“Coal is Not Just a Job, It’s a Way of Life”: The Cultural Politics of Coal Production in Central Appalachia

“Coal is Not Just a Job, It’s a Way of Life”: The Cultural Politics of Coal Production in... Abstract Since beginning operations in Central Appalachia, coal producers have economically exploited residents and exposed them to severe health risks associated with pollution. Despite causing these problems, the industry enjoys vigorous popular support. Drawing on nine months of immersive ethnography in “Shale County,” this article examines why many Appalachians endorse the coal industry despite its negative externalities. I find that Appalachia’s subordinate relationship to the rest of the nation plays a profound role in conditioning the region’s pro-industry, anti-environmental views. Many Appalachians feel like the federal government neglects them, and like urban America, devalues them. Drawing upon Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, I show how the coal industry capitalizes upon these feelings by promoting coal heritage—a carefully curated cultural construction that emphasizes selective aspects of Appalachian history while erasing those that challenge its domination. Coal heritage, I show, conveys environmentalism as an attack on Appalachians’ right to economic opportunity, their role in the national division of labor, and their moral worth. It frames industry representatives, on the other hand, as guardians of regional interests and values. hegemony, coal, environmental justice, Appalachia, culture Since beginning operations in Central Appalachia during the early twentieth century, the coal industry has damaged the region in innumerable ways. Coal operators have degraded the environment; destroyed material infrastructure; economically exploited workers; subjected workers to dangerous working conditions; expropriated residents’ land; and exposed residents to health risks associated with pollution. Despite causing these problems, the industry enjoys vigorous popular support. Drawing on nine months of immersive ethnography in “Shale County,”1 this article examines why many mountaineers endorse coal production despite its negative externalities. I find that Appalachia’s subordinate relationship to the rest of the nation—its status as a natural resource colony composed of residents who are viewed as “not quite white” and not quite American (Wray 2006)—plays a profound role in conditioning the region’s pro-coal, anti-environmental views (see also Scott 2010). Many Appalachians feel like the federal government neglects them, and like urban America, devalues them. As a result, they tend to interpret efforts to curtail coal production as an attack on their right to economic opportunity, their role in the national division of labor, their cultural identity as rural Americans, and their moral worth. Coal producers amplify these feelings by promoting coal heritage—a carefully curated cultural construction that emphasizes selective aspects of Appalachian history, erases those that challenge their domination, and positions them as guardians of regional interests and values. Through the lens of this heritage, residents come to view the industry as an institution that fights for their political interests, and environmental organizations as institutions that threaten them. My work makes four primary contributions to the existing literature. First, I develop a comprehensive, multi-dimensional account of pro-coal sentiment in Appalachia. Existing work tends to focus on single dimensions of this phenomenon, such as how mountaineers perceive the industry (Blaacker, Woods, and Oliver 2012), how the industry produces legitimating ideology (Bell and York 2010), or how the social context in which Appalachians live shapes their environmental attitudes (Bell and Braun 2010; Scott 2010). My analysis examines all three factors at once: I investigate the legitimation efforts that the industry carries out and how coalfield residents interpret and act upon them. I then situate their interpretations within the context that structures them: Appalachia’s historical lineage of mass unemployment, persistent poverty, and sociocultural marginalization. Using this approach, I develop a fuller, more robust model of the region’s anti-environmentalism relative to previous work. Second, by situating my findings within a Gramscian theoretical framework, I show why the industry’s public relations work resonates with Appalachians, and why environmental activism tends to repel them. Antonio Gramsci’s writings on hegemony suggest that dominant groups secure consent for economic exploitation by exercising moral and cultural leadership. This requires familiarity with the “practical life” of subordinates and the capacity to mediate legitimation efforts through “organic intellectuals.” Extending his concept of hegemonic leadership to encompass ecological exploitation, I show how the industry’s construction of coal heritage relies on its knowledge of the values, meanings, and beliefs that circulate through daily life in Appalachia, and its capacity to channel public relations messages through trusted community leaders. Lacking this knowledge, environmental organizations tend to make their appeals with studies and statistics, channeling their activism through outside organizers whom residents view with suspicion. Third, by highlighting Appalachians’ cultural and emotional attachment to coal, I build upon previous work by Kari Norgaard (2011) regarding why people often remain quiescent in the face of severe environmental threats. In her study of “Bygdaby,” a Norwegian community negatively affected by global warming, she found that the actions residents took to maintain their socially constructed sense of reality were incompatible with the actions they needed to take in order to ensure their physical survival in the face of climate change. Like Norgaard, my findings bring the tension between preserving the environment and preserving the sense of cultural reality that Appalachians inhabit into sharp relief. I show how embracing coal heritage helps them preserve their collective identity, maintain their culturally constructed sense of reality, and avoid unpleasant emotions in the context of imminent social change. Finally, I identify several novel mechanisms that produce anti-environmental views in coal communities. These include residents’ tendency to: perceive coal as more affordable than renewable energy; express support for mining in order to honor family members who worked in the mines; interpret mining as morally superior to other subsistence opportunities in the region; perceive mining-related employment as a means of forging a meaningful place in the national division of labor; and view mining as a way of establishing their moral worth to those who live outside the region, whom many believe value nature (i.e., plants and animals) over their lives. COAL-DRIVEN MODERNIZATION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES IN CENTRAL APPALACHIA Almost all scholars within the social sciences agree that coal-driven modernization brought a host of social, political, economic, and ecological problems to Central Appalachia. The “development” associated with mining resulted in precipitous agricultural decline, widespread patterns of absentee land ownership, and the advent of the “company town” (Caudill 1963; Gaventa 1982; Lewis, Johnson, and Askins 1978). Rather than paying workers generous wages and reinvesting profits in community institutions, most coal companies expropriated community wealth while burdening residents with brutal labor arrangements and derelict living conditions (Caudill 1963; Eller 1982; Gaventa 1982; Lewis, Johnson, and Askins 1978). Indeed, the industry transformed Central Appalachia into an “internal colony”—or what Rebecca Scott (2010) calls a “sacrifice zone”—for the benefit of absentee owners in the urban metropolis. While coal fueled development in the Northeast and Midwest, it left mountain communities poor and broken. The boom-bust cycles associated with mining resulted in massive out-migration and population instability (Rice and Brown 1993; Schwarzweller, Brown, and Mangalam 1971). These rapid population shifts undermined the social support networks and social capital that had long held farming communities together (Bell 2009). Turbulent labor struggles, in which company “gun thugs” quelled union activity and political participation with violence and intimidation, exacerbated deteriorating levels of community trust (Bell and York 2012; Duncan 2000; Gaventa 1982). The proliferation of conflict, fear, and mistrust stunted the public sphere (Billings and Blee 2000), fueled social problems like alcoholism and drug abuse (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013; Kobak 2012), and eroded overall quality of life. Worse still, the industry poisoned the areas in which it was located. Shannon Bell and Richard York (2010) argue that “coal may be responsible for more environmental harm than any other energy source” (p. 359). Mountaintop removal mining (MTR), which blasts away the ridgelines of standing mountains in order to access the coal seams beneath them, scars landscapes, kills ecosystems, and pollutes water sources. It also cracks the foundations of local infrastructure, subjects residents to unending noise pollution, and results in deadly landslides (Eller 2008). After coal is mined, the tipples that process it produce massive quantities of dust, which erode air quality and cause respiratory ailments. Coal processing also generates millions of gallons of toxic slurry, which contaminates local water sources and sometimes results in deadly floods (e.g., Erikson 1976). The cumulative pollution that mining engenders puts residents of extractive communities at risk for developing numerous health ailments. Even when controlling for variables like income and education, they have higher rates of hospitalization for respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular conditions, birth defects, cancers, chronic illnesses, and mortality than residents of non-mining communities (Bell and York 2012). For all the social, political, and ecological damage that mining generates, it produces little if any economic stimulus. Although coal production steadily increased from 1900 to 2000, coal-related employment has steadily diminished every year since the 1940s (the period from 1971-1978 is an exception). In 2010, mining accounted for only 3 percent of West Virginia’s total employment and less than 1 percent of Kentucky’s total employment (Blaacker, Woods, and Oliver 2012). Mining’s share of employment is projected to diminish even further over the next decade (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013; Perdue and Pavela 2012). Beyond the limits that mechanization places on jobs, operators have already mined the region’s most profitable seams and lack the capacity to compete with the West’s abundant reserves. Given the development of hydrofracking, they also face fierce competition from cheap natural gas. Tightening EPA regulations have made it more difficult for the industry to forge a competitive place in the energy market as well. The coal jobs that once fueled the area’s economy, as such, are “perhaps gone for good” (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013). Even if the coal industry could generate new employment, Rory McIlmoil and colleagues (2010) argue that when the negative externalities of coal production are accounted for, mining reflects net losses for the states in which it predominates. At the community level, Robert Perdue and Gregory Pavela (2012) have shown that localities with mining activity have poorer socioeconomic outcomes relative to non-mining communities. Several other studies regarding the “resource curse” (i.e., why resource rich areas often suffer from poverty and underdevelopment) have reached similar conclusions (e.g., Elo and Beale 1985; Freudenberg and Wilson 2002). William Freudenberg (1992) has compared the logic of policy makers who pursue extractive industry to the logic of addicts who prioritize the fleeting “buzz” of drug use over its long-term consequences. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has ranked coal-dominated West Virginia and Kentucky last and next to last in “overall well-being” for the past seven years, speaks to his argument. Despite the ostensibly damaging role that mining has played in Central Appalachia’s history, and despite the limited economic benefit that industry investment brings, public perceptions toward the coal industry tend to be overwhelmingly positive (Bell and Braun 2010; Bell and York 2010; Blaacker, Woods, and Oliver 2012; Scott 2010). Residents of mining communities not only articulate economic development, job creation, and community social services with coal, but believe that mining represents a “way of life” that upholds the region’s cultural lineage. When an overwhelming consensus of historical and contemporary evidence shows that the industry’s presence has damaged rather than built up the communities in which it is located, why do so many Appalachian residents embrace—and even identify with—coal not just as a marker of community identity, but as a total “way of life?” THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: ANTONIO GRAMSCI’S CONCEPT OF HEGEMONIC LEADERSHIP Popular support for coal production in Appalachia—and the absence of widespread activism and resistance against industry abuse—represents a classic puzzle in political sociology: why subordinates sometimes consent to and identify with political domination (Gramsci 1991), why people sometimes appear to participate in the intensification of their own exploitation (Burawoy 1979), and why quiescence often occurs in situations of glaring inequality (Gaventa 1982; Shriver, Adams, and Messer 2014). Antonio Gramsci’s (1991) theory of hegemonic leadership provides a robust framework for analyzing these phenomena. Rather than seeking “accurate” and “objective” political information, Gramsci’s work suggests that people seek out political universes in which they can recognize themselves and thrive. Hegemonic leaders secure “spontaneous consent” from subordinates by providing cultural and political frameworks that validate their goals, values, and identities. This requires deep familiarity with their “practical life,” i.e., the “lived system of meaning and values” that orients their sense of reality (Williams 1977:110). Knowledge of their working life—and the occupational culture surrounding it—is particularly important. Gramsci argues that leadership must come from “active participation in practical life, as a constructor, organizer, ‘permanent persuader,’ and not just simple orator” (pp. 9-10). Rulers, in other words, mobilize popular support not by citing studies and statistics that validate their positions, but by transforming “practical activity” into “a new and integral conception of the world” (p. 10). This “new and integral conception of the world” consists of a charismatic interpretation of the subordinate group’s traditions. Rulers interpret and elevate in importance only those traditions that support their dominance, however. “From a whole possible area of past and present,” Raymond Williams (1977) argues, hegemonic leaders select “certain meanings and practices … for emphasis.” These meanings and practices are “passed off as ‘the tradition,’ the ‘significant past’” (p. 115; emphasis in original). Leaders thus construct a “version of the past that is intended to connect with and ratify the present” (p. 115)—a version that transforms history into heritage. As Scott (2010) notes: “Heritage cannot properly be termed history at all; rather, it is a publicly instituted structuring of consciousness that functions by excluding traditions it cannot incorporate (p. 142). In the following sections, I describe the structure of feeling that Shale Countians inhabit—the experiences and institutions they value, the concerns that command their attention, and the issues they think of as being currently “present” in their lives. I then draw on Gramsci’s theory of hegemonic leadership to explain how coal operatives tap into this system of meanings, values, and experiences to mobilize popular support for coal production. Rather than dismissing the selective traditions they promote as “false consciousness,” I illustrate how their leadership won over residents by providing concrete symbolic and emotional benefits in a context of rapid and distressing social change (Norgaard 2011). DATA AND METHODS My analysis draws from data collected during a study of “Shale County”—an economically and ecologically distressed community located in rural