Confronting Ecological Crisis in Appalachia and the South: University and Community Partnerships

By Stephanie McSpirit; Lynne Faltraco et al. | Go to book overview

1
Confessions of the Parasitic
Researcher to the Man
in the Cowboy Hat

Sherry Cable

In 1987, as a brand-new assistant professor, I stood in the center of Hotense’s full-to-overflowing living room in Bell County, Kentucky, and nervously made my pitch to the assembled members of Yellow Creek Concerned Citizens (YCCC) for their permission to conduct a case study of the group. YCCC members were experienced research subjects, scrutinized several times previously by other academics. Someone asked what I would gain from the study. I answered, “If I can pull it off, I’ll publish enough articles in academic journals to earn promotion and tenure, instead of losing my job.” Someone else asked what the group would gain from my study. Caught by surprise, I pondered a reasonable reply. I scratched my head and cleared my throat. I squirmed and began to sweat. I finally confessed, “Nothing.” The group was quiet for a moment, friendly eyes still gazing encouragingly at me. Then Gene slapped his knee, stood, and announced, “I say, let her study us. At least she didn’t lie to us like the others—she didn’t promise us a goddam thing!” With this qualified blessing, I observed and followed the group’s travails until about 1990. I reported my results in several publications, then turned my full attention to a new research project. From my collaboration with YCCC members, I gained promotion with tenure, valuable research experience, increased self-confidence, solid child-rearing advice, and warm attention from kind persons. And, just as I‘d promised, they got nothing.

For that, I truly apologize. I apologize to all who were YCCC members but most deeply to Larry. Larry Wilson is the Man in the Cowboy Hat, YCCC’s indefatigable president for so many years. It is primarily to

-21-

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