Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Richard H. Schein


Traditional, participatory music is a powerful medium through which people express and shape their ideas about identity, mobility, social relations, and belonging, and through which people are in turn shaped. The everyday cultural practices of playing, sharing, and dancing to traditional music, as well as discussions about the nature of traditional music and production of events involving traditional music, all work to construct the region called Appalachia.

Through this dissertation, I seek to answer some simple questions that have complicated answers involving place, identity, power, and social relations, with economic, social, and emotional ramifications: Who gets to be an Appalachian musician? How is this accomplished? Who gets to decide? Using a social constructionist theoretical base and drawing on such literatures as cultural geography, music geography, musicology and ethnomusicology, Appalachian studies, and critical regionalism, I employ ethnographic techniques, including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and discourse analysis to understand the workings of old time music and the self-understanding of musicians that play and sing traditional music in eastern Kentucky, a core area of Appalachia.

This dissertation shows that vernacular roots music in eastern Kentucky is both an inclusive and a contested phenomenon. In describing and analyzing the spaces for music in Appalachia, the old-time community in eastern Kentucky, the dynamics of festival hiring negotiations, and interviews with white and African American musicians, both male and female, I show how Appalachian space is produced simultaneously on many different scales. This construction is a dialectical process, articulating between the power expressed on a micro scale between individuals and the power used by individuals and institutions to define the region through representation. This dissertation demonstrates two main processes: how Appalachian space is negotiated and produced through interactions at jam sessions and other events, and how the musicians perform community in these interstitial moments.

Contributions of this dissertation include attention to micro scale interactions and embodiment as a key component of spatial production, participant observation as a research method in music geography, and increased understanding of the performance of race and gender in cultural and spatial production.