Appalachia. Shale’s mining activity corresponds to the regional dynamics discussed in the literature review: according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were fewer than five active mines (all capital-intensive surface operations) and just one processing plant in the county in 2013. Collectively, these permit areas accounted for fewer than 75 jobs. Outside of the county, few individuals are employed in the mines. According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, only a few percent of the county’s workforce are employed in the mining sector. Educational services, social/healthcare services, manufacturing, retail trade, and public administration all employ more Shale Countians than do coal mines. Save for a few notable exceptions, however, most residents expressed vigorous support for the coal industry. Shale Countians’ support manifested in their accounts of Appalachian social problems, which blamed poverty and joblessness on the EPA’s “war on coal”; their everyday commentary regarding coal’s positive impact on the region; their support for political candidates espousing pro-coal agendas; their opposition to candidates with “environmentalist” and hence ostensibly anti-coal agendas; their adornment of pro-coal paraphernalia; their conception of mining as prized work; and their participation in coal-related festivals. I probed pro-coal sentiment in Shale County by carrying out immersive fieldwork between 2011 and 2012 (my first visit lasted two months, while my subsequent visit lasted seven months). While living in the community, I attended public festivals that celebrated Appalachia’s legacy of coal mining, public events that were sponsored by coal companies, and public meetings in which citizens were invited to weigh in on coal permits. I also immersed myself in the community’s everyday life, attending church services, high school football games and holiday cookouts, and volunteering at community organizations. This allowed me to have hundreds of informal conversations with residents about their perceptions and evaluations of coal production. Alongside the ethnographic component of my study, I conducted 40 in-depth, semistructured interviews with key individuals in the community. They included former miners and their family members; activists working for an environmental justice organization; officials in local government; local newspaper reporters; and ordinary citizens who, while not directly involved in mining, were affected by its presence in the community. Interviews ranged from 45 minutes to almost four hours in length. All were tape-recorded and transcribed. As a final prong of my data collection, I carried out extensive document analysis. This involved analyzing reporting in the local newspaper from 2002 to 2012; articles pertaining to coal production in the regional newspaper; advertisements from local political campaigns; local petitions, both for and against new coal permits; public conversations on local web forums and Facebook pages; press releases by regional environmental organizations; and the industry’s public relations messages. When I completed my fieldwork, I collated the sum of my data into Atlas.ti, which I used for coding. I began the process by cataloguing all instances in the data wherein residents made statements about mining, coal companies, or environmental organizations (e.g., the EPA). From there, I coded the meanings they attached to these institutions; the values and concerns with which they articulated them; the types of situations that elicited discussion about them; and the reasons they provided for their evaluations. I then catalogued all instances in the data wherein representatives of coal companies or environmental groups made statements about coal production. From there, I employed focused coding to compare the themes of their messages to the themes of residents’ commentary. I also analyzed instances in which residents directly responded to these messages. Finally, I compared the commentary of all three groups to the general themes I uncovered regarding everyday life in the community—i.e., the issues, anxieties, and aspirations that tended to surface in daily conversation, formal interviews, and news coverage. I elaborate on my findings in the paragraphs that follow. UNDERSTANDING PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR COAL IN SHALE COUNTY Shale Countians’ positive appraisal of coal production was rooted in four beliefs: (1) that the industry provided good jobs in an area with limited economic opportunity; (2) that replacing coal with renewable energy sources would raise electricity costs; (3) that miners symbolized community values; and (4) that miners upheld the dignity of rural life in the face of urban onslaught. Most residents believed that mining offered the only real opportunity for gainful employment in the county, and that families and community institutions within the area benefited from the jobs, charitable donations, and tax revenues that coal companies provided. Many also believed that stringent environmental regulation, spearheaded by the Obama-led EPA, was rapidly eliminating those jobs, donations, and tax revenues. Indeed, the term “EPA” constituted a de facto swear word in Shale County. I recall few if any days in the field that did not involve listening to residents excoriate the organization for exacerbating (if not directly causing) the county’s struggles with joblessness and poverty. Just a few days after arriving, I attended a Fourth of July cookout at my neighbor’s trailer. As the attendees were preparing to ignite fireworks, I struck up a conversation with a man in his late 30s named Terry. Terry was married with three young children and made ends meet by working construction jobs. He was wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the message “Coal Keeps the Electricity On.” After chatting about college football, we found ourselves commiserating about the sad state of the local economy. When I made a comment about the high unemployment rate, he responded by impugning a set of newly proposed EPA regulations, which he claimed would make matters worse. When I asked him to elaborate, he explained that the region depended on coal, and that outside the mines, finding gainful employment was all but impossible. “There’s nothing else left around this area,” he sighed, his eyes betraying a deep sense of apprehension about the county’s future. “Obama,” he scowled, “seems to be the one who’s behind it.” Terry’s sentiment was very common. Several weeks later, a large, sturdy man named Sean approached while I was chatting with a group of volunteers at a church community center. We had been speculating about who would win the upcoming presidential election. Sean listened for a few moments before interjecting: “I ain’t voting for Obama; he took my job!” The EPA, he claimed, had shut down the mine that had employed him until 2009. “All the workers around these parts,” he lamented, were losing their jobs due to intensifying federal regulation. His tone became less angry and more despondent as he explained how mining offered the only viable economic option for “someone like [him],” i.e., a person without a high school diploma who lived in rural Appalachia. Sean told me that he made over $80,000 per year before being laid off and enjoyed outstanding fringe benefits. “I was making a good living for myself,” he grumbled, before juxtaposing his auspicious former life with the bleak situation he now faced. Hard up Shale Countians like Sean were frustrated with the economic privation they faced and blamed “Obama’s EPA” for their hardships. The administration, they felt, was attempting to deprive them of the only meaningful economic opportunity to which they had ever held access. This theme weighed heavily on an online petition “in favor of coal mining” that a local man crafted in 2009.2 It generated an outpouring of support on the local Internet forum that I monitored. The vast majority of signatories emphasized mining’s economic importance to the region. One signer wrote: “Without the coal mining jobs we have here … so many of us that live here would never be able to make a living. It's basically the only way a lot of us have to support our families.” Another wrote: “Let's keep the miners working. There is not much left for the poor.” Their narratives, like the narratives of those with whom I interacted in face-to-face conversation, suggested that prosperity would be restored if oppressive regulators would grant new permits and cease meddling in the region’s affairs. The second reason that Shale Countians supported mining stemmed from the belief that replacing coal with renewable energy would result in unaffordable increases to their electricity bills.3 At the aforementioned Fourth of July cookout, Terry postulated that the EPA’s new regulations would “increase the price of electricity by 35 percent.” A commenter on the pro-mining petition, similarly, warned readers that: [when] all these green freaks start building their gazillon dollar wind mills, you better bet your electric bill will skyrocket … Once we convert to wind energy, [funds from the local Community Action Agency that subsidizes our utility payments] will only pay the taxes on your electric bill. Because of the near-ubiquitous belief that renewable energy would raise utility costs, nearly all the local activists whom I interviewed reported that they had reframed their advocacy in ways that reflected the economic rather than environmental virtues of sustainable development. The third reason that Shale Countians tended to support coal production stemmed from the way in which they infused the occupation of mining with heroic if not sacred meaning (see also Scott 2010). Mining’s sacred status derived from three sources. First, holding down work as a miner established hegemonic masculinity in an area where traditional gender roles prevailed. As a great deal of existing research observes, masculinity is often equated with physical labor and a willingness to work in dangerous conditions (Maggard 1994; Scott 2010). With its associations of toil, danger, and high pay, mining held the highest level of occupational prestige in Shale County (see also Beckwith 2001; Bell and Braun 2010). By endorsing coal, residents signaled their masculinity and achieved respect. The relationship between masculinity and respect was so strong that even men who opposed mining held their tongues, as criticizing the industry would put them at risk of losing social status (Bell and Braun 2010). Second, given the moral order of the region’s emphasis on respecting one’s elders and dead, fallen miners occupied an honored status within collective memory. Many Shale Countians believed that preserving mining as a viable occupation would honor forbearers who had mangled their bodies in the mines to provide for them as children. Not long before the pro-coal petition was drafted, a local columnist paid homage to his late father and uncles by publishing the following message of appreciation in the county newspaper: I would like to honor and pay tribute to some of Shale County’s finest citizens. They helped to shape and mold this county. They made us want more out of life. With ten years in the mines from my dad and most of my uncles … I feel I am qualified for this task. This is to show our respect for them … Muscle and Blood,’ as the song goes, was a coal miner, but they were so much more than this … They were our heroes. They went where no man had went before and faced death each day. This was what makes the bond between coal miners that could only be broken by death. Their backs were arched from crawling or bending over walking in coal … Their hands were calloused, but the love for us kids … took away any roughness … Poor pay and terrible working conditions … they had to face each day of their life … Some people ask why did they put themselves through this. The biggest reason was for the love of their families, and the second reason was for a love for Shale County. They didn’t want to live anywhere else. They were honest, hardworking men that made us want more for the county. They sweated for their food. They didn’t want a handout … Most of the old miners are gone now but their memories will never die …This is one Shale Countian that is proud to be a coal miner’s son. A signatory on the pro-coal petition similarly concluded his comments by imploring readers to: “Think of all of our dads and grandfathers and great grandfathers who have work[ed] themselves to death to keep a good living here, and THE ONES … who have died in the mines. Was that all for nothing?” Many other Shale Countians signed the petition in memory of loved ones who had perished in the mines. Their commentary exemplifies the connection they drew between “supporting coal” and honoring family members who had fallen in the line of duty. The third source of miners’ heroic image stemmed from the cherished regional values they symbolized: independence, self-sufficiency, hard work, devotion to family, selflessness, and dedication to community. As the columnist whom I quoted earlier indicated, residents believed that forbearers who worked in the mines had sacrificed their own well-being for love of family and community, and that they had inspired them to “want more out of life” by choosing to work in lieu of taking a “handout.” The remark about working in lieu of taking a “handout” is particularly important, as it speaks to the structural context in which Shale Countians lived. Widespread unemployment, poverty, government dependence, addiction, and labor market feminization defined Shale County’s “structure of feeling” (Williams 1977). Due to a dearth of employment opportunities, many community members relied on government assistance to make ends meet. The few lines of employment that were available rested in traditionally feminine occupations like nursing and teaching rather than in masculine ones like mining.4 Because these jobs were viewed as emasculating and required college degrees, working class men in the county usually had three options apart from mining: (1) they could seek work through the county if they held political connections (generally on a road crew); (2) they could compete for low-wage, part-time work in the county’s fledging service economy; or (3) they could seek what many residents called a “crazy check,” i.e., Supplementary Security Income (SSI) insurance. For residents like Terry and Sean, the first option was unavailable, and the latter two were considered shameful. Sean, for example, resigned himself to applying for SSI benefits after fruitlessly searching for work. The monthly check he received barely exceeded $600. His wife earned only slightly more through her job at the local hospital. Together, with her as the primary breadwinner, they struggled to make ends meet. Sean’s inability to support his family—and his dependence on government assistance—proved to be a source of humiliation: “Believe me,” he repeatedly said, “I would rather be working!” Tom—a young man in his 20s with whom I occasionally chatted—also felt ashamed of his economic situation. He had also lost his job as a miner in 2009. Unable to find “real work” thereafter (meaning employment that involved manual labor and paid a living wage), he found himself living in a homeless shelter with his wife Kara when I met him in 2012. Although the pastor who ran the shelter had secured him part-time work as a bagger at a local grocery store, he felt like a failure. Indeed, he held what many considered to be an unrespectable job; he owned neither property nor savings; he could neither provide for himself nor his wife; and he foresaw no viable future. This structural context is paramount for understanding why those living in the region tended to extol coal production. To the un/underemployed man who lacked the ability to support his family—the man who perhaps lacked socioeconomic purpose altogether—the miner represented a heroic alternative. Through his masculine labor, breadwinning capacity, and independence from the state, he stood in stark opposition to the ostensibly emasculating and undignified attributes of the contemporary rural individual.5 The proud few who still maintained coal-related jobs, by the same token, perceived mining as the lone force preventing their descent into a world of precarity, dependence, and cultural marginalization. These men wondered why the state would want to punish the “good people” who stood in contrast to the larger lumpen class—i.e., the ostensible undignifieds like Sean and Tom who secured their livings through a combination of government assistance, charity, and, increasingly, drug dealing. The spouse of one