In 1978, a group of committed activists and scholars came together to study who owns Appalachia, creating a political and scholarly legacy that shaped a generation. For many years now, scholars and community organizations alike have pointed to the need for updated data about land to follow-up on the original study. At the same time, many visual and quantitative methods and technologies may allow us to collect new kinds of data and ask new kinds of questions about land, while the dynamics of land ownership, use, and taxation have changed substantially. In short, we need another study – to chart who owns Appalachia now, bringing scholars, activists, and all Appalachians together for collaborative research that recognizes land as central to a just economic transition. The exact parameters of the study are still to be determined, ideally with your involvement.
Across our region people in government, academia, and grassroots organizations are advocating for a just and sustainable post-coal economic transition. These conversations have sparked a wave of creativity and innovation as well as new sources of funding to support transition projects. A key question is how land use, ownership, and tax revenue patterns figure into contemporary goals and demands. While there is a long history of studies and campaigns on land issues in the region, there is now an even greater impetus for a comprehensive regional land study because “transition” requires an understanding of the existing patterns of land ownership and land use. At the same time, re-thinking our vision for the region also invite us to re-think land, property, and taxation for the common good.
Who we are:
An anthropologist (Karen Rignall) and a geographer (Lindsay Shade) at the University of Kentucky with shared interests in comparative studies of land rights and extractive industries and a commitment to engaged research in the Appalachian region began initial conversations about building a collaborative land study in January 2016. We reached out to several other individuals, mostly connected with the Appalachian Center at UK – given its historic role in the '79 study and ongoing engagement in the region - to figure out who else would be interested and/or have resources to respond to the already existing regional interest in a comprehensive land study. So far the following have joined us as the first few members of a working group: Chris Barton (Forestry), Shaunna Scott (Sociology), Shane Barton (Appalachian Center), Jeremy Crampton (Geography), and Betsy Taylor (Virginia Tech and LiKEN). We expect this working group to grow as we start making more concrete steps toward the study, but the initial members commit to sustained engagement to ensure that those concrete steps happen.
One of the greatest strengths of the 1979 Appalachian Land Ownership Study was the degree of ownership that people living in the region had over it, and this is a legacy to which we want to stay true. For purposes such as securing funding, ensuring continued momentum of the study, publishing and distribution, and coordination and cohesion, members of the initial working group commit to sustained initiative toward organizing and completing this study. At the same time, we would like the process to be as open and accessible as possible, and indeed believe that a complex, geographically distributed land study cannot be successfully achieved without direct collaboration with a wide variety of stakeholders. Simply put, we take a collaborative approach to research, which according to the Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography (Lassiter 2005, p. 16), “deliberately and explicitly emphasizes collaboration at every point in the [research] process, without veiling it—from project conceptualization, to fieldwork, and, especially, through the writing process.” Accordingly, we will do everything we can, including being creative to find funding to support community-based researchers who otherwise would not be able to participate, to facilitate an accessible, transparent, stakeholder-driven research agenda that is also technically and academically rigorous.