Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Dr. Mary Anglin

Abstract

During the last several years far southwest Virginia, like elsewhere in the central Appalachian region, has faced a decline in all coal mining activity and a subsequent loss of coal mining jobs, meaning that local economies are suffering and the unemployment line is long. In addition, this area continues to face environmental pollution from surface coal mines that are still in operation or have not been reclaimed. Drawing upon anthropological literature on natural resource extraction and economic and environmental inequality, this dissertation highlights the lives of members of a local grassroots environmental organization, as well as other local residents, in a small coal mining community in Appalachia.

Complicating and contradicting the “jobs versus environment” dichotomy used by industries, politicians, and academics to position people in “black and white” categories, this dissertation demonstrates that people living within an area where a controversial resource extraction method was used did not take a “hard line” stance on coal mining, but rather took into account the economic, environmental, and cultural risks and benefits associated with the industry’s practices. This dissertation offers a textured account of how local and regional politicians and coal industry executives use their authority--or abuse their power--to garner support for controversial resource extraction practices.

Furthermore, this dissertation also demonstrates that support for, or opposition to, surface mining practices (such as mountaintop removal) was also influenced by the different perceptions of the environment held by participants. All respondents expressed a love of the mountains; however their perceptions of pollution and proper use of the land varied greatly. Despite disagreements over coal, all residents expressed a concern over the economy and articulated the need for new economic opportunities beyond coal in order for the region to remain a viable place to live and work.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.015

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