miner who signed the petition thus wrote: When my husband goes underground 2.5 miles daily to work a job that the majority is too weak or scared to do and puts in 10 to 12 hours of labor each day, he receives a check issued to his name. Sorry that my family doesn’t fit the description of a typical family … We weren't raised to be lazy and look for a handout. Another signatory on the petition complained how it takes a strong, hardworking man to go under the ground and mine coal … [and] they don’t get all of the damn benefits that the [recipients of government assistance] get, and they are the ones paying all the damn taxes for you all. Man up and get your miners card and work your ass off for your pay. As these comments illustrate, mining was not just a job to Shale Countians; it was a symbolic activity that epitomized the community’s foremost values and offered a deus ex machina to structural unemployment, persistent poverty, and cultural marginalization. The final reason that residents expressed pro-coal sentiment derived from the belief that mining reflected and preserved the value of rural life in the face of urban onslaught. As Scott (2010) notes, generations of cultural stigmatization have caused Appalachians to be “extremely conscious of their place in the national imagination” (p. 204). Indeed, almost all the participants whom I interviewed felt that they were the objects of urban scorn—a finding that is well documented by the existing literature (Harkins 2004; Scott 2010; Thomas, Lowe, and Smith 2011; Wray 2006). They tended, as such, to go out of their way “to represent themselves as worthy national citizens” (Scott 2010:204). Advocacy for mining aligned with this cultural project in two ways. First, in a country where the great moral dividing line is between those who work and those who do not (Lamont 2000; Newman 1999; Sherman 2009), mining held the capacity to take residents off the dole, move them into the formal labor market, facilitate their economic self-sufficiency, and enable property ownership—all implicit duties of mainstream American citizenship (Scott 2010). Second, the hardships and dangers associated with mining solidified Appalachian social citizenship through the cultural trope of sacrifice. As Scott (2010) explains: The patriotic sacrifices of miners constitute the terms for Appalachia’s membership in the American nation … Appalachia’s marginal status as a natural resource colony ironically provides coalfield communities a way to claim a core national identity. The hardships of mining can be read as evidence of their patriotic devotion to America and their central role in the national economy (pp. 168, 143). Indeed, the slogans that many residents adorned on their t-shirts, like “Coal Keeps the Lights On” and “America Runs on Coal,” were not arbitrary; they framed Appalachians as indispensable members of a nation that routinely challenged their belonging. Without mining, mountaineers believed that the rest of the country would view them as “backward hillbillies” who contributed little to the nation. As suppliers of the nation’s energy, however, they felt like they would be viewed as heroes who sacrificed their lives and bodies to “keep the lights on,” “power” the economy, and guarantee national security. Many, as such, interpreted the anti-coal politics of environmentalists as a challenge to their role within the national division of labor. Community members resented how the rhetoric of environmental groups depicted their socioeconomic contribution as antiquated and “dirty”—especially when many within those groups lived off the electricity that their coal generated. This theme weighed heavily on the pro-coal petition. Numerous signatories decried the hypocrisy of “big city” environmentalists, remarking that if they “didn’t support coal,” they should be disconnected from the power grid. The missive below captures their sentiment: For all you people sitting behind your fancy little desks in your comfy little chairs and doing your meaningless paperwork, it's easy for you to be opposed to coal. However, your lights aren’t going to work themselves and you'll be shredding your papers with old fashioned scissors without coal … You all give us such a bad reputation, when in all honesty we are busting our asses trying to provide for our families and yet again, it’s being taken away. The signatory’s comments not only validate the role that Appalachian coal production plays in national life, but convey mining as superior to the “meaningless paperwork” that liberal urbanites perform. He thus confirms the notion of Appalachians as sacrificial heroes. Indeed, community members viewed the coal miner as someone who was being incomprehensibly attacked by privileged environmentalists in the urban world—by people “sitting behind [their] fancy little desks in [their] comfy little chairs.”6 They believed that miners, who carried out some of the hardest and most dangerous work in the country, were not only made to endure the scorn of hypocritical outsiders, but to pay a premium in taxes to provide for those who “refused to work” in their own communities. Viewing coal production as the county’s only realistic hope for economic development, they also believed that they would be forced to move to an urban area away from the landscapes they knew and the family members they loved if mining jobs disappeared—a place where their neighbors would look down upon them and disparage their “hillbilly” ways of life. The community their “dads and grandfathers and great grandfathers … work[ed] themselves to death” to maintain, meanwhile, would wither into oblivion under the weight of population loss and economic disinvestment. For a group of people whose value system emphasized family, community, and loyalty, and who “didn’t want to live anywhere else,” this possibility proved existentially troubling. Support for the coal mining, as such, reflected the enduring conflict between “town” and “country” in the United States, Appalachia’s unique struggle to achieve recognition as a worthwhile part of the national imaginary, the strain associated with achieving the normative expectations of American citizenship in a context of severe socioeconomic deprivation (Scott 2010), and real fears regarding community breakdown and cultural erasure in depopulating rural communities. CONTEXTUALIZING ANTI-ENVIRONMENTALISM IN SHALE COUNTY Scott (2010) argues that “epistemologies of disgust and social distance help[ed] create the conditions of possibility for some of the most dangerous environmental exploitation in the United States and the designation of Appalachia as a sacrifice zone” during the twentieth century (p. 63). In the eyes of many residents, these same epistemologies had begun to create the conditions for Appalachia’s designation as a new kind of sacrifice zone in the twenty-first century: one in which they must forsake their economic security, social standing, and cultural identity to save the environment. As Cecil Rogers, the longtime president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), stated during a 2014 television appearance: [President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is] saying “let’s shut Appalachia down so we can deal with climate change” … [It’s] saying “let’s … take one segment of our society… and see if Appalachia can bring down climate change” … Impossible, absurd, ridiculous from our perspective … People in Appalachia … feel completely ignored right now, they feel that the United States government has just written them off (MSNBC 2014). As Rogers’ commentary illustrates, mountaineers felt like they were being made to bear the brunt of the costs associated with “saving the planet.” This is not an unreasonable feeling. Environmental protection is not an innocuous process that equally benefits all members of society; it is a fraught process in which race- and class-based stereotypes shape the discourses that assign blame for environmental degradation and the policy choices that determine who will absorb the costs associated with conservation. The outcomes of environmental policy, as such, depend on the political power of the parties involved and their unequal abilities to construct narratives that validate their moral worth (Witter 2013). Appalachia’s structural deficit of symbolic power in this case has rendered the process of securing an optimal outcome for itself difficult. As Rogers went on to complain: My question … to all the folks in the environmental community and, quite frankly, people in government, from the time this debate started, [they] have said to me, “what we really need here is a just transition; we wouldn’t [implement these regulations on coal] without a just transition”: No one’s talking about a just transition; there is none! There’s just an unemployment line! Many mountaineers, as Rogers expresses, believed that environmental protection should involve give and take—that if Appalachia had to curtail coal production, the government should provide resources to help them weather the associated economic transition. They felt like the government had offered no such “just transition,” however. To the contrary, they felt like Appalachia was being asked to sacrifice for the past pollution of privileged urbanites while receiving nothing in return. Given that many already felt like they had sacrificed to facilitate industrial progress during the twentieth century, they found this situation difficult to stomach. Apart from feeling like urban America had designated Appalachia as the nation’s sacrificial lamb in the fight against climate change, many mountaineers believed that officeholders like President Obama and institutions like the EPA valued abstract ecology, i.e., plants, animals, and streams, over the actual human beings who resided in the region. Early in my fieldwork, for example, I attended a Baptist church service to begin meeting members of the community. Upon arriving, an older gentleman named Paul sat down beside me. After a few minutes, we introduced ourselves, and I explained my interest in the county’s socioeconomic situation to him. Like Terry and Sean, Paul told me that the area’s problems derived from the loss of coal jobs, and that the EPA had made mining nearly impossible by refusing to grant new permits. As the music for the service commenced, bringing our conversation to a close, he lamented: “They seem more concerned with the ecology of it than the miners.” A few weeks later, I accompanied David, the pastor of the aforementioned church, to a faith-based rehab center that he and other local pastors had built with a federal grant. After showing me around the facility, he gave a sermon to the residents in recovery. During the service, he discussed the obstacles he faced while working to open the center. Eventually, he came to a part of the story during which he expressed great annoyance. A local man whose son had died from an overdose of OxyContin and alcohol had donated 70 acres of land for them to build the facility on. “Environmentalists,” he, however, lamented—enunciating the word with a pronounced snarl—protested the development, asserting that its construction would encroach upon the habitat of an “endangered snail that was living in a ditch” near the site. As he described the details, a derisive, incredulous mockery began to infuse his voice. The audience responded in turn, with several of the men shaking their heads in disgust. David then described how the EPA held up the construction process, and how he had to get in touch with the district’s Republican congressman to resolve the situation. The story, although not directly related to coal, illustrates how many Shale Countians viewed the EPA: as an institution that prioritized the ditches that snails live in over struggling mountaineers. Indeed, at a high school football game that I attended soon thereafter, Bruce, a 56-year-old recovering addict who belonged to David’s church, approached me at halftime to express his apprehensions about the forthcoming election. His voice amplified to a near shout as he lamented how “Obama” had “wiped away the little pride [the region] had left” by killing coal jobs. “Why?” he asked incredulously, “the environment!” A few months later, the night after the much-anticipated election finally occurred, I ran into him in the parking lot of David’s church. He immediately began lamenting the results, asserting that President Obama was “rotten to the core,” and that “83 percent of the state” had voted against him. When I asked why the state had opposed him in such overwhelming numbers, he told me that Obama’s assault on the coal industry had turned the region against him. He then began telling me the story of Tom and his wife Kara. Just six weeks ago, Bruce said, they had been living in extreme poverty. He told me he cried when he first visited their “dilapidated Winnabego,” which he described as “tiny … with a collapsed roof.” Tom and Kara had covered the caved in portion with plastic to protect themselves from the elements. Although they had electricity, they had no running water. Bruce teared up as he recalled Kara telling him how painful it had been to sleep in their bed, which was tucked into a tiny corner of the trailer, requiring them to scrunch their bodies up to fit. He then told me that Kara, who was in the middle stages of renal failure, likely would have died if David had not relocated her to the church’s shelter. He recalled an occasion in September when she had come into a Sunday service after missing several dialysis treatments. I remembered the incident. Her face and body were puffy and distended from the toxins circulating through her bloodstream, her skin was jaundiced, and one side of her chest was discolored with dark red and blue hues. She had approached the altar at the end of the service to receive prayer—to prepare for the worst. Like many of the county’s residents, Bruce personally blamed President Obama’s “War on Coal” for Tom and Kara’s useless suffering. Obama, in his view, valued air over their lives. He could not understand this—could not understand why they were made to endure poverty, pain, disrespect, and humiliation on a daily basis. Bruce’s confusion was understandable. The matrix of forces that had produced their situation has given way to a vast and conflicted literature on Appalachian poverty that provides few simple answers. What do exist, however, are the ideologically inflected answers that the coal industry supplies: that mining represents the only viable form of socioeconomic development in the region; that President Obama and the EPA have foreclosed that vital opportunity; and that the rest of the country values snails and streams over the “backwards hillbillies” who disturb their habitats. These answers resonated strongly with distressed residents struggling under the weight of structural unemployment, political exclusion, and cultural stigmatization. ORGANIZING APPALACHIAN PAIN: THE PROCESSES OF HEGEMONIC LEADERSHIP Although Shale Countians’ views about coal mining and environmentalism appeared to develop “spontaneously” from their “everyday experiences,” two factors suggest that the “systematic educational activity of … conscious leadership” shaped them (Gramsci 1991:51). First, Appalachians have not always interpreted coal production as a desirable form of socioeconomic development. As Stephen Fischer (1993) notes, the region’s miners once constituted “one of the most militant and class-conscious workforces in the United States” (p. 3). Mountaineers also established a reputation for aggressive protest against mining-related pollution during the twentieth century, engaging in actions ranging from non-violent civil disobedience to armed insurrection (Eller 2008). The representations of coal production that prevail in the region’s historical folk culture, moreover, do not articulate mining with dignity, independence, manhood, and prosperity; to the contrary, they depict Appalachia as a region that coal companies have defiled and destroyed, and the miner as a person whom brutalizing labor arrangements have dehumanized (Fischer 1991). Second, beginning in the late 1990s, the coal industry significantly increased its legitimation efforts in response to rising levels of environmental concern (Bell and York 2012). Between 2010 and 2013 alone, the National Mining Association (NMA) spent more than $50 million on marketing, advertising, and lobbying efforts throughout the region. These efforts included the “Count on Coal” initiative, which employed social media to “identify, educate, and recruit Americans … to keep electricity affordable by … promoting the use of … coal”; the “American Coal Foundation,” which distributed teaching