‘Lonely mountains?’: Participation as a tool for studying and measuring social isolation in Appalachia

Appalachia—a coal mining region in the South-Eastern United States with high levels of chronic multidimensional poverty—has long been subjected to exploitation, environmental degradation, and bureaucratic corruption due to its pernicious mining industry. Yet, development actors, academics, and the American public at large have all historically attributed the region’s poverty to a fictitious ‘culture of poverty’ that has been upheld by undignifying photography which attempted to impress American suburban modes of community onto the region. My thesis seeks to leverage participatory research methods in order to prevent top-down ‘social isolation’ metrics from erroneously reproducing the ‘culture of poverty’ narrative, thereby incorporating the voices of Appalachians into how relational poverty is measured, conceptualized, and addressed in a policymaking space.

Samuel McQuillen
Research Student