Small Town Politics: An Appalachian Case Study

My previous installment of this topic was somewhat…erratic. By this I mean that I more or less spiraled into a rant with no central thesis, no credible case studies and no ultimate theory/conclusion. It is for this reason that I am going to begin constructing an ongoing argument to really build on the point that I was originally attempting to make. My argument will be broken up into different chapters, completed over the course of several days (or weeks depending on my level of insomnia in the near future), and accompanied by a series of case studies and credible sources to truly make my point. The previous post, as well as some others I have been guilty of publishing, was prematurely and hastily published in a fury of passion that I had for the subject in that given instance. I feel it necessary to now take a step back, take a breath and begin my personal project of elaborating my original argument.

I thank all who will be taking the time to review this page, as it will reflecting an issue I believe to be very important, especially in the rural and sometimes primitive social landscape of Appalachia. Honestly, this will be the first ‘academic’ paper I will have ever written that was not assigned to me by a professor, but I believe the subject is deserving of academic introspection and composed in a professional format rather than a free-flowing rant which I am quite skilled in.

For those who will be following this piece, intermittently check back in to view new chapters which will be posted at random times throughout the coming days.

Thank you for your time and I sincerely hope that this project will at least inspire some deeper concentrations of thought on the subject and promote a healthy debate. This is my goal.

Enjoy.

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Chapter I: The Appalachian Tragedy

Appalachia is an area of the United States incomparable to any other region. The rolling foothills that define the terrain has promoted a culture that stands in solitude against the other ethnic and social factions of the nation. While the states that comprise Appalachia (Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, etc.) are often viewed as less civilized, poverty-stricken, poorly educated or a countless number of other stereotypical, regionally ignorant assumptions, this area cannot be categorized with such generalized language.

While Appalachia is not alone in its plight against misconceived national perception, the South, in general, is viewed by the rest of the nation as a progress-restricted, racially backwards drain on the advancement of the United States. Appalachia, however, should not be categorized under the label of ‘South’ because the region, in its vastness and cultural diversity, is not indicative of the true ‘identity’ of the southern region of the United States.

Appalachia can be viewed as a true introspection into the primordial roots of the United States. While the rest of the nation has been influenced and succumb to social progress and technological innovation, Appalachia has retained the purest form of identity with many inhabitants who still do not know the luxury of running water. Appalachia is an area of strong conviction and steadfast ideologies that the greater society has not been able to dilute.

This is not to say that all areas of Appalachia can be generalized into a primitive, technologically-ignorant subcategory. Many areas of the Appalachian region are as advanced and motivated as the cities of Manhattan or Los Angeles, with a progressive and innovative population hoping to thrive in a constantly changing social landscape. The true solidarity of the region, though, is derivative of the Scots-Irish descendants that originally staked their flag in one of the more beautiful landscapes of North America.

The culture that defines the Appalachian region has been one of centuries-old conflict, hardship and tragedy. It is the countless barriers that have plagued the Appalachian population that has promoted a hardened, blue-collar culture of tightly-knit communities and self-sustenance. The history of Appalachia has directly influenced the current social and political landscape that surrounds the region. One of manipulation, corruption, misguided ideological influence and, in some cases, murder.

Chapter II: Socio-Political Infrastructure of Appalachia

The Appalachian region has a long-standing history of economic struggle. Furthermore, the power structure of Appalachia is dominated by the select few who possess enough resources to place themselves in a position of leadership. While the correlation between money and power is a long-withstanding idea across all spectra of politics, it can be argued that it is witnessed more explicitly and with greater intensity within the communities of Appalachia.

A trending pattern amongst rural Appalachia is dominated by a civic majority who either straddle or fall below the poverty line. While the ‘middle class’ exists, the cities and towns of the Appalachian region fall below national averages, per capita, in relation to other areas of the United States (See figure 1). This solemn fact places the select few who possess superior financial resources in a position to exert the greatest influence on the political economy of this region.

Per Capita Personal Income as a Percent of the U.S. Average: 1969-2012

(Figure 1) Per Capita Personal Income as a Percent of the U.S. Average; United States REAP

The unfortunate tendency of the money-power relationship leads those who attain a position of leadership to exert their political resources in a way that benefits the actors and the their personal agenda over that of the greater social welfare. This deceptive, and largely corrupt, practice inhibits social progress and effectively produces an environment of civil stagnation, impeding the growth and development of an already struggling region.

John Gaventa speaks of this observed pattern within the Appalachian region, stating, “A set of predominant values, beliefs, rituals and institutional procedures that operate systematically and consistently to the benefit of certain persons and groups that the expense of others. Those who benefit are placed in a preferred position to defend and promote their vested interests.”

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