ‘part of me.’
Furthermore, globalization and neoliberalism produce in specific regions eroding communities and local solidarity; thus, Appalachian citizens are reinventing themselves to resist the globalization and neoliberal tendencies. The example of the place-based organization of the CFA exemplified the ways in which Appalachian citizens are reinventing themselves and resisting the globalization and neoliberalism. For example, the tobacco farmers reinvented themselves as food producers. The farmers then advocated for a local food distribution system in urban markets and African American neighborhoods that suffered from grocery gaps (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) The CFA “organizers had spent fifteen years developing leadership skills and county-based chapters among its farmer-members across rural Kentucky” (p. 274.) Many groups experienced the same long-term efforts, such as OREPA which is still active today based on their website orepa.org. Long term organizations must scale up their members and outreach for their voices to be heard and to facilitate change. From here, ‘scaling up’ is discussed as an important political step for organizations.
Place-based organizations that focus on one issue makes it easier to focus on one solution; and from the examples in the book—it is hard for groups to focus on the many global problems and their solutions. At the same time, long term organizations are successful when they address other issues later (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) But, this is where scaling up is beneficial to expand on the local issues by recognizing wider social forces that effect people on a global scale. Scaling up can reach more people and influence greater change outside of the place-based organization. Scaling up was discussed throughout the book on how this often meant a need for more staff/membership, resources, and building more relationships and links with other coalitions, organizations, and community groups. Although scaling up in terms of outreach meant that reaching a larger audience will help build and bond a community. What was helpful about CFA is that the organization encouraged tobacco settlement funds to go towards these small-scale farmers that would be the most vulnerable (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) In this case, the idea of scaling up was to bridge the divide, have a dialogue between foodie groups, policy makers, businesses, and churches.
As mentioned, ‘scaling up’ is an important step in the process of economically diversifying and democratizing the region and communities (especially in coal-impacted communities.) Often there is an acknowledgement of capitalism, but little awareness of alternatives to the white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. From this acknowledgement, however, the first step is to begin resistance and facilitate change through the theoretical framework of an anti-racist, anti-capitalist feminism. Secondly, there is a need to bridge the divide and find common ground, solidarity, and empowerment in struggles, goals, and across love and acceptance. Third, there is a need to “take up space”—as some feminists refer to as organizing public space within face-to-face meetings to discuss regional issues and their solutions. Empathy is formed in conversations and narratives of others that have different struggles, and thus people outside of their social circle becomes moved to speak and act on behalf of the justice of others (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) Another step to democratize and diversify the region is by acknowledging the problem, and put a name to it (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) For instance, migrant workers in Cincinnati claimed their problem to be discrimination, which helped them facilitate the process of change (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) The next step is to create an alternative to the currently opposed system.
Similarly, the CFA created their own values-based alternative plan (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) Secondly, the CFA utilized diversity and democratized their group by incorporating the knowledge of citizens and farmer’s knowledge in their policy tools (like coal, timber, etc.) This insight evokes the same inclusiveness to all policy matters (not just farming.) And the CFA was inclusive for people of color, which is important because persons of color are often hurt the most by spending cuts. It is clear in all policies developed, we need the knowledgeable voices of people that is going to be affected by certain policies. As previously mentioned, this is a participatory democratic strategy.
Additionally, because there is a shift from growing tobacco considering the plethora of knowledge on smoking tobacco—this also gives us insight that we need to have alternatives to other shifting markets. But even when there is reason to shift the market, this shift does not hurt the CEO, managers, and shareholders as much as the workers that lose a whole paycheck with no alternative. For instance, coal is a declining industry—especially considering there are cheaper alternatives, but the environmental movements are calling for solar and wind as power/energy alternatives. This is where we could use the CFA’s model to shift the industry of coal mining jobs towards energy efficient/sustainable technology jobs (for the same people, families, and communities) and timber logging towards bamboo/hemp harvesting to replace wood products for those that relied on timber jobs.
Consequently, groups that want minimal government intervention and regulation, do not want individuals to have their own agency. These same groups give corporations agency to abuse their power to exploit the environment and people. So, the role of the government should be one that gives agency to the individual, while restricting and regulating corporations to prevent those environmental and social injustices. This is where grassroots groups play a role in addressing the injustices to demand certain needs by working with the government. One would think that government always has people’s interest in mind; but if everyone in government is part of the status quo (white wealthy men), then this group doesn’t understand groups outside of their selves. When everyone has a voice that is taken into consideration and valued equally, then that is an actual participatory democracy.