materials to public schools about “the advantages and potential of coal;” and the “Mine the Vote” project, which campaigned on behalf of politicians who opposed coal-related regulations (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013). The NMA also subsidized the Kentucky and West Virginia chapters of “Friends of Coal” (FOC), which worked to “demonstrate … how many lives are touched in a positive way by the coal industry.” During my fieldwork, these groups staged a series of rallies and released numerous ads that “rip[ped] into President Barack Obama, the EPA, tree-hugging protesters, the news media, and big-city liberals who we[pt] for lost mountains without appreciating how their electricity [was] made” (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013:160). I found strong similarities between the views that Shale Countians expressed and the messages that the industry propagated through these initiatives. They resonated with residents for two reasons. First, the demise of the UMWA and 60s-era progressive groups created an ideal context for industry operatives to forge a leadership position in the region.7 In the absence of oppositional institutions, they enjoyed an outsized capacity to “define the situation.” Second, their public relations work tapped into—but reinterpreted and rearticulated—the organic pattern of meanings and values that residents inhabited. Indeed, the industry promoted a “coal heritage” that linked Appalachia’s significant past to coal production, erased evidence of past abuses, and conveyed mining as a solution to residents’ concerns with unemployment, affordability, family and community breakdown, and rural inequality. Coal representatives accomplished this by employing two forms of hegemonic leadership. The first involved flooding the county’s civil sphere with selective representations of industrial activity, including t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, public displays, coal mining competitions, and even country music concerts. The field notes I drafted after observing Shale’s Fourth of July parade, which FOC sponsored, demonstrate the processes of selective forgetting and remembering that these representations encouraged: The parade … consisted of a large motorcade. Almost all the cars and trucks that passed through featured pro-coal messages: “Coal Keeps the Lights On;” “We Support Coal;” “Coal is not just a Job, It is a Way of Life,” and messages about how “coal pays my bills” and “coal provides my job.” On two of the trailer trucks, the owners had created scenic displays of mines. Those who sat/stood in the bed were dressed like miners, with black make-up smeared across their faces to resemble coal dust and hard hats. One featured a makeshift log cabin, which burned smoke while a man dressed as a miner sat in a rocking chair. Most of the cars/trucks were filled with children who threw candy to onlookers. The parade also featured a slew of shiny coal trucks … The pro-coal messages adorned almost every other vehicle in the parade as well. The contents of these artifacts and slogans were as remarkable for what they included as what they excluded. The log cabin display featured an older miner—a man who could pass for a resident’s father—relaxing outside his own home after finishing a hard day’s work. The imagery articulated mining with masculine labor, property ownership, economic self-sufficiency, and family. The slogan “coal keeps the lights on” suggested that miners play an indispensable role in the national division of labor by providing the country’s electricity. This articulated mining with citizenship. And the shiny new coal trucks and banners like “coal provides my job” articulated the industry with employment and economic growth in an area that lagged badly behind the rest of the nation. At the same time these banners, scenic displays, and shiny new coal trucks made these articulations, they strategically omitted other aspects of the industry’s historical presence, including: the primitive accumulation practices that dispossessed residents of their land; the tens of thousands of industrial accidents that cost residents’ their lives; the exploitative living conditions that miners and their families faced in company towns; the labor struggles that made coal communities sites of fear and armed conflict; the industrial pollution that degraded local environments; and the MTR techniques that had largely replaced underground mining. Indeed, the cultural representations that the industry propagated encouraged selective forgetting, emphasizing the endearing qualities of coal production while eliding its many drawbacks. The second leadership tactic that the industry carried out involved influencing how residents interpreted coal-related political events—such as EPA objections to new coal permits, protest activities by environmental organizations, and presidential directives like the Clean Power Plan. It did so by filtering strategic public relations messages through community leaders whom residents recognized and trusted. In response to EPA objections to new coal permits under the Clean Water Act, for example, Shale’s senator, who received copious financial support from the industry, gave a public speech in which he exclaimed: “I am tired of coal-producing states being treated as second-class citizens … Coal is a home-grown resource, and I am proud to defend it.” When officials made these statements, residents interpreted them from what Stuart Hall (1980) calls the “dominant/hegemonic position,” accepting their intended meanings without questioning them. They did so for three reasons. First, such messages demonstrated practical knowledge of their focal concerns—i.e., their collective apprehensions and anxieties about joblessness, political exclusion, and cultural marginalization. Because Shale Countians already felt like the federal government “completely ignored them,” as Cecil Rogers stated, invocations of “second class citizenship” and socioeconomic exclusion struck a chord. Similarly, when the county’s popular state representative asserted that “the president” had “declared a war on affordable energy” and that replacing coal with renewable sources would result in “spiking energy costs,” he demonstrated his understanding of the hardships residents faced when paying their utility bills. Indeed, when my neighbor Terry claimed that Obama’s EPA policies would destroy jobs and raise the price of electricity “35 percent,” his commentary appeared to draw from an op-ed that the representative had published just a few days earlier, which contained the same figure. Second, the above messages emanated from sources residents knew and trusted. Shale’s state senator and state representative had lived in the county for their entire lives, obtained copious funding for local projects, and personally assisted scores of residents with their problems. Residents thus accepted their advocacy with relative credulity. Environmentalists and EPA officials, on the other hand, tended to live outside community. They also tended to appeal to studies and statistics rather than residents’ practical knowledge when promoting clean energy. Sixty-five-year-old Maria’s story, reproduced below, serves as a demonstration: I had this real good friend … and [we] started getting into some pretty heated exchanges [about MTR mining] … and I said—to me this was like a clincher—I said, you know the University of West Virginia recently did studies that show the effects of MTR mining on water quality, and it’s very detrimental. And then [he] said: “I don’t put much faith in studies” … I was just horrified … If you can’t quote a scientific study as evidence … there’s no hope for anything! Like many activists, Maria operated in the limited domain of the “traditional intellectual.” She cited academic studies to make her case, demeaned residents’ “practical activity” by conveying mining as dirty and destructive, and offended their cultural sensibilities by dismissing their opinions as “anti-intellectual” (she made this comment later in our interview). In contrast to environmentalists like Maria, the industry’s spokespeople incorporated real “meanings and values [that residents had] created … in actual situations in the past” (Williams 1977:123). This was third reason residents accepted their claims. Rather than parroting their meanings, however, industry representatives converted them into “myths” that aligned with industrial prerogatives (Barthes 1972). During a 2009 FOC rally, for example, Former Marshall Football Coach Bob Pruett appealed to participants’ experiences with unemployment and unrespectable labor. Recounting how his father was forced to take a job as a custodian after losing his mining position in the 1950s, he asked: “Anybody remember that? It wasn’t good!” He then inveighed against a cap and trade bill Congress was debating, arguing that it would harm coal production and result in more job losses. Although the hardships associated with the layoffs Pruett referenced had resulted from industrial mechanization, his rhetoric rearticulated them with environmental regulation. Industry spokespeople rearticulated residents’ feelings of social exclusion with environmentalism as well. An FOC commercial released on the Fourth of July, for example, publicly thanked miners for serving as “energy providers to the world,” lionizing them as the individuals “on whom we all greatly depend.” The message was ironic because miners historically invoked their status as “energy providers” to critique coal companies. Indeed, in songs like “Brookside Strike,” mountaineers like Si Kahn once sang: “I’m tired of working for nothing … if it weren’t for the underground miner, no light in this country would burn. You’d think [the companies] work with the union, but they fight us at every damn turn!” The industry’s advertisements converted these protests against low wages into protests against environmental regulation. By depicting industry bosses as people who recognized miners’ role in the national division of labor, they reframed environmentalists as the ones who sought to deny their citizenship. The industry enacted the same tactic to appeal to residents’ concerns about family life. The organizer of a 2008 FOC membership drive told attendees that “if you want your kids to stay in this state, you've got to fight for [the coal industry] … and stand up [to environmentalism].” FOC repeated this theme in a newsletter later that year, asserting that coal producers would “provide good jobs and benefits for future generations, which will keep our children and grandchildren close to home.” These messages were also ironic, as residents used to invoke family values to critique coal production. Sarah Gunning’s popular song “Come All Ye Coal Miners,” for example, bemoans how mining “take[s] our children's lives … take[s] fathers away from children, and husbands away from wives.” Industry spokespeople capitalized upon these feelings regarding family dissolution—reframing coal production as a way to preserve families in a context of population loss and community decline. Industry executives, in sum, shaped residents’ views about mining by enlisting community leaders to erase evidence of past abuses and reinterpret local culture in ways that aligned with their prerogatives. As Williams (1977) notes, hegemony is “always a more or less adequate organization and interconnection of otherwise separated … meanings, values, and practices, which [leadership] incorporates into … an effective social order” (p.114). Residents perceived these tactics of incorporation as a form of “recognition, acknowledgement, and … acceptance” (p.125). Indeed, in a region that had endured scorn and marginalization from the larger body politic for generations, the perception of acceptance had a powerful effect. CONCLUSION This article has explored why residents of Central Appalachia express strong support for coal production—an activity that has severely damaged the region’s economy, environment, and public health. Shale Countians associated coal mining with dignified labor, cheap energy, self-sufficiency, family values, national citizenship, and community pride. They articulated environmentalism, on the other hand, with economic decline and sociocultural marginalization. Residents believed that EPA officials expected them to solve the nation’s climate crisis alone, that they valued ecology over the human beings who lived in the region, and that curtailing coal production would negate their heritage and citizenship. These views did not develop organically from their “everyday experiences” and “traditional popular conception of the world” (Gramsci 1991:51). The industry’s hegemonic leadership, which flooded the region with selective representations of coal production, channeled strategic public relations messages through trusted community leaders, and instructed residents how to interpret key political developments, played an important role in shaping their views. Indeed, the industry’s PR work promoted a selective coal heritage that obscured mining’s negative externalities, accentuated its agreeable qualities, and incorporated residents’ past critiques. The ability to tap into the lived pattern of meanings, values, and concerns that residents inhabited made the industry’s hegemonic leadership possible. The decimation of the UMWA over the past 40 years—and the concerted efforts of neoliberal policy makers to defund regional democracy assistance initiatives like the Community Action Program—did as well. The routine failure of activists to embrace environmental justice agendas made matters worse.8 Because environmental organizations often exhibited a narrow focus on climate change in lieu of the practical, everyday struggles that mountaineers faced, their campaigns tended to repel prospective allies while providing fodder for the industry to shore up its status as guardian of regional interests and values. While environmental organizations focused their advocacy on issues that seemed distant if not irrelevant to many mountaineers, the industry provided a framework that recognized and offered a solution to pressing problems within the local structure of feeling. This framework also extended mountaineers’ dignity and respect—items that were in short supply across the region. Residents granted the industry permission to exploit the region’s human and ecological resources in return. This was not necessarily an unequal exchange. If contemporary studies of poverty and social suffering reveal anything, it is that marginalized populations seek cultural recognition above material gain (Bourgois 1996). Rather than interpreting hegemonic leadership as a form of “false consciousness,” my work thus suggests that political and environmental sociologists should probe the cultural and emotional benefits that hegemonic leaders offer to subalterns. Like Norgaard (2011), my findings bring the tension between preserving the environment and preserving the sense of socially constructed reality that people inhabit into sharp relief. For Appalachians, the cultural changes that the transition to clean energy required were not as innocuous as recycling or purchasing energy-efficient lightbulbs. Rather, they threatened to melt the symbols and practices they had been socialized to regard as solid into air, bringing them face to face with the modern condition. As much as Shale Countians defended coal production to preserve their sense of economic opportunity, they also did so to preserve their sense of place, purpose, and ontological security in a rapidly changing—and often hostile—social world. The industry’s coal heritage nurtured these goals. Nonetheless, future scholarship should also explore where hegemonic leadership falls short and how dissident citizens disrupt it. Hegemony is an inherently vulnerable process that leaders must continuously renew. Indeed, dominant groups must “discard whole areas of [cultural] significance, reinterpret or dilute them, or [continuously] convert them into forms which support or at least do not contradict the really important elements of the current hegemony” (Williams 1977:116). Inquiry into hegemony’s fault lines, as such, might begin with an examination of “the vital points of connection” between the selective traditions that leaders curate and the lived pattern of meanings and values that subalterns inhabit. Because “the real [historical] record” is always “recoverable,” the same “vitals points of connection” that make hegemony powerful also render it fragile (Williams 1977:116). Scholars should also examine the traditions and meanings that leaders cannot incorporate into their rule. Indeed, hegemony’s pitfalls lie in the vacuums that leaders create when they exclude meanings and values that contravene their domination; make promises they cannot deliver on; and promote selective traditions that ultimately begin as incorporated grievances and critiques. I wish to thank Lynn Appleton, Paul Gellert, Matt May, Maria Paino, Patricia Widener, Mark Harvey, Phillip Hough, Farshad Araghi, and the anonymous reviewers at Social Problems for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Direct correspondence to: Philip G. Lewin, Florida Atlantic University, Department of Sociology, Culture and Society Building, Rm. 253, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, Florida 33431. E-mail: lewinp@fau.edu. Footnotes 1 “Shale County,” like the names of all people and places in this article, is a pseudonym. 