Participatory Development in Appalachia: Cultural Identity, Community, and Sustainability

By Glass, Paula | Journal of Cultural Diversity, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Participatory Development in Appalachia: Cultural Identity, Community, and Sustainability


Glass, Paula, Journal of Cultural Diversity


BOOK REVIEW PARTICIPATORY DEVELOPMENT IN APPALACHIA: CULTURAL IDENTITY, COMMUNITY, AND SUSTAINABILITY Participatory Development in Appalachia: Cultural Identity, Community, and Sustainability Keefe, S. E. (Ed.) (2009). Participatory development in Appalachia: Cultural identity, community, and sustainability, Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press. (ISBN 978-1-57233-657-5, paperback, $24.95; 255 pages)

In this first edition of Participatory Development in Appalachia edited by Susan E. Keefe, there are eleven sections describing urban development overtime while including the unique social capital that exists in Appalachia. The Appalachians face issues within their communities resulting from today's economic and industrial changes. To that end, poverty, lack of education and lack of access to human services, transportation, and healthcare remain problematic. Urban developers have often left Appalachians with suspicion and mistrust resultant from episodes from which communities were left with environmental or economical problems to fix.

The Appalachian mountain range comprises 406 counties in 13 states which include: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia (western), West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania (Purnell, 2009; and, Simpson & King, 1999). Appalachia is also defined as a federally funded region established by the Appalachian Research Commission (ARC) in 1965 for the sole purpose of funding eligibility (Simpson & King, 1999). This region is noted for farming, coal mining, and the railroad industry. Because of changes in the economy and industrialized progress, this region, already plagued with poverty, poor roads and infrastructure, and lack of educational, healthcare, and social resources has further suffered. All of these factors combined seem to produce characteristics in individuals who are relatively isolated. It should be noted that much of this access issue and isolation result from the notorious mountainous landscape, the same land to which Appalachians are very loyal and by which they are comforted.

This introduction to the book presents all of the concepts that are discussed in subsequent book sections. Several sections are narratives but most are case studies. Experts educate readers about the use of participatory development with a unique culturally diverse people in a culturally competent approach, and their immersion into Appalachian culture assisting communities with their own growth and development. With the community in control of development, they can preserve older traditions and customs that are often lost with modernization.

Susan Keefe is the author of the introduction, which sets the stage for the 10 chapters that follow. Participatory development with Appalachian communities as a democratic approach is the focus. Appalachians have held on tightly to cultural traditions and beliefs, affecting their economic growth and status. Cultural competency is shown as a commitment to working with such communities. A repeated theme in the book is the use of social capital as a tool for success within these communities. Changes forced by industrialization left counties' with the need to cut services. An example was the closing of schools and increasing high school drop out rates (i.e., failing educational systems).

Chapter 2, "A New Company in Town" by Elvin Hatch is about community development in what's called the "mountain south", which refers to North Carolina. In this section, the reader experiences discussion of urban infrastructure improvements beginning with education and community support systems put in place by internal leadership and altruistic acts. Leadership in Appalachia requires the taking time to build a rapport, including small talk or silence for a "spell".

Section 3 is "Rebuilding Communities, A 12-Step Recovery Program" by Helen Matthews Lewis. Here readers learn about the history and strategies used in this community building a 12-step program. …

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