Grassroots movements—although small and led by marginalized people—create large conversations that shift the consciousness. It is important to have both government and grassroots solutions. Governments inadvertently rely on these movements to educate them—even when these advocates are not necessarily experts or professionals. Because advocates have little power comparatively, it takes large groups with access to a platform to have their voices and narratives heard. The government can be part and in par with citizen groups and grassroots movements. In fact, much legislation was influenced from these movements. In this world, government holds so much power, that it sometimes creates the struggle, oppression, and friction that it claims to reduce and prevent. We are a product of the government power and control, but we need both and one another despite that. To properly assess the government’s role, one must ask: Who is the government working for? Are they going to continue to uphold the status quo and perpetuate domination, or dismantle it? Fisher and Smith calls the global domination: The Empire, which distorts our knowledge of the world, people, science, and academia, while preventing us from discovering interconnectedness with others in addition to preventing us from uprising together. In other words, the Empire keeps us divided, separate and unequal.
Collectively, grassroots groups can unify in their struggle and strategies for a solution. Although much of this paper has somewhat romanticized place-based organizations, Fisher and Smith suggest that “people need principled reasons, more than place-based reasons, to form such alliances” (p. 56.) The authors also suggest facilitating change around values-based principles rather than focusing on the identity of the place. The white supremacist capitalist patriarchy forms a matrix of domination across race, class, and gender. Thus, spatial, racial, and relational differences may prompt place-based organizations to focus on their regions unique struggles, this is undercutting the larger system at play that affects every aspect of people’s lives. In other words, mass incarceration, unemployment, poverty, hunger, war, violence, drug addiction, environmental degradation all stem from this system of global domination. Once we put a name to the problems of domination at play, we can name the alternative solution to dismantle domination.
hooks, bell. Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place (Kentucky Voices) (Kindle Locations 67-68). The University Press of Kentucky. Kindle Edition.
Fisher, Stephen L. and Smith, Barbara Ellen. (2012). Transforming Places: Lessons from Appalachia. University of Illinois Press.
The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. (2016). orepa.org.
Appalachian Change & Resistance
In Uneven Ground, Ronald Eller analyzes the conflict between modernization of the Appalachian region and the challenge this made for the people. Additionally, Eller discusses the historical development of the governmental agency called the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), that aimed to coordinate resources to the Appalachian people (Eller, 2008.) The ARC likened that of the War on Poverty, initiated programs that perpetuated the political and economic inequalities by causing dependence on the system (Eller, 2008.) Rarely did the programs address the underlying problems Appalachians faced because investments went to cities, new roads, highways, schools, retail centers, and other public infrastructures (Eller, 2008.) In fact, fewest ARC dollars went to the counties with the worst economic conditions of the region (Eller, 2008.) Because the ARC had faith in consumerism and modernization, it sought to bring modern economic expansion to the mountains.
The ARC’s goals were to align the mountain people with resources and options in the context of a consumer-based, capitalist society. For example, 80% of total ARC appropriations were afforded to highway construction projects (Eller, 2008.) The process was an aim to get poor or unemployed people out of the rural confines of the hollows and commute to jobs in town or cities (Eller, 2008.) Consequently, the changing mountain landscape towards a consumer society, were done so because of the coal and timber industries (Eller, 2008.) The expansion of surface mining leveled thousands of acres of mountaintops because the coal industry benefited from mountaintop removal (Eller, 2008.) Few of the coal communities benefited from the infrastructure and industrial development efforts of the 1970s (Eller, 2008.) The limited number of service jobs and branch plants that came to nearby towns and villages, did not pay equal to that of a miner’s wage, and often did not provide health or retirement benefits (Eller, 2008.) As mentioned, the ARC was responsible for coordinating resources to fund highway and road projects. In one example, the ARC encouraged 14 government agencies to reroute the Chesapeake river through a massive cut in the mountainside to open land for urban redevelopment (Eller, 2008.)
Later, stores like Wal-Mart dotted the landscape during the Clinton era, which made it possible for indigent, exploited regional people to buy products that were made by foreign indigent, exploited people (Eller, 2008.) Wal-Mart and other outside industries were recruited for former mining sites to replace them (Eller, 2008.) The consequences of corporate chains are that small businesses could not compete with “low prices”, and so small businesses were on a decline (Eller, 2008.) Additionally, the corporate chain’s wealth did not trickle down to the region, and instead the profits went out of the region, which also led to the decline of small businesses (Eller, 2008.)