2 The petition was open to the public and, at the time of writing, had amassed 3,211 signatories from Appalachians across the region—many of them from Shale County. 3 While past research has examined the relationships between income and environmental concern, it has generated inconsistent results. 4 Many mining jobs have been replaced with service jobs, which are now the leading source of employment in the region. Women have thus become the primary breadwinners in many mountain families (Legerski and Cornwall 2010; Maggard 1994). 5 I am writing in a purely emic sense here. My intention is not to essentialize “masculine” and “feminine” work nor to rank conventionally masculine occupations over feminine ones. It is to convey the economic and cultural realities of living in rural poverty from the standpoint of participants who subscribed to a hegemonic model of masculinity. 6 Environmentalists do not, of course, hail exclusively from urban locations. Most Shale Countians made associations between environmentalism and urban life, however. Previous research in rural areas has yielded similar findings (Cabrejas 2012; Desmond 2006). 7 Mechanization and union busting have reduced the UMWA’s rank-and-file from a mid-century high of 800,000 members to just 35,000 members today. No unionized mines remain in the state where Shale County is located. 8 As opposed to viewing people like displaced coal miners as collateral damage in the fight against climate change, environmental justice activists attempt to achieve “just transitions” to sustainable development. See, for example, Bell and York (2010) and Witter (2013). REFERENCES Barthes Roland. 1972 . Mythologies . London, UK : Paladin . 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Shriver Thomas , Adams Alison , Messer Chris . 2014 . “Power, Quiescence, and Pollution: The Suppression of Environmental Grievances.” Social Currents 1 ( 3 ): 275 - 92 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Thomas Alexander , Brian Lowe , Polly Smith. 2011 . Critical Rural Theory: Structure. Space, Culture . Plymouth, UK : Lexington Books . U.S. Census Bureau . 2013 . “Industry by Sex for the Civilian Employed Population 16 Years and Over, 2008-2012 American Community Survey.” Retrieved September 22, 2107 (http://factfinder.census.gov). Williams Raymond. 1977 . Marxism and Literature . Oxford, UK : Oxford University Press . Witter Rebecca. 2013 . “Elephant-Induced Displacement and the Power of Choice: Moral Narratives About Resettlement in Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park.” Conservation and Society 11 ( 4 ): 406 - 16 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Wray Matt. 2006 . Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness . Durham, NC : Duke University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Social Problems Oxford University Press

“Coal is Not Just a Job, It’s a Way of Life”: The Cultural Politics of Coal Production in Central Appalachia

Social Problems , Volume Advance Article – Oct 19, 2017

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Abstract

Abstract Since beginning operations in Central Appalachia, coal producers have economically exploited residents and exposed them to severe health risks associated with pollution. Despite causing these problems, the industry enjoys vigorous popular support. Drawing on nine months of immersive ethnography in “Shale County,” this article examines why many Appalachians endorse the coal industry despite its negative externalities. I find that Appalachia’s subordinate relationship to the rest of the nation plays a profound role in conditioning the region’s pro-industry, anti-environmental views. Many Appalachians feel like the federal government neglects them, and like urban America, devalues them. Drawing upon Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, I show how the coal industry capitalizes upon these feelings by promoting coal heritage—a carefully curated cultural construction that emphasizes selective aspects of Appalachian history while erasing those that challenge its domination. Coal heritage, I show, conveys environmentalism as an attack on Appalachians’ right to economic opportunity, their role in the national division of labor, and their moral worth. It frames industry representatives, on the other hand, as guardians of regional interests and values. hegemony, coal, environmental justice, Appalachia, culture Since beginning operations in Central Appalachia during the early twentieth century, the coal industry has damaged the region in innumerable ways. Coal operators have degraded the environment; destroyed material infrastructure; economically exploited workers; subjected workers to dangerous working conditions; expropriated residents’ land; and exposed residents to health risks associated with pollution. Despite causing these problems, the industry enjoys vigorous popular support. Drawing on nine months of immersive ethnography in “Shale County,”1 this article examines why many mountaineers endorse coal production despite its negative externalities. I find that Appalachia’s subordinate relationship to the rest of the nation—its status as a natural resource colony composed of residents who are viewed as “not quite white” and not quite American (Wray 2006)—plays a profound role in conditioning the region’s pro-coal, anti-environmental views (see also Scott 2010). Many Appalachians feel like the federal government neglects them, and like urban America, devalues them. As a result, they tend to interpret efforts to curtail coal production as an attack on their right to economic opportunity, their role in the national division of labor, their cultural identity as rural Americans, and their moral worth. Coal producers amplify these feelings by promoting coal heritage—a carefully curated cultural construction that emphasizes selective aspects of Appalachian history, erases those that challenge their domination, and positions them as guardians of regional interests and values. Through the lens of this heritage, residents come to view the industry as an institution that fights for their political interests, and environmental organizations as institutions that threaten them. My work makes four primary contributions to the existing literature. First, I develop a comprehensive, multi-dimensional account of pro-coal sentiment in Appalachia. Existing work tends to focus on single dimensions of this phenomenon, such as how mountaineers perceive the industry (Blaacker, Woods, and Oliver 2012), how the industry produces legitimating ideology (Bell and York 2010), or how the social context in which Appalachians live shapes their environmental attitudes (Bell and Braun 2010; Scott 2010). My analysis examines all three factors at once: I investigate the legitimation efforts that the industry carries out and how coalfield residents interpret and act upon them. I then situate their interpretations within the context that structures them: Appalachia’s historical lineage of mass unemployment, persistent poverty, and sociocultural marginalization. Using this approach, I develop a fuller, more robust model of the region’s anti-environmentalism relative to previous work. Second, by situating my findings within a Gramscian theoretical framework, I show why the industry’s public relations work resonates with Appalachians, and why environmental activism tends to repel them. Antonio Gramsci’s writings on hegemony suggest that dominant groups secure consent for economic exploitation by exercising moral and cultural leadership. This requires familiarity with the “practical life” of subordinates and the capacity to mediate legitimation efforts through “organic intellectuals.” Extending his concept of hegemonic leadership to encompass ecological exploitation, I show how the industry’s construction of coal heritage relies on its knowledge of the values, meanings, and beliefs that circulate through daily life in Appalachia, and its capacity to channel public relations messages through trusted community leaders. Lacking this knowledge, environmental organizations tend to make their appeals with studies and statistics, channeling their activism through outside organizers whom residents view with suspicion. Third, by highlighting Appalachians’ cultural and emotional attachment to coal, I build upon previous work by Kari Norgaard (2011) regarding why people often remain quiescent in the face of severe environmental threats. In her study of “Bygdaby,” a Norwegian community negatively affected by global warming, she found that the actions residents took to maintain their socially constructed sense of reality were incompatible with the actions they needed to take in order to ensure their physical survival in the face of climate change. Like Norgaard, my findings bring the tension between preserving the environment and preserving the sense of cultural reality that Appalachians inhabit into sharp relief. I show how embracing coal heritage helps them preserve their collective identity, maintain their culturally constructed sense of reality, and avoid unpleasant emotions in the context of imminent social change. Finally, I identify several novel mechanisms that produce anti-environmental views in coal communities. These include residents’ tendency to: perceive coal as more affordable than renewable energy; express support for mining in order to honor family members who worked in the mines; interpret mining as morally superior to other subsistence opportunities in the region; perceive mining-related employment as a means of forging a meaningful place in the national division of labor; and view mining as a way of establishing their moral worth to those who live outside the region, whom many believe value nature (i.e., plants and animals) over their lives. COAL-DRIVEN MODERNIZATION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES IN CENTRAL APPALACHIA Almost all scholars within the social sciences agree that coal-driven modernization brought a host of social, political, economic, and ecological problems to Central Appalachia. The “development” associated with mining resulted in precipitous agricultural decline, widespread patterns of absentee land ownership, and the advent of the “company town” (Caudill 1963; Gaventa 1982; Lewis, Johnson, and Askins 1978). Rather than paying workers generous wages and reinvesting profits in community institutions, most coal companies expropriated community wealth while burdening residents with brutal labor arrangements and derelict living conditions (Caudill 1963; Eller 1982; Gaventa 1982; Lewis, Johnson, and Askins 1978). Indeed, the industry transformed Central Appalachia into an “internal colony”—or what Rebecca Scott (2010) calls a “sacrifice zone”—for the benefit of absentee owners in the urban metropolis. While coal fueled development in the Northeast and Midwest, it left mountain communities poor and broken. The boom-bust cycles associated with mining resulted in massive out-migration and population instability (Rice and Brown 1993; Schwarzweller, Brown, and Mangalam 1971). These rapid population shifts undermined the social support networks and social capital that had long held farming communities together (Bell 2009). Turbulent labor struggles, in which company “gun thugs” quelled union activity and political participation with violence and intimidation, exacerbated deteriorating levels of community trust (Bell and York 2012; Duncan 2000; Gaventa 1982). The proliferation of conflict, fear, and mistrust stunted the public sphere (Billings and Blee 2000), fueled social problems like alcoholism and drug abuse (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013; Kobak 2012), and eroded overall quality of life. Worse still, the industry poisoned the areas in which it was located. Shannon Bell and Richard York (2010) argue that “coal may be responsible for more environmental harm than any other energy source” (p. 359). Mountaintop removal mining (MTR), which blasts away the ridgelines of standing mountains in order to access the coal seams beneath them, scars landscapes, kills ecosystems, and pollutes water sources. It also cracks the foundations of local infrastructure, subjects residents to unending noise pollution, and results in deadly landslides (Eller 2008). After coal is mined, the tipples that process it produce massive quantities of dust, which erode air quality and cause respiratory ailments. Coal processing also generates millions of gallons of toxic slurry, which contaminates local water sources and sometimes results in deadly floods (e.g., Erikson 1976). The cumulative pollution that mining engenders puts residents of extractive communities at risk for developing numerous health ailments. Even when controlling for variables like income and education, they have higher rates of hospitalization for respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular conditions, birth defects, cancers, chronic illnesses, and mortality than residents of non-mining communities (Bell and York 2012). For all the social, political, and ecological damage that mining generates, it produces little if any economic stimulus. Although coal production steadily increased from 1900 to 2000, coal-related employment has steadily diminished every year since the 1940s (the period from 1971-1978 is an exception). In 2010, mining accounted for only 3 percent of West Virginia’s total employment and less than 1 percent of Kentucky’s total employment (Blaacker, Woods, and Oliver 2012). Mining’s share of employment is projected to diminish even further over the next decade (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013; Perdue and Pavela 2012). Beyond the limits that mechanization places on jobs, operators have already mined the region’s most profitable seams and lack the capacity to compete with the West’s abundant reserves. Given the development of hydrofracking, they also face fierce competition from cheap natural gas. Tightening EPA regulations have made it more difficult for the industry to forge a competitive place in the energy market as well. The coal jobs that once fueled the area’s economy, as such, are “perhaps gone for good” (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013). Even if the coal industry could generate new employment, Rory McIlmoil and colleagues (2010) argue that when the negative externalities of coal production are accounted for, mining reflects net losses for the states in which it predominates. At the community level, Robert Perdue and Gregory Pavela (2012) have shown that localities with mining activity have poorer socioeconomic outcomes relative to non-mining communities. Several other studies regarding the “resource curse” (i.e., why resource rich areas often suffer from poverty and underdevelopment) have reached similar conclusions (e.g., Elo and Beale 1985; Freudenberg and Wilson 2002). William Freudenberg (1992) has compared the logic of policy makers who pursue extractive industry to the logic of addicts who prioritize the fleeting “buzz” of drug use over its long-term consequences. