In recent decades place has emerged as an important framework for scholars seeking to understand how individuals and groups, operating in shifting historical contexts, have vied for, maintained, or asserted power in a given location. Similarly, the process of place-making, or the creation of narratives related to human interactions within a specific environment, has attracted attention, for it, too, is the result of powerful social, cultural, economic, and political forces. Appalachia Revisited, edited by William Schumann and Rebecca Adkins Fletcher, provides a sampling of how regional scholars and community organizers currently engage questions about place and place-making. The essays collectively strive to move conversations about Appalachia beyond prevailing assessments of the region as static and unchanging, as an "internal colony," or as "underdeveloped." Such narratives inform contributors' thinking, but the authors seek to offer a more fluid and comprehensive portrait of the region and its inhabitants by utilizing comparative analysis, highlighting global contexts, and emphasizing continuity and change.
William Schumann's opening essay provides an overview of place as a conceptual framework, and it offers a brief but thoughtful account of how previous generations of scholars have defined and redefined "Appalachia." Indeed, scholars, as much as policymakers, benevolent workers, or corporate interests, have been key actors in regional place-making. "Researchers," Schumann notes, "make decisions" about relevant research questions, which in turn shape the range of "valid answers" (p. 11). His engagement with this form of "academic place-making" sets the tone for the rest of the volume. Contributors consciously expose and discuss the "theories, methods, and comparative contexts" that they use in their case studies (p. 18).
The book is divided into four sections. Essays in section one examine identity construction in the context of place by employing [End Page 704] reflective practice and qualitative health care research methods, "digital" ethnography, and feminist theory. Section two focuses on expressions of place through oral, written, and digital formats. The third section includes essays that examine "economy and environment," with topics ranging from the sale of artistic representations of regional iconography, such as images of the black bear, to hydraulic fracturing. The final section examines themes of "engagement" in regional communities.
The volume's most compelling chapters place Appalachia within a global context and question the effects of neoliberalism on economic development, cultural expressions, and social relations. These essays highlight how global market forces and the commodification of all facets of human life and social interaction affect the region. Anita Puckett chronicles how this ideology has shaped southwestern Virginia's music traditions by examining a festival that was held in Montgomery County in 2014. She argues for the use of a collaborative and open decision-making process through the platform of a "civic commons" that enables performers to decide for themselves, well in advance of the establishment of cultural programs, how they want to address the tourist economy's commodification of traditional music. The flourishing of for-profit prisons is equally symbolic of this new neoliberal order. Melissa Ooten and Jason Sawyer connect the burgeoning "prison-industrial complex" in Appalachia to global market forces, environmental destruction, and the destruction of human communities both within and beyond the region. Corporate-owned prisons are particularly insidious because they extract "ever-growing numbers of prisoners," frequently African Americans, from inner cities and relocate them to predominately white and rural communities in which a few select whites stand to benefit economically from prison jobs (p. 174). Because prisons make for undesirable neighbors, they hinder further economic diversification in the communities where they reside.
The editors concede that Appalachia Revisited is not meant to offer a comprehensive analysis of place and place-making in Appalachia. [End Page 705] Indeed, it could benefit from other considerations of place as a theoretical framework, including the notion of "placelessness" and transience that has resulted from many of the same global capitalist forces examined in this book. Still, the volume provides an important starting point for understanding the political nature of place, and as...