Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Placing Social Capital: Place Identity and Economic Conditions in Appalachia

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Placing Social Capital: Place Identity and Economic Conditions in Appalachia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The past several decades have seen increased application of more participatory planning and development practices, wherein citizen-driven change processes, grounded in local knowledge and shared identity, are replacing conventional top-down, externally driven methods, (e.g., Mohan 2007; Keefe 2009; Hollander and Nemeth 2011; Sager 2011). Alongside these tendencies toward more participatory/collaborative forms of planning and development has been a burgeoning interest among planning practitioners and scholars in the concept of social capital (e.g., Putnam 2004; Easterling 2008; Lovell 2009)--perhaps because the two ideas share at least some ground in common (e.g., Keefe 2009; Green and Haines 2016). Namely, for researchers who adopt a collective approach to social capital, whereby it is viewed as a resource that facilitates cooperation among unrelated individuals for mutual benefit (e.g., Putnam 2000, 2004), social capital is often considered an essential ingredient for meaningful citizen participation in public affairs. Indeed, social capital has been found to: (1) "make it easier [for people] to reach and implement collective decisions"; (2) "support involvement in the democratic process"; (3) "achieve development objectives"; and (4) "resolve disputes" (Brunie 2009, p 256).

Although there is ongoing debate regarding the nature, components, and consequences of collective social capital (Portes 1998; Woolcock 1998; Portes and Landolt 2000; DeFilippis 2001; Durlauf 2002, Weaver and Knight 2017), it is important to acknowledge that the concept remains quite influential in policy and planning practice (Flora and Flora 2003; Briggs 2004; Gress 2004; Hutchinson 2004; Rohe 2004; Green and Haines 2016). Consider, for instance, that even a multijurisdictional federal economic development agency in the United States--the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)--recently embraced an "asset-based development" approach that has begun to deemphasize more conventional investment strategies (Keefe 2009) in favor of programs that enhance community social capital (e.g., Markley et al. 2008; Ezzell et al. 2012; Pender et al. 2011). This transition almost certainly stems from the "shortcomings of market economics and public policy" with respect to addressing chronic economic challenges in the region, which has made room for more interest in social capital (Couto and Guthrie 1999, p. 9). Thus, notwithstanding the unresolved state of the academic debate over the concept (see, for example, Portes 1998; Woolcock 1998; Durlauf 2002), collective social capital is riding the swelling wave of interest in participatory development straight into public decision-making arenas (Keefe 2009). For at least that reason, it is worthwhile to investigate whether indicators of social capital are indeed associated with "better" development outcomes, as the literature on collective social capital tends to suggest (e.g. Brunie 2009). Appalachia represents a fascinating study area for this investigation given the recent attention paid to Appalachian social capital both by the ARC (e.g., Pender et al. 2012) and by scholars interested in better understanding and mobilizing social capital in the region (e.g., Couto and Guthrie 1999; Keefe 2009).

The remainder of this article engages with this research task using the administrative American Appalachian region as the study area (see Weaver and Holtkamp (2016) for a recent discussion on spatial definitions of Appalachia; and Weaver (2016) for a critical treatment of these boundaries). Crucially, we approach the investigation from an explicitly geographic perspective. Whereas the existing quantitative social capital literature provides instructive means for operationalizing certain elements of social capital with secondary data--such as networks and institutions (e.g., Temkin and Rohe 1998; Rupasingha et al. 2006)--these means tend to be relatively ageographical, apart from the fact that they are measured for locations in space. …

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