M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 184

The Struggle for Sustainable Development in Appalachia's Mineral Rich Mountains

Alicia G. Harley
Hannah Wexner



This teaching case examines this paradox of poverty amidst plenty. To do this, the case explores the co-evolving history of nature and society in the Central Appalachian region from the Native American period through to the present day. Over the past 200 years, coal mining and other extractive industries have been dominant drivers of nature-society interactions in Central Appalachia. Concomitantly unequal distributions of power between different groups of actors have played a significant role in the dynamics of this history. The people of Appalachian, despite their popular depiction in the media and popular culture, have not been passive recipients of exploitation and greed from outside interests. Rather the history of Appalachia is a history of inequality and maldistributions of power, but also a history of resistance and struggle. The case is thus particularly useful for examining the character of power and struggles for empowerment within nature-society systems as well as the capacities necessary to pursue sustainability even in the face of enormous social and environmental challenges.

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