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has ranked coal-dominated West Virginia and Kentucky last and next to last in “overall well-being” for the past seven years, speaks to his argument. Despite the ostensibly damaging role that mining has played in Central Appalachia’s history, and despite the limited economic benefit that industry investment brings, public perceptions toward the coal industry tend to be overwhelmingly positive (Bell and Braun 2010; Bell and York 2010; Blaacker, Woods, and Oliver 2012; Scott 2010). Residents of mining communities not only articulate economic development, job creation, and community social services with coal, but believe that mining represents a “way of life” that upholds the region’s cultural lineage. When an overwhelming consensus of historical and contemporary evidence shows that the industry’s presence has damaged rather than built up the communities in which it is located, why do so many Appalachian residents embrace—and even identify with—coal not just as a marker of community identity, but as a total “way of life?” THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: ANTONIO GRAMSCI’S CONCEPT OF HEGEMONIC LEADERSHIP Popular support for coal production in Appalachia—and the absence of widespread activism and resistance against industry abuse—represents a classic puzzle in political sociology: why subordinates sometimes consent to and identify with political domination (Gramsci 1991), why people sometimes appear to participate in the intensification of their own exploitation (Burawoy 1979), and why quiescence often occurs in situations of glaring inequality (Gaventa 1982; Shriver, Adams, and Messer 2014). Antonio Gramsci’s (1991) theory of hegemonic leadership provides a robust framework for analyzing these phenomena. Rather than seeking “accurate” and “objective” political information, Gramsci’s work suggests that people seek out political universes in which they can recognize themselves and thrive. Hegemonic leaders secure “spontaneous consent” from subordinates by providing cultural and political frameworks that validate their goals, values, and identities. This requires deep familiarity with their “practical life,” i.e., the “lived system of meaning and values” that orients their sense of reality (Williams 1977:110). Knowledge of their working life—and the occupational culture surrounding it—is particularly important. Gramsci argues that leadership must come from “active participation in practical life, as a constructor, organizer, ‘permanent persuader,’ and not just simple orator” (pp. 9-10). Rulers, in other words, mobilize popular support not by citing studies and statistics that validate their positions, but by transforming “practical activity” into “a new and integral conception of the world” (p. 10). This “new and integral conception of the world” consists of a charismatic interpretation of the subordinate group’s traditions. Rulers interpret and elevate in importance only those traditions that support their dominance, however. “From a whole possible area of past and present,” Raymond Williams (1977) argues, hegemonic leaders select “certain meanings and practices … for emphasis.” These meanings and practices are “passed off as ‘the tradition,’ the ‘significant past’” (p. 115; emphasis in original). Leaders thus construct a “version of the past that is intended to connect with and ratify the present” (p. 115)—a version that transforms history into heritage. As Scott (2010) notes: “Heritage cannot properly be termed history at all; rather, it is a publicly instituted structuring of consciousness that functions by excluding traditions it cannot incorporate (p. 142). In the following sections, I describe the structure of feeling that Shale Countians inhabit—the experiences and institutions they value, the concerns that command their attention, and the issues they think of as being currently “present” in their lives. I then draw on Gramsci’s theory of hegemonic leadership to explain how coal operatives tap into this system of meanings, values, and experiences to mobilize popular support for coal production. Rather than dismissing the selective traditions they promote as “false consciousness,” I illustrate how their leadership won over residents by providing concrete symbolic and emotional benefits in a context of rapid and distressing social change (Norgaard 2011). DATA AND METHODS My analysis draws from data collected during a study of “Shale County”—an economically and ecologically distressed community located in rural Appalachia. Shale’s mining activity corresponds to the regional dynamics discussed in the literature review: according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were fewer than five active mines (all capital-intensive surface operations) and just one processing plant in the county in 2013. Collectively, these permit areas accounted for fewer than 75 jobs. Outside of the county, few individuals are employed in the mines. According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, only a few percent of the county’s workforce are employed in the mining sector. Educational services, social/healthcare services, manufacturing, retail trade, and public administration all employ more Shale Countians than do coal mines. Save for a few notable exceptions, however, most residents expressed vigorous support for the coal industry. Shale Countians’ support manifested in their accounts of Appalachian social problems, which blamed poverty and joblessness on the EPA’s “war on coal”; their everyday commentary regarding coal’s positive impact on the region; their support for political candidates espousing pro-coal agendas; their opposition to candidates with “environmentalist” and hence ostensibly anti-coal agendas; their adornment of pro-coal paraphernalia; their conception of mining as prized work; and their participation in coal-related festivals. I probed pro-coal sentiment in Shale County by carrying out immersive fieldwork between 2011 and 2012 (my first visit lasted two months, while my subsequent visit lasted seven months). While living in the community, I attended public festivals that celebrated Appalachia’s legacy of coal mining, public events that were sponsored by coal companies, and public meetings in which citizens were invited to weigh in on coal permits. I also immersed myself in the community’s everyday life, attending church services, high school football games and holiday cookouts, and volunteering at community organizations. This allowed me to have hundreds of informal conversations with residents about their perceptions and evaluations of coal production. Alongside the ethnographic component of my study, I conducted 40 in-depth, semistructured interviews with key individuals in the community. They included former miners and their family members; activists working for an environmental justice organization; officials in local government; local newspaper reporters; and ordinary citizens who, while not directly involved in mining, were affected by its presence in the community. Interviews ranged from 45 minutes to almost four hours in length. All were tape-recorded and transcribed. As a final prong of my data collection, I carried out extensive document analysis. This involved analyzing reporting in the local newspaper from 2002 to 2012; articles pertaining to coal production in the regional newspaper; advertisements from local political campaigns; local petitions, both for and against new coal permits; public conversations on local web forums and Facebook pages; press releases by regional environmental organizations; and the industry’s public relations messages. When I completed my fieldwork, I collated the sum of my data into Atlas.ti, which I used for coding. I began the process by cataloguing all instances in the data wherein residents made statements about mining, coal companies, or environmental organizations (e.g., the EPA). From there, I coded the meanings they attached to these institutions; the values and concerns with which they articulated them; the types of situations that elicited discussion about them; and the reasons they provided for their evaluations. I then catalogued all instances in the data wherein representatives of coal companies or environmental groups made statements about coal production. From there, I employed focused coding to compare the themes of their messages to the themes of residents’ commentary. I also analyzed instances in which residents directly responded to these messages. Finally, I compared the commentary of all three groups to the general themes I uncovered regarding everyday life in the community—i.e., the issues, anxieties, and aspirations that tended to surface in daily conversation, formal interviews, and news coverage. I elaborate on my findings in the paragraphs that follow. UNDERSTANDING PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR COAL IN SHALE COUNTY Shale Countians’ positive appraisal of coal production was rooted in four beliefs: (1) that the industry provided good jobs in an area with limited economic opportunity; (2) that replacing coal with renewable energy sources would raise electricity costs; (3) that miners symbolized community values; and (4) that miners upheld the dignity of rural life in the face of urban onslaught. Most residents believed that mining offered the only real opportunity for gainful employment in the county, and that families and community institutions within the area benefited from the jobs, charitable donations, and tax revenues that coal companies provided. Many also believed that stringent environmental regulation, spearheaded by the Obama-led EPA, was rapidly eliminating those jobs, donations, and tax revenues. Indeed, the term “EPA” constituted a de facto swear word in Shale County. I recall few if any days in the field that did not involve listening to residents excoriate the organization for exacerbating (if not directly causing) the county’s struggles with joblessness and poverty. Just a few days after arriving, I attended a Fourth of July cookout at my neighbor’s trailer. As the attendees were preparing to ignite fireworks, I struck up a conversation with a man in his late 30s named Terry. Terry was married with three young children and made ends meet by working construction jobs. He was wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the message “Coal Keeps the Electricity On.” After chatting about college football, we found ourselves commiserating about the sad state of the local economy. When I made a comment about the high unemployment rate, he responded by impugning a set of newly proposed EPA regulations, which he claimed would make matters worse. When I asked him to elaborate, he explained that the region depended on coal, and that outside the mines, finding gainful employment was all but impossible. “There’s nothing else left around this area,” he sighed, his eyes betraying a deep sense of apprehension about the county’s future. “Obama,” he scowled, “seems to be the one who’s behind it.” Terry’s sentiment was very common. Several weeks later, a large, sturdy man named Sean approached while I was chatting with a group of volunteers at a church community center. We had been speculating about who would win the upcoming presidential election. Sean listened for a few moments before interjecting: “I ain’t voting for Obama; he took my job!” The EPA, he claimed, had shut down the mine that had employed him until 2009. “All the workers around these parts,” he lamented, were losing their jobs due to intensifying federal regulation. His tone became less angry and more despondent as he explained how mining offered the only viable economic option for “someone like [him],” i.e., a person without a high school diploma who lived in rural Appalachia. Sean told me that he made over $80,000 per year before being laid off and enjoyed outstanding fringe benefits. “I was making a good living for myself,” he grumbled, before juxtaposing his auspicious former life with the bleak situation he now faced. Hard up Shale Countians like Sean were frustrated with the economic privation they faced and blamed “Obama’s EPA” for their hardships. The administration, they felt, was attempting to deprive them of the only meaningful economic opportunity to which they had ever held access. This theme weighed heavily on an online petition “in favor of coal mining” that a local man crafted in 2009.2 It generated an outpouring of support on the local Internet forum that I monitored. The vast majority of signatories emphasized mining’s economic importance to the region. One signer wrote: “Without the coal mining jobs we have here … so many of us that live here would never be able to make a living. It's basically the only way a lot of us have to support our families.” Another wrote: “Let's keep the miners working. There is not much left for the poor.” Their narratives, like the narratives of those with whom I interacted in face-to-face conversation, suggested that prosperity would be restored if oppressive regulators would grant new permits and cease meddling in the region’s affairs. The second reason that Shale Countians supported mining stemmed from the belief that replacing coal with renewable energy would result in unaffordable increases to their electricity bills.3 At the aforementioned Fourth of July cookout, Terry postulated that the EPA’s new regulations would “increase the price of electricity by 35 percent.” A commenter on the pro-mining petition, similarly, warned readers that: [when] all these green freaks start building their gazillon dollar wind mills, you better bet your electric bill will skyrocket … Once we convert to wind energy, [funds from the local Community Action Agency that subsidizes our utility payments] will only pay the taxes on your electric bill. Because of the near-ubiquitous belief that renewable energy would raise utility costs, nearly all the local activists whom I interviewed reported that they had reframed their advocacy in ways that reflected the economic rather than environmental virtues of sustainable development. The third reason that Shale Countians tended to support coal production stemmed from the way in which they infused the occupation of mining with heroic if not sacred meaning (see also Scott 2010). Mining’s sacred status derived from three sources. First, holding down work as a miner established hegemonic masculinity in an area where traditional gender roles prevailed. As a great deal of existing research observes, masculinity is often equated with physical labor and a willingness to work in dangerous conditions (Maggard 1994; Scott 2010). With its associations of toil, danger, and high pay, mining held the highest level of occupational prestige in Shale County (see also Beckwith 2001; Bell and Braun 2010). By endorsing coal, residents signaled their masculinity and achieved respect. The relationship between masculinity and respect was so strong that even men who opposed mining held their tongues, as criticizing the industry would put them at risk of losing social status (Bell and Braun 2010). Second, given the moral order of the region’s emphasis on respecting one’s elders and dead, fallen miners occupied an honored status within collective memory. Many Shale Countians believed that preserving mining as a viable occupation would honor forbearers who had mangled their bodies in the mines to provide for them as children. Not long before the pro-coal petition was drafted, a local columnist paid homage to his late father and uncles by publishing the following message of appreciation in the county newspaper: I would like to honor and pay tribute to some of Shale County’s finest citizens. They helped to shape and mold this county. They made us want more out of life. With ten years in the mines from my dad and most of my uncles … I feel I am qualified for this task. This is to show our respect for them … Muscle and Blood,’ as the song goes, was a coal miner, but they were so much more than this … They were our heroes. They went where no man had went before and faced death each day. This was what makes the bond between coal miners that could only be broken by death. Their backs were arched from crawling or bending over walking in coal … Their hands were calloused, but the love for us kids … took away any roughness … Poor pay and terrible working conditions … they had to face each day of their life … Some people ask why did they put themselves through this. The biggest reason was for the love of their families, and the second reason was for a love for Shale County. They didn’t want to live anywhere else. They were honest, hardworking men that made us want more for the county. They sweated for their food. They didn’t want a handout … Most of the old miners are gone now but their memories will never die …This is one Shale Countian that is proud to be a coal miner’s son. A signatory on the pro-coal petition similarly concluded his comments by imploring readers to: “Think of all of our dads and grandfathers and great grandfathers who have work[ed] themselves to death to keep a good living here, and THE ONES … who have died in the mines. Was that all for nothing?” Many other Shale Countians signed the petition in memory of loved ones who had perished in the mines. Their commentary exemplifies the connection they drew between “supporting coal” and honoring family members who had fallen in the line of duty. The third source of miners’ heroic image stemmed from the cherished regional values they symbolized: independence, self-sufficiency, hard work, devotion to family, selflessness, and