- Appalachia in Regional Context: Place Matters ed. by Dwight B. Billings and Ann E. Kingsolver
Published in 2018, Appalachia in Regional Context: Place Matters, edited by Dwight B. Billings and Ann E. Kingsolver, highlights tensions within the field of Appalachian studies, particularly tensions rooted in the diverse political, economic, and epistemological paradigms. The collection is part of a larger series, Place Matters: New Directions in Appalachian Studies, also edited by Billings and published by the University Press of Kentucky. The carefully curated collection enters conversations of globalization, power, embodiment, movement/migration, and pedagogy, all through the concept of place. Featuring almost exclusively senior scholars, the volume works to "explore this praxis of place from interdisciplinary perspectives, and in a global context," and by praxis, the authors mean that "place, as much as anything, is action more than passive context" (pp. 6, 7). Attention to place as action is particularly important with the publication of J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York, 2016), as well as the political rhetoric of "Trump Country" inscribed on the region, because Appalachia has reemerged within public consciousness (yet again) as a thing to be distorted, construed, and blamed rather than as a place—active, building, moving against and within the forces it is bound by.
The organization of Appalachia in Regional Context is one of its key strengths. Gathering previous talks, panels, and parts of larger projects, Billings and Kingsolver weave them together in a way that urges the reader to make new connections between familiar yet often distant texts. The collection begins with chapters by Kingsolver, Barbara Ellen Smith, and John Pickles that firmly trace Appalachia within global processes. These chapters each emphasize sites of interaction but are carefully attentive to the structures of power(s) of places themselves, moving beyond politics of culture to a politics of place. This conversation of power is continued in John Gaventa's familiar work on the faces of power in chapter 4. Interestingly, Gaventa provides autobiographical passages in this chapter, highlighting what previous chapters note as the emotive, relational, and symbolic power of place, concepts that are integral to chapter 5, '"There Are No Gay People Here': Expanding the Boundaries of Queer Youth Visibility in the Rural United States," by Mary L. Gray. Gray provides much-needed insight into queer youth spaces and challenges in the early 2000s.
The second half of the collection features Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt's perceptive research into food relations, largely through a fascinating investigation of pellagra. By focusing on the process of food gathering and the embodiment of place-based practices, Engelhardt synthesizes the concepts unearthed by previous chapters. Carol Mason expands on how place-based forces impact the body, examining masculinity through a necropolitical framework. Kentucky poet bell hooks's work is placed throughout the book as interludes between chapters, and she also provides a memoir (chapter 8) on leaving and returning to the region. Chapter 9, which features Ron Pen's [End Page 485] interview of musicians John Haywood and Rich Kirby, introduces the much-needed voices of artists and activists outside established academic traditions. The arguments posited by Pen, Kirby, Haywood, hooks, and Gray encourage readers to confront the comfortable exceptionalization of Appalachia with regard to belonging, authenticity, and culture. How we teach and learn about Appalachia are the questions guiding the final chapter, "Teaching Region," an incredibly large collaborative effort (Dwight B. Billings, Gina Caison, David A. Davis, Laura Hernández-Ehrisman, Philip Joseph, Kent C. Ryden, and Emily Satterwhite) borrowed from a 2012 Southern Atlantic Modern Language Association conference panel. While providing a number of best practices, the chapter also offers teachings about the region beyond central Appalachia, on which much scholarship has been focused. In the time since this panel, numerous works have addressed the technological, economic, and political shifts in higher education.
Appalachia in Regional Context should be applauded for maintaining...