Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Ann E. Kingsolver


This dissertation, based on anthropological research between 2015 and 2020, focuses on young people in different yet interconnected social contexts in Central Appalachia and how they envision, construct, and act upon possibilities for themselves and the region through multimodal cultural production processes like visual art, performance, and multisensory media. The research question focusing this project was: How do the social contexts of young Appalachians’ engagement in media consumption and production practices shape the possibilities they envision for themselves, others, and their region? I found that the specific contexts were less important than the interconnected mentoring conversations across sites and generations (which can be measured in decades or a few years). Grounded in feminist activist ethnography and participatory praxis, method/ologies intentionally include research collaborators as knowledge producers, co-theorists, and scholar-activist-practitioners. My mixed-method approach included “observant participation” with young people and their “formerly young” mentors in key educational media programs and communities; semi-structured interviews; and selective digital ethnography and public multimodal youth cultural productions by research collaborators. This dissertation problematizes the category of “young Appalachians,” often invoked in regional development conversations, pointing out how young people are differently situated in terms of identity and access, and including voices in the region that have been silenced in many contexts.

This multi-sited ethnography pays attention to gendered, generational, and racialized dynamics in different spaces for youth identity construction and cultural production in what began as three varied educational sites in West Virginia and East(ern) Kentucky. I developed the notion of “Meta’lachia” as the scope of “field sites” broadened beyond discreet locations and shifted to a more complex and often interconnected range of, and flows between, multi-layered social contexts and political ecological systems, processes, and pathways. Similarly, my “genderational” perspective emerged to reflect intersections in media education and activism and the gendered expressions that occur in different spaces through intergenerational examples and support. My conceptual framework also draws on Affrilachian, Appalachian futuring, and LGBTQ* theorizing by young Appalachians and contributes the notions of “trans-ing Appalachia” and “intersectional sustainability” to discuss efforts for building and modeling solidarity across “Meta’lachian” meshworks.

Research collaborators show how youth is a flexible identity and space for intergenerational mentorship and activism and how “young people” are connected across space and time through shared histories (often the ones not told in dominant narratives), relationships, networks, built social environments, and knowledge production/sharing. They foster and support these meshworks, even with minimal resources, through agentive “make-do media” practices, the “doing of making,” and producing their own counterstorytelling about themselves and “Meta’lachia.” This dissertation contributes to anthropological and Appalachian Studies scholarship that uses ethnographic and mixed methodologies, including oral histories and visual storytelling, to bring gendered and minoritized voices to the fore and listen for more complex understandings and representations of the region.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)