Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Edward W. Morris


At a school board meeting in micropolitan Athens County, parents of children attending the district’s smallest elementary school, Chauncey Elementary, packed in to defend the school against consolidation. They made calls for a levy to cover the impending budget shortfall and offered to reduce their classrooms by half if other schools would also bear some of the costs. They spent their holiday season defending their school, a source of vibrancy in the small town, from being closed. In the meeting, someone advocating for alternatives to closure suggested cutting administrator positions. The board response, according to one parent-leader? “Let’s not do anything drastic!”.

As the U.S. urbanizes, rural autonomy over local institutions has dwindled and rural residents are marginalized by policies which govern those institutions. Recent work, some with a large public reach, has described contemporary rural politics as driven by resentment (Cramer 2016), rage (Wuthnow 2019), or something otherwise “the matter” with rural people (Frank 2005). Urbanormativity theory, with its focus on the cyclical relationship between representations of rurality and structural forces of urbanization, has the potential to shed light on how such ideologies develop and are reinforced through processes of marginalization from political and community life in rural places (Fulkerson and Thomas 2019).

In this project, I use a mixed-methods retrospective case study of school consolidation in Appalachia as a way to understand the process by which local politics come to marginalize people and places along lines of rurality and social class. I also examine how this marginalization and loss of autonomy contribute to the development of rural politics and identity. Drawing from multiple methods, I examine the structural and social processes by which school consolidation was achieved, with alternatives to closure labeled as “drastic measures”. I pay particular attention to the shifting role of the state in curtailing decisions about rural schools and the ways neoliberal ideology lent itself to justifying rural marginalization. Further, I examine the impacts of these school consolidations on the rural community and its local politics. The concentration of negative outcomes in Chauncey constructed the community as a political “sacrifice zone” (Scott 2010). The processes and outcomes of this consolidation, I argue, serves as a useful case study to better understand political divisions along rural-urban lines.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by the Rural Sociological Society's Dissertation Award; the James S. Brown Research Award and the Eller and Billings Student Research Award from the University of Kentucky's Appalachian Center; and the University of Kentucky Sociology Summer Dissertation Fellowship.