Furthermore, the prosperity from the tourism and travel industry did not trickle down to the public either (Maggard, 2007.) Kentucky’s tourism and travel industry are the third largest legal industry in the state and second largest employer (Whitaker, 2007) from hotels, food services, and retail stores (Maggard, 2007.) But, because these occupations were considered low-skilled work, they did not pay equally as other industries that were male-dominated occupations (Maggard, 2007.) Service jobs began to dominate the landscape away from coal mining (Maggard, 2007.) Moreover, these occupations were oriented towards women, in turn, women, especially women of color, were paid significantly less than men in all industries (Maggard, 2007.) In the modern age, service jobs dominate the labor force, thus there is a disproportionate population of women that are being used to run the global capitalist system while being exploited for cheap labor under the guise that women’s work is less hard compared to men’s labor.
The symbols of consumer society made by the assumptions and actions of the ARC’s developmental programs reflect the theoretical approaches described by Lohmann with bureaucratic realism and Billings’ and Walls’ regional development model. For example, the Regional development model influenced by central place theory is associated with the actions of the ARC because it attempted to modernize mountain people into business elites (Billings & Walls, 1977.) Also, the ARC worked under this regional development model because it “concerned itself with providing economic and social overhead capital, training people for skills for new industrial and service jobs, facilitating migration, and promoting the establishment or relocation of privately-owned industries through a growth center” (Billings & Walls, 1977, p. 133.) The ARC used the regional development model to justify directing funds to roads so people can get out of their hollows to work for the capitalist system. This option was considered to make Appalachians more independent, but the model worked counter to the culture. Thus, Lohmann suggests the ARC is “ultimately responsibl[e] for the problems of the region” (p. 218.)
Similarly, Bureaucratic realism as Lohmann suggests, was associated with the ARC. This is because the problems of the region were assumed to be poverty which means lack of money. Thus, the ARC initiated efforts to for economic expansion and development that created growth centers for job opportunities by introducing new roads and highways (Lohmann, 2007.) Lohmann, Billings and Walls, and Eller critiqued the ARC because the regional development model and bureaucratic realism model remains the preferred method of anti-poverty initiatives instead of new strategies. Doubts and criticisms loom over these anti-poverty strategies because the economic development means tax revenues going outside of the region to the corporations. The ARC evolved as a bureaucracy, competing with personalities and loyalties (Eller, 2008.)
Frustrated from the poor working conditions, lack of health services, low wages, and a bleak landscape of the mountains, activists formed a grassroots movement that the ARC funded, called the Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force (Eller, 2008.) Grassroots movements are nongovernmental groups that work towards overcoming stereotypes, exploitation, and oppression in a community. The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force made up of young activists and college students frustrated at the environmental conditions left by large corporations that mined the region for coal and other minerals, which shipped those resources out of the mountains untaxed while leaving its workers with black lung disease (Eller, 2008.) The group conducted a pioneering study, The Appalachian Land Ownership Survey initiated by the Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force, finding that these large corporations and land companies controlled up to 90 and 100% of the surface land and the mineral resources in 80 Appalachian counties (Eller, 2008.) The task force concluded that the wealthy landowners paid only a small fraction of the taxes; and absentee landowners limited and restricted job opportunities and alternatives to economic development (Eller, 2008.)
Consequently, the absentee ownership left the locals to provide for public services schools, roads, and other public facilities with their tax dollars which left the region starved for public support (Eller, 2008.) This was because absentee and corporate owners paid a disproportionately low amount of taxes. For example, in 14 West Virginia counties, 25 companies owned 44% of the surface land, yet only assessed for 20% of the area’s taxes (Eller, 2008.) Subsequently, the grassroots group prompted much of the pressure for legislators to implement a severance tax on coal and other minerals to redistribute the revenue (Eller, 2008.) Although this was a meager victory, the reaction created more dialogue, and influenced the Kentucky Fair Tax Coalition (Eller, 2008.) The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force’s accomplished its goal in examining land ownership patterns and address the inequality of taxation for the corporations and public.
With that said, the ARC failed to utilize any of the recommendations made in the study, nor did it act on any results from that were gathered in the study of land ownership trends (Eller, 2008.) So, the Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force did not achieve its goal in the sense that government did not create a fair tax structure. The study found that 8 million acres—more than 40% of land surveyed—was owned and operated only by 50 private owners and the federal government (Eller, 2008.) But the ARC did not restrict corporations and industries from overtaking land and creating a balance and equal share of land to all people. The extent to which The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force grassroots group was meager in creating social change, and may not be more effective than government programs because it is not a public service-oriented initiative.