dedication to community. As the columnist whom I quoted earlier indicated, residents believed that forbearers who worked in the mines had sacrificed their own well-being for love of family and community, and that they had inspired them to “want more out of life” by choosing to work in lieu of taking a “handout.” The remark about working in lieu of taking a “handout” is particularly important, as it speaks to the structural context in which Shale Countians lived. Widespread unemployment, poverty, government dependence, addiction, and labor market feminization defined Shale County’s “structure of feeling” (Williams 1977). Due to a dearth of employment opportunities, many community members relied on government assistance to make ends meet. The few lines of employment that were available rested in traditionally feminine occupations like nursing and teaching rather than in masculine ones like mining.4 Because these jobs were viewed as emasculating and required college degrees, working class men in the county usually had three options apart from mining: (1) they could seek work through the county if they held political connections (generally on a road crew); (2) they could compete for low-wage, part-time work in the county’s fledging service economy; or (3) they could seek what many residents called a “crazy check,” i.e., Supplementary Security Income (SSI) insurance. For residents like Terry and Sean, the first option was unavailable, and the latter two were considered shameful. Sean, for example, resigned himself to applying for SSI benefits after fruitlessly searching for work. The monthly check he received barely exceeded $600. His wife earned only slightly more through her job at the local hospital. Together, with her as the primary breadwinner, they struggled to make ends meet. Sean’s inability to support his family—and his dependence on government assistance—proved to be a source of humiliation: “Believe me,” he repeatedly said, “I would rather be working!” Tom—a young man in his 20s with whom I occasionally chatted—also felt ashamed of his economic situation. He had also lost his job as a miner in 2009. Unable to find “real work” thereafter (meaning employment that involved manual labor and paid a living wage), he found himself living in a homeless shelter with his wife Kara when I met him in 2012. Although the pastor who ran the shelter had secured him part-time work as a bagger at a local grocery store, he felt like a failure. Indeed, he held what many considered to be an unrespectable job; he owned neither property nor savings; he could neither provide for himself nor his wife; and he foresaw no viable future. This structural context is paramount for understanding why those living in the region tended to extol coal production. To the un/underemployed man who lacked the ability to support his family—the man who perhaps lacked socioeconomic purpose altogether—the miner represented a heroic alternative. Through his masculine labor, breadwinning capacity, and independence from the state, he stood in stark opposition to the ostensibly emasculating and undignified attributes of the contemporary rural individual.5 The proud few who still maintained coal-related jobs, by the same token, perceived mining as the lone force preventing their descent into a world of precarity, dependence, and cultural marginalization. These men wondered why the state would want to punish the “good people” who stood in contrast to the larger lumpen class—i.e., the ostensible undignifieds like Sean and Tom who secured their livings through a combination of government assistance, charity, and, increasingly, drug dealing. The spouse of one miner who signed the petition thus wrote: When my husband goes underground 2.5 miles daily to work a job that the majority is too weak or scared to do and puts in 10 to 12 hours of labor each day, he receives a check issued to his name. Sorry that my family doesn’t fit the description of a typical family … We weren't raised to be lazy and look for a handout. Another signatory on the petition complained how it takes a strong, hardworking man to go under the ground and mine coal … [and] they don’t get all of the damn benefits that the [recipients of government assistance] get, and they are the ones paying all the damn taxes for you all. Man up and get your miners card and work your ass off for your pay. As these comments illustrate, mining was not just a job to Shale Countians; it was a symbolic activity that epitomized the community’s foremost values and offered a deus ex machina to structural unemployment, persistent poverty, and cultural marginalization. The final reason that residents expressed pro-coal sentiment derived from the belief that mining reflected and preserved the value of rural life in the face of urban onslaught. As Scott (2010) notes, generations of cultural stigmatization have caused Appalachians to be “extremely conscious of their place in the national imagination” (p. 204). Indeed, almost all the participants whom I interviewed felt that they were the objects of urban scorn—a finding that is well documented by the existing literature (Harkins 2004; Scott 2010; Thomas, Lowe, and Smith 2011; Wray 2006). They tended, as such, to go out of their way “to represent themselves as worthy national citizens” (Scott 2010:204). Advocacy for mining aligned with this cultural project in two ways. First, in a country where the great moral dividing line is between those who work and those who do not (Lamont 2000; Newman 1999; Sherman 2009), mining held the capacity to take residents off the dole, move them into the formal labor market, facilitate their economic self-sufficiency, and enable property ownership—all implicit duties of mainstream American citizenship (Scott 2010). Second, the hardships and dangers associated with mining solidified Appalachian social citizenship through the cultural trope of sacrifice. As Scott (2010) explains: The patriotic sacrifices of miners constitute the terms for Appalachia’s membership in the American nation … Appalachia’s marginal status as a natural resource colony ironically provides coalfield communities a way to claim a core national identity. The hardships of mining can be read as evidence of their patriotic devotion to America and their central role in the national economy (pp. 168, 143). Indeed, the slogans that many residents adorned on their t-shirts, like “Coal Keeps the Lights On” and “America Runs on Coal,” were not arbitrary; they framed Appalachians as indispensable members of a nation that routinely challenged their belonging. Without mining, mountaineers believed that the rest of the country would view them as “backward hillbillies” who contributed little to the nation. As suppliers of the nation’s energy, however, they felt like they would be viewed as heroes who sacrificed their lives and bodies to “keep the lights on,” “power” the economy, and guarantee national security. Many, as such, interpreted the anti-coal politics of environmentalists as a challenge to their role within the national division of labor. Community members resented how the rhetoric of environmental groups depicted their socioeconomic contribution as antiquated and “dirty”—especially when many within those groups lived off the electricity that their coal generated. This theme weighed heavily on the pro-coal petition. Numerous signatories decried the hypocrisy of “big city” environmentalists, remarking that if they “didn’t support coal,” they should be disconnected from the power grid. The missive below captures their sentiment: For all you people sitting behind your fancy little desks in your comfy little chairs and doing your meaningless paperwork, it's easy for you to be opposed to coal. However, your lights aren’t going to work themselves and you'll be shredding your papers with old fashioned scissors without coal … You all give us such a bad reputation, when in all honesty we are busting our asses trying to provide for our families and yet again, it’s being taken away. The signatory’s comments not only validate the role that Appalachian coal production plays in national life, but convey mining as superior to the “meaningless paperwork” that liberal urbanites perform. He thus confirms the notion of Appalachians as sacrificial heroes. Indeed, community members viewed the coal miner as someone who was being incomprehensibly attacked by privileged environmentalists in the urban world—by people “sitting behind [their] fancy little desks in [their] comfy little chairs.”6 They believed that miners, who carried out some of the hardest and most dangerous work in the country, were not only made to endure the scorn of hypocritical outsiders, but to pay a premium in taxes to provide for those who “refused to work” in their own communities. Viewing coal production as the county’s only realistic hope for economic development, they also believed that they would be forced to move to an urban area away from the landscapes they knew and the family members they loved if mining jobs disappeared—a place where their neighbors would look down upon them and disparage their “hillbilly” ways of life. The community their “dads and grandfathers and great grandfathers … work[ed] themselves to death” to maintain, meanwhile, would wither into oblivion under the weight of population loss and economic disinvestment. For a group of people whose value system emphasized family, community, and loyalty, and who “didn’t want to live anywhere else,” this possibility proved existentially troubling. Support for the coal mining, as such, reflected the enduring conflict between “town” and “country” in the United States, Appalachia’s unique struggle to achieve recognition as a worthwhile part of the national imaginary, the strain associated with achieving the normative expectations of American citizenship in a context of severe socioeconomic deprivation (Scott 2010), and real fears regarding community breakdown and cultural erasure in depopulating rural communities. CONTEXTUALIZING ANTI-ENVIRONMENTALISM IN SHALE COUNTY Scott (2010) argues that “epistemologies of disgust and social distance help[ed] create the conditions of possibility for some of the most dangerous environmental exploitation in the United States and the designation of Appalachia as a sacrifice zone” during the twentieth century (p. 63). In the eyes of many residents, these same epistemologies had begun to create the conditions for Appalachia’s designation as a new kind of sacrifice zone in the twenty-first century: one in which they must forsake their economic security, social standing, and cultural identity to save the environment. As Cecil Rogers, the longtime president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), stated during a 2014 television appearance: [President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is] saying “let’s shut Appalachia down so we can deal with climate change” … [It’s] saying “let’s … take one segment of our society… and see if Appalachia can bring down climate change” … Impossible, absurd, ridiculous from our perspective … People in Appalachia … feel completely ignored right now, they feel that the United States government has just written them off (MSNBC 2014). As Rogers’ commentary illustrates, mountaineers felt like they were being made to bear the brunt of the costs associated with “saving the planet.” This is not an unreasonable feeling. Environmental protection is not an innocuous process that equally benefits all members of society; it is a fraught process in which race- and class-based stereotypes shape the discourses that assign blame for environmental degradation and the policy choices that determine who will absorb the costs associated with conservation. The outcomes of environmental policy, as such, depend on the political power of the parties involved and their unequal abilities to construct narratives that validate their moral worth (Witter 2013). Appalachia’s structural deficit of symbolic power in this case has rendered the process of securing an optimal outcome for itself difficult. As Rogers went on to complain: My question … to all the folks in the environmental community and, quite frankly, people in government, from the time this debate started, [they] have said to me, “what we really need here is a just transition; we wouldn’t [implement these regulations on coal] without a just transition”: No one’s talking about a just transition; there is none! There’s just an unemployment line! Many mountaineers, as Rogers expresses, believed that environmental protection should involve give and take—that if Appalachia had to curtail coal production, the government should provide resources to help them weather the associated economic transition. They felt like the government had offered no such “just transition,” however. To the contrary, they felt like Appalachia was being asked to sacrifice for the past pollution of privileged urbanites while receiving nothing in return. Given that many already felt like they had sacrificed to facilitate industrial progress during the twentieth century, they found this situation difficult to stomach. Apart from feeling like urban America had designated Appalachia as the nation’s sacrificial lamb in the fight against climate change, many mountaineers believed that officeholders like President Obama and institutions like the EPA valued abstract ecology, i.e., plants, animals, and streams, over the actual human beings who resided in the region. Early in my fieldwork, for example, I attended a Baptist church service to begin meeting members of the community. Upon arriving, an older gentleman named Paul sat down beside me. After a few minutes, we introduced ourselves, and I explained my interest in the county’s socioeconomic situation to him. Like Terry and Sean, Paul told me that the area’s problems derived from the loss of coal jobs, and that the EPA had made mining nearly impossible by refusing to grant new permits. As the music for the service commenced, bringing our conversation to a close, he lamented: “They seem more concerned with the ecology of it than the miners.” A few weeks later, I accompanied David, the pastor of the aforementioned church, to a faith-based rehab center that he and other local pastors had built with a federal grant. After showing me around the facility, he gave a sermon to the residents in recovery. During the service, he discussed the obstacles he faced while working to open the center. Eventually, he came to a part of the story during which he expressed great annoyance. A local man whose son had died from an overdose of OxyContin and alcohol had donated 70 acres of land for them to build the facility on. “Environmentalists,” he, however, lamented—enunciating the word with a pronounced snarl—protested the development, asserting that its construction would encroach upon the habitat of an “endangered snail that was living in a ditch” near the site. As he described the details, a derisive, incredulous mockery began to infuse his voice. The audience responded in turn, with several of the men shaking their heads in disgust. David then described how the EPA held up the construction process, and how he had to get in touch with the district’s Republican congressman to resolve the situation. The story, although not directly related to coal, illustrates how many Shale Countians viewed the EPA: as an institution that prioritized the ditches that snails live in over struggling mountaineers. Indeed, at a high school football game that I attended soon thereafter, Bruce, a 56-year-old recovering addict who belonged to David’s church, approached me at halftime to express his apprehensions about the forthcoming election. His voice amplified to a near shout as he lamented how “Obama” had “wiped away the little pride [the region] had left” by killing coal jobs. “Why?” he asked incredulously, “the environment!” A few months later, the night after the much-anticipated election finally occurred, I ran into him in the parking lot of David’s church. He immediately began lamenting the results, asserting that President Obama was “rotten to the core,” and that “83 percent of the state” had voted against him. When I asked why the state had opposed him in such overwhelming numbers, he told me that Obama’s assault on the coal industry had turned the region against him. He then began telling me the story of Tom and his wife Kara. Just six weeks ago, Bruce said, they had been living in extreme poverty. He told me he cried when he first visited their “dilapidated Winnabego,” which he described as “tiny … with a collapsed roof.” Tom and Kara had covered the caved in portion with plastic to protect themselves from the elements. Although they had electricity, they