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Social Stratification in Appalachia By Tim Long "Social Stratification in Appalachia" is a section taken from Workin', Livin', Schoolin': A Study of Appalachian Life, which Tim Longpresented to the SociologyAnthropology Department of Kalamazoo College in 1976. The author made the study as a special project while in residence in the school at Buckhorn, Kentucky. Since that time he has returned to Buckhorn as a special worker. In writing and reading about Appalachian highlanders, many people fall into a trap. They consider these highlanders using the concepts of the average American, classifying many highlanders as lower class, for their incomes are low, compared to the average. They also talk of the middle and upper classes in Appalachia, thus bringing to the Appalachian culture, American standards. It just does not fit to classify families in Eastern Kentucky as upper, middle, lower on a socio-economic scale. This area has a culture unique from much of Americas, being isolated until 1900, with some areas remaining remote until 1950. When we classify families we do it on an economic level. American society, in general, is a money society. For some money has been an overriding goal, for which they strive to reach a certain pinnacle and when reached there's always that next peak. "I'm earning $20,000 a year now and got enough to buy my boat. If I just make a little more that cottage on the lake will be mine too." However, in the nineteenth century the highlanders did not keep pace with the rest of the nation. The industrial revolution brought the majority of Americans out of subsistence farming and into the world of factories, automation and jobs. This led to what we see now in our money society and the eventual classifying of families by an economic standpoint. As the twentieth century moved upon the highlanders of Eastern Kentucky, most were still living as their ancestors did around 1800, the industrial revolution having very little effect on them. The railroads first opened up parts of the Cumberland Plateau in the early twentieth century but the great majority of highlanders were little affected by this and continued their isolated living away from the moneybased society that had developed around them in the rest of the nation. Coal miners, of course, were subject to a money-based economy but most highlanders were not coal miners and many who were, remained remarkedly in the person to person economy of their forefathers when away from the mines. Not until after World War II did Eastern Kentucky slowly begin to join the rest of the country, due primarily to the opening of the area by paved roads and better transportation 54 vehicles. Highlanders have not developed the money-based economy, but have, until very recently remained mostly in a farm-based person to land and person to person economy, as do all societies in which farming is the main occupation. Since these highland families have not been a part of the broader money-based American Society, it does not make sense to classify them according to the traditional upper, middle, and lower classes. I suggest that the classes we should use for the highlanders come, not from the broader American culture, but from the culture that they themselves are a part of. One very important element of the traditional highlander's society has been the family structure. "Kin" is likely to be the most important word, even today, in the highlander's vocabulary. I have been asked a number of times what I was doing in Eastern Kentucky with no kin around. "Do you have kin living here?" When the answer was no, the reply has been, more than once, "Well then, why did you come?" Sociologists, studying the Appalachian migrant, have also noticed the importance of kin. James Brown, in "The Family Behind the Migrant"! describes the importance of kin to Appalachian families and how it both strengthens and adversely affects the many highlanders who have recently migrated to the urban centers. It is possible to divide Appalachian families by means of their important kin relationships. The three main classes, I propose, are the clan oriented families, the extended family oriented, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5081
Print ISSN
0363-2318
Pages
pp. 54-58
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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