However, it is worth noting that research provided by The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force is often utilized in government to facilitate reform, regulation, and justice. In fact, utilizing the research propagated by the task force can aid in government programs to make them more effective and successful. The research provided was tangible, exploratory, and non-biased to the public. It is essential that government programs utilize research that aims to fix problems at the root source. Research studies are part of institutionalized learning that add to future research and further leads to empathy through advocacy. Research studies provide a historical context of a social problem to address problems at the root causes (variables and factors.) Because research presents factors and variables associated with a social issue, we can prevent, reduce, or improve on social forces involved. Research provides the public with new information, thus implications for the findings involve solving social issues and naturally a revolution.
Again, the task force as well as many grassroots organizations are individual, small solutions to a larger societal issue. The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force may not be as effective as government in facilitating positive change in the region, but the government programs put forth still do little to change the root cause of the issues of the region (Eller, 2008.) Therefore, it is important to have both government and grassroots solutions. Governments inadvertently rely on these movements to educate them—even when advocates are not necessarily experts. Because advocates have little power comparatively, it takes large groups with access to a platform to have their voices and narratives heard. Grassroots movements—although small and led by marginalized people—create large conversations that shift the consciousness. The government can be part and in par with citizen groups and grassroots movements. In fact, much legislation is influenced from these movements. In this world, corporations hold power over government while it holds power constrains people that perpetuates the struggle, oppression, and friction that it claims to reduce and prevent. We are a product of the government power and control, but we need both and one another despite that.
Considering the initiatives made by the government were thought to alleviate poverty, it was done in such a way that mainstreamed poverty such as FDR’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, as well as the ARC, which mixed popular ideas and the self-interest of national politics (Eller, 2008.) Additionally, Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Appalachian Regional Development Act (ARDA.) Under the Act included that: when public investments were invested into the region, the areas where there is significant potential for future growth are those to be targeted first (Eller, 2008.) This was because it was expected that these areas would reap the greatest returns where public dollars were invested (Eller, 2008.) In other words, investments went to cities and highway systems to get to those cities which was coordinated by the ARC (Eller, 2008.) This includes the Kentucky Tourism Development Act that encouraged outside control of property and economic resources through tax break incentives and bureaucratic organization that recreated the pattern within the region (Whitaker, 2007.) This feature of our region was from coal mining and timber corporations exploiting the land which transformed into office or fast food work (Maggard, 2007.) Other initiatives made by the government included service-oriented community action agencies (CCAs.) CCAs which were supposed to improve education and job skills, instead focused federal resources towards low-skill training opportunities such as clearing roadside brush and painting public buildings (Eller, 2008.) Presumably, the efforts made by the government programs are insulting to the people because they assume the Appalachian people want to participate in a capitalist system.
Although, Appalachians have historically resisted the ways capitalism has intruded in our way of life. For example, there are Kentuckians that have individual strategies for maintaining their identity and autonomy through diverse and seasonal work (Halperin, 2007.) This will be further discussed below in the ways women and men resisted and accepted capitalism in the region. As mentioned, The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force synchronized mountain activists for region-wide direct action against the unfair tax structure, elite capitalists, and impractical government programs (Eller, 2008.) The mountain activists were a counterculture movement that witnessed the patterns of corruption in Appalachia as well as Vietnam (Eller, 2008.) Mountain activists were against the Vietnam war because the same values and national priorities which allow this country to inflict massive destruction upon the Vietnamese (Eller, 2008.) The mountain activists and reformers, were counter to the stereotypes associated with Appalachians (Eller, 2008.)
As the nation adapted the regional development and bureaucratic realism models, Kentuckians and Appalachians, still commonly lived an agrarian life for families to subsist. Because of this, they were perceived as ‘behind the times’ when local color writers and the media forged a controlling image of Appalachians as poor (Whitaker, 2007.) This sparked a missionary movement as described by Whitaker in New Wave of Colonization: The Economics of Tourism. Over time, outside companies and corporations used this as an opportunity for profit under the ideal that it was to help create jobs for the poor Appalachians (Whitaker, 2007.) And the government generally agreed that job opportunities was the preferred anti-poverty strategy (Lohmann, 2007.) This phenomenon only made it harder for Appalachians to compete with big business. It became a matter of accepting the outside corporations to make money. What happened was a resistance of the Appalachian people (Whitaker, 2007.)
