Doctoral Dissertation Research: Shepherd: Community Responses to Local Resource Extraction

  • Anglin, Mary (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Problem Statement: The proposed ethnographic project examines the experiences of a community located in the coalfields of southwest Virginia and the ways in which residents respond to environmental pollution related to coal extraction, specifically mountaintop removal coal mining and coal burning power plants. Coal is not a black and white issue for residents, as many community members support the mining jobs it creates, but do not like the environmental pollution caused by its extraction. This project will examine this middle ground through the different ways that people in a community respond to the environmental campaigns of the local environmental organization aimed at limiting or abolishing pollution related to coal extraction. Drawing upon anthropological literature on environmental justice and mining/resource extraction, this project will illuminate the ambivalent spaces where residents in the community of Appalachia, Virginia position themselves in relation to mountaintop removal and other coal related processes. Methods and Analysis: The proposed project incorporates multiple methodologies, including participant observation, in-depth interviews, and archival research at state environmental and mining regulatory agencies in order to understand how community members articulate environmental concerns related to coal extraction. Interviews with members of the local grassroots organization (30) and residents of the community of Appalachia (60) will examine the reasons that people cite for supporting, opposing, or remaining ambiguous to mountaintop removal mining (including environmental, economic, and cultural concerns), as well as the ways in which residents view other aspects of the coal extraction process (such as underground mining and the use of coal in power plants). Comprehensive participant observation at public permit hearings and community events will permit a broader analysis of the discourse and activities of residents living in close proximity to environmental pollution. Intellectual Merit: Research on pollution in the United States has focused on communities located in close proximity to industrial sites such as power plants, toxic waste dumps, and other waste disposal sites. However, areas in North America that are rich in natural resources, such as those with coal deposits, often face serious environmental and economic problems and have been understudied compared to similar sites in the global South (Walker 2003). Anthropologists have called for increased scholarship that focuses on the connection between socioeconomic inequalities and environmental problems (Checker 2007, Forsyth 2008, Moberg 2002, Paulson, et. al. 2003). This research has the potential to contribute to scholarship within political ecology that examines power and corruption in natural resource management, challenging that notion that corruption only happens in the global South and does not happen in the “developed” global North (Robbins 2000). Furthermore, this research complicates and contradicts the “jobs versus environment” dichotomy used by industries, communities, and academics by focusing on citizen narratives that reveal the space between straight opposition or support of environmentally questionable industrial practices. Social scientists have argued that the use of citizen narratives in combination with scientific knowledge can lead to more inclusive decision-making processes and create positive environmental change (Allen 2003, Little 1999). These citizen narratives are not told by media, industry, or environmental groups and create the “human” aspect of environmental numbers and statistics, providing new insights for grassroots environmental movements (Brodkin 2009). Broader Impacts: Adding to the biological and medical sciences which have documented the negative environmental, health, and safety risks of mountaintop removal mining with quantitative data (Palmer et al. 2010), this research will add a deeper component, with qualitative research that illuminates the narratives of people’s everyday experiences living in environmentally polluted areas. This research has the potential to provide data that would be useful for understanding complex environmental issues, highlighting the various economic, social, and cultural contexts that make environmental problems hard to tackle. This research will further debunk widespread stereotypes about the region, countering the idea that Appalachian residents are fatalistic about environmental problems or gullible to what the coal industry tells them.
Effective start/end date3/1/128/31/13


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