Often, Kentuckians resist dependency on capitalism because the goal is to make ends meet, without overconsumption and having too of something (i.e. power and “stuff”.) Halperin says the Kentucky way is a cultural idiom that describes the ways Kentuckians maintain their identity and autonomy in their work in a time where there is constant change in the industrial landscape. Some Kentuckians may have adapted to the changing industrial landscape, for working in factory-based wage labor, but this is negotiated because identity in their work is important to balance with kinship and working at home. Therefore, Kentuckians and many Appalachians are stereotyped to be peasant-like, because work is seen as second priority after family. Working at home maintains the rural cultural identity while balancing the kinship relationship. Although work may be unstable or informal for those who resist capitalist dependency, there is always seasonal work, rotating the periodic marketplace system such as welding, arts and crafts, construction and repair, farming and gardening.
Kentuckians and Appalachians recognize that in a capitalist-industrial system, you must have specialized skills obtained through training and education. The specialization of skills is not as varied as those Appalachians who resist capitalist dependency. For example, Halperin mentions that for Kentuckians, their work is varied, numerous, and constant tasks that change weekly, seasonally, and generationally. As mentioned, their work is central to the home, which puts an emphasis on strategies to tie work with kin and the home, mobilize family and others in the region with diverse skills to sustain the family network (Halperin, 2007.) This chain of relationships work like the capitalist system where college-educated, affluent, white males are in power and reproduce power in their own image. Instead, Kentuckians and Appalachians with informal work, network with kin, neighbors, and friends in the community who have similar skill sets or diverse skill sets and resources to help them mobilize and work on different projects, such as building a house, logging an area, or hauling materials (Halperin, 2007.)
Clearly, government programs were benefiting off corporations, and still the profits were not trickling back into the public (Eller, 2008; Maggard, 2007.) Once again, this was because taxes and land were not equally appropriated. Government programs made efforts to improve the region, but it was funded by the same people that needed the assistance. And although the government made efforts, it was at the expense of exploiting resources and cheap labor. Appalachians resisted the ways capitalism intruded their way of life (Eller, 2008.) Those who continue to resist the changes are the Kentuckians that have individual strategies for maintaining identity and autonomy through diverse and seasonal labor (Halperin, 2007.) Certainly, women were represented in the labor force, particularly working poor women, but unknowingly this meant there would be sex-segregated labor where women were part of service-oriented occupations that made disproportionately and insultingly low wages compared to men (Maggard, 2007.)
Because Appalachians have historically been exploited for the rich land of resources by outsiders, Kentuckians and others are suspicious of industry. It is not surprising that the resistance of capitalism lies in the disdain for industry, which is also a disdain for power and control of the region; and rightfully so considering Appalachians became dependent on modernization after a history of resistance (Halperin, 2007.) Through the resistance of capitalist dependency, Kentuckians maintain their livelihood, freedom, and generosity (Halperin, 2007.) Kentuckians do not want their only labor options to be strenuous, dangerous, unhealthy and toxic work like that of factory-based labor (Halperin, 2007.) It is not simply Appalachian culture that has perpetuated poverty—the root cause is the process of ‘private industrial development’ that was changing the overall American landscape (Eller, 2008.)
Billings, D. B., & Walls, D. S. (1977). The Sociology of Southern Appalachia. In Appalachian Journal, 5(1), 131-144.
Eller, Ronald. D. (2008). Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press.
Halperin, Rhoda. H. The Kentucky Way: Resistance to Dependency Upon Capitalism in an Appalachian Region in Appalachia: Social Context Past and Present by Obermiller, P. J. & Maloney, M. E. (2007.) Chapter 34, 309-317.
Lohmann, Roger A. Four Perspectives on Appalachian Culture and Poverty in an Appalachian Region in Appalachia: Social Context Past and Present by Obermiller, P. J. & Maloney, M. E. (2007.) Chapter 24, 217-224.
Maggard’s “From Farm to Coal Camp to Back Office and MacDonald’s: Living in the Midst of Appalachia’s Latest Transformation” in an Appalachian Region in Appalachia: Social Context Past and Present by Obermiller, P. J. & Maloney, M. E. (2007.) Chapter 25, 225-235.
Whitaker’s “A New Wave of Colonization: The Economics of the Tourism and Travel Industry in Appalachian Kentucky” an Appalachian Region in Appalachia: Social Context Past -and Present by Obermiller, P. J. & Maloney, M. E. (2007.) Chapter 28, 245-252.