had no running water. Bruce teared up as he recalled Kara telling him how painful it had been to sleep in their bed, which was tucked into a tiny corner of the trailer, requiring them to scrunch their bodies up to fit. He then told me that Kara, who was in the middle stages of renal failure, likely would have died if David had not relocated her to the church’s shelter. He recalled an occasion in September when she had come into a Sunday service after missing several dialysis treatments. I remembered the incident. Her face and body were puffy and distended from the toxins circulating through her bloodstream, her skin was jaundiced, and one side of her chest was discolored with dark red and blue hues. She had approached the altar at the end of the service to receive prayer—to prepare for the worst. Like many of the county’s residents, Bruce personally blamed President Obama’s “War on Coal” for Tom and Kara’s useless suffering. Obama, in his view, valued air over their lives. He could not understand this—could not understand why they were made to endure poverty, pain, disrespect, and humiliation on a daily basis. Bruce’s confusion was understandable. The matrix of forces that had produced their situation has given way to a vast and conflicted literature on Appalachian poverty that provides few simple answers. What do exist, however, are the ideologically inflected answers that the coal industry supplies: that mining represents the only viable form of socioeconomic development in the region; that President Obama and the EPA have foreclosed that vital opportunity; and that the rest of the country values snails and streams over the “backwards hillbillies” who disturb their habitats. These answers resonated strongly with distressed residents struggling under the weight of structural unemployment, political exclusion, and cultural stigmatization. ORGANIZING APPALACHIAN PAIN: THE PROCESSES OF HEGEMONIC LEADERSHIP Although Shale Countians’ views about coal mining and environmentalism appeared to develop “spontaneously” from their “everyday experiences,” two factors suggest that the “systematic educational activity of … conscious leadership” shaped them (Gramsci 1991:51). First, Appalachians have not always interpreted coal production as a desirable form of socioeconomic development. As Stephen Fischer (1993) notes, the region’s miners once constituted “one of the most militant and class-conscious workforces in the United States” (p. 3). Mountaineers also established a reputation for aggressive protest against mining-related pollution during the twentieth century, engaging in actions ranging from non-violent civil disobedience to armed insurrection (Eller 2008). The representations of coal production that prevail in the region’s historical folk culture, moreover, do not articulate mining with dignity, independence, manhood, and prosperity; to the contrary, they depict Appalachia as a region that coal companies have defiled and destroyed, and the miner as a person whom brutalizing labor arrangements have dehumanized (Fischer 1991). Second, beginning in the late 1990s, the coal industry significantly increased its legitimation efforts in response to rising levels of environmental concern (Bell and York 2012). Between 2010 and 2013 alone, the National Mining Association (NMA) spent more than $50 million on marketing, advertising, and lobbying efforts throughout the region. These efforts included the “Count on Coal” initiative, which employed social media to “identify, educate, and recruit Americans … to keep electricity affordable by … promoting the use of … coal”; the “American Coal Foundation,” which distributed teaching materials to public schools about “the advantages and potential of coal;” and the “Mine the Vote” project, which campaigned on behalf of politicians who opposed coal-related regulations (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013). The NMA also subsidized the Kentucky and West Virginia chapters of “Friends of Coal” (FOC), which worked to “demonstrate … how many lives are touched in a positive way by the coal industry.” During my fieldwork, these groups staged a series of rallies and released numerous ads that “rip[ped] into President Barack Obama, the EPA, tree-hugging protesters, the news media, and big-city liberals who we[pt] for lost mountains without appreciating how their electricity [was] made” (Cheves, Estep, and Blackford 2013:160). I found strong similarities between the views that Shale Countians expressed and the messages that the industry propagated through these initiatives. They resonated with residents for two reasons. First, the demise of the UMWA and 60s-era progressive groups created an ideal context for industry operatives to forge a leadership position in the region.7 In the absence of oppositional institutions, they enjoyed an outsized capacity to “define the situation.” Second, their public relations work tapped into—but reinterpreted and rearticulated—the organic pattern of meanings and values that residents inhabited. Indeed, the industry promoted a “coal heritage” that linked Appalachia’s significant past to coal production, erased evidence of past abuses, and conveyed mining as a solution to residents’ concerns with unemployment, affordability, family and community breakdown, and rural inequality. Coal representatives accomplished this by employing two forms of hegemonic leadership. The first involved flooding the county’s civil sphere with selective representations of industrial activity, including t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, public displays, coal mining competitions, and even country music concerts. The field notes I drafted after observing Shale’s Fourth of July parade, which FOC sponsored, demonstrate the processes of selective forgetting and remembering that these representations encouraged: The parade … consisted of a large motorcade. Almost all the cars and trucks that passed through featured pro-coal messages: “Coal Keeps the Lights On;” “We Support Coal;” “Coal is not just a Job, It is a Way of Life,” and messages about how “coal pays my bills” and “coal provides my job.” On two of the trailer trucks, the owners had created scenic displays of mines. Those who sat/stood in the bed were dressed like miners, with black make-up smeared across their faces to resemble coal dust and hard hats. One featured a makeshift log cabin, which burned smoke while a man dressed as a miner sat in a rocking chair. Most of the cars/trucks were filled with children who threw candy to onlookers. The parade also featured a slew of shiny coal trucks … The pro-coal messages adorned almost every other vehicle in the parade as well. The contents of these artifacts and slogans were as remarkable for what they included as what they excluded. The log cabin display featured an older miner—a man who could pass for a resident’s father—relaxing outside his own home after finishing a hard day’s work. The imagery articulated mining with masculine labor, property ownership, economic self-sufficiency, and family. The slogan “coal keeps the lights on” suggested that miners play an indispensable role in the national division of labor by providing the country’s electricity. This articulated mining with citizenship. And the shiny new coal trucks and banners like “coal provides my job” articulated the industry with employment and economic growth in an area that lagged badly behind the rest of the nation. At the same time these banners, scenic displays, and shiny new coal trucks made these articulations, they strategically omitted other aspects of the industry’s historical presence, including: the primitive accumulation practices that dispossessed residents of their land; the tens of thousands of industrial accidents that cost residents’ their lives; the exploitative living conditions that miners and their families faced in company towns; the labor struggles that made coal communities sites of fear and armed conflict; the industrial pollution that degraded local environments; and the MTR techniques that had largely replaced underground mining. Indeed, the cultural representations that the industry propagated encouraged selective forgetting, emphasizing the endearing qualities of coal production while eliding its many drawbacks. The second leadership tactic that the industry carried out involved influencing how residents interpreted coal-related political events—such as EPA objections to new coal permits, protest activities by environmental organizations, and presidential directives like the Clean Power Plan. It did so by filtering strategic public relations messages through community leaders whom residents recognized and trusted. In response to EPA objections to new coal permits under the Clean Water Act, for example, Shale’s senator, who received copious financial support from the industry, gave a public speech in which he exclaimed: “I am tired of coal-producing states being treated as second-class citizens … Coal is a home-grown resource, and I am proud to defend it.” When officials made these statements, residents interpreted them from what Stuart Hall (1980) calls the “dominant/hegemonic position,” accepting their intended meanings without questioning them. They did so for three reasons. First, such messages demonstrated practical knowledge of their focal concerns—i.e., their collective apprehensions and anxieties about joblessness, political exclusion, and cultural marginalization. Because Shale Countians already felt like the federal government “completely ignored them,” as Cecil Rogers stated, invocations of “second class citizenship” and socioeconomic exclusion struck a chord. Similarly, when the county’s popular state representative asserted that “the president” had “declared a war on affordable energy” and that replacing coal with renewable sources would result in “spiking energy costs,” he demonstrated his understanding of the hardships residents faced when paying their utility bills. Indeed, when my neighbor Terry claimed that Obama’s EPA policies would destroy jobs and raise the price of electricity “35 percent,” his commentary appeared to draw from an op-ed that the representative had published just a few days earlier, which contained the same figure. Second, the above messages emanated from sources residents knew and trusted. Shale’s state senator and state representative had lived in the county for their entire lives, obtained copious funding for local projects, and personally assisted scores of residents with their problems. Residents thus accepted their advocacy with relative credulity. Environmentalists and EPA officials, on the other hand, tended to live outside community. They also tended to appeal to studies and statistics rather than residents’ practical knowledge when promoting clean energy. Sixty-five-year-old Maria’s story, reproduced below, serves as a demonstration: I had this real good friend … and [we] started getting into some pretty heated exchanges [about MTR mining] … and I said—to me this was like a clincher—I said, you know the University of West Virginia recently did studies that show the effects of MTR mining on water quality, and it’s very detrimental. And then [he] said: “I don’t put much faith in studies” … I was just horrified … If you can’t quote a scientific study as evidence … there’s no hope for anything! Like many activists, Maria operated in the limited domain of the “traditional intellectual.” She cited academic studies to make her case, demeaned residents’ “practical activity” by conveying mining as dirty and destructive, and offended their cultural sensibilities by dismissing their opinions as “anti-intellectual” (she made this comment later in our interview). In contrast to environmentalists like Maria, the industry’s spokespeople incorporated real “meanings and values [that residents had] created … in actual situations in the past” (Williams 1977:123). This was third reason residents accepted their claims. Rather than parroting their meanings, however, industry representatives converted them into “myths” that aligned with industrial prerogatives (Barthes 1972). During a 2009 FOC rally, for example, Former Marshall Football Coach Bob Pruett appealed to participants’ experiences with unemployment and unrespectable labor. Recounting how his father was forced to take a job as a custodian after losing his mining position in the 1950s, he asked: “Anybody remember that? It wasn’t good!” He then inveighed against a cap and trade bill Congress was debating, arguing that it would harm coal production and result in more job losses. Although the hardships associated with the layoffs Pruett referenced had resulted from industrial mechanization, his rhetoric rearticulated them with environmental regulation. Industry spokespeople rearticulated residents’ feelings of social exclusion with environmentalism as well. An FOC commercial released on the Fourth of July, for example, publicly thanked miners for serving as “energy providers to the world,” lionizing them as the individuals “on whom we all greatly depend.” The message was ironic because miners historically invoked their status as “energy providers” to critique coal companies. Indeed, in songs like “Brookside Strike,” mountaineers like Si Kahn once sang: “I’m tired of working for nothing … if it weren’t for the underground miner, no light in this country would burn. You’d think [the companies] work with the union, but they fight us at every damn turn!” The industry’s advertisements converted these protests against low wages into protests against environmental regulation. By depicting industry bosses as people who recognized miners’ role in the national division of labor, they reframed environmentalists as the ones who sought to deny their citizenship. The industry enacted the same tactic to appeal to residents’ concerns about family life. The organizer of a 2008 FOC membership drive told attendees that “if you want your kids to stay in this state, you've got to fight for [the coal industry] … and stand up [to environmentalism].” FOC repeated this theme in a newsletter later that year, asserting that coal producers would “provide good jobs and benefits for future generations, which will keep our children and grandchildren close to home.” These messages were also ironic, as residents used to invoke family values to critique coal production. Sarah Gunning’s popular song “Come All Ye Coal Miners,” for example, bemoans how mining “take[s] our children's lives … take[s] fathers away from children, and husbands away from wives.” Industry spokespeople capitalized upon these feelings regarding family dissolution—reframing coal production as a way to preserve families in a context of population loss and community decline. Industry executives, in sum, shaped residents’ views about mining by enlisting community leaders to erase evidence of past abuses and reinterpret local culture in ways that aligned with their prerogatives. As Williams (1977) notes, hegemony is “always a more or less adequate organization and interconnection of otherwise separated … meanings, values, and practices, which [leadership] incorporates into … an effective social order” (p.114). Residents perceived these tactics of incorporation as a form of “recognition, acknowledgement, and … acceptance” (p.125). Indeed, in a region that had endured scorn and marginalization from the larger body politic for generations, the perception of acceptance had a powerful effect. CONCLUSION This article has explored why residents of Central Appalachia express strong support for coal production—an activity that has severely damaged the region’s economy, environment, and public health. Shale Countians associated coal mining with dignified labor, cheap energy, self-sufficiency, family values, national citizenship, and community pride. They articulated environmentalism, on the other hand, with economic decline and sociocultural marginalization. Residents believed that EPA officials expected them to solve the nation’s climate crisis alone, that they valued ecology over the human beings who lived in the region, and that curtailing coal production would negate their heritage and citizenship. These views did not develop organically from their “everyday experiences” and “traditional popular conception of the world” (Gramsci 1991:51). The industry’s hegemonic leadership, which flooded the region with selective representations of coal production, channeled strategic public relations messages through trusted community leaders, and instructed residents how to interpret key political developments, played an important role in shaping their views. Indeed, the industry’s PR work promoted a selective coal heritage that obscured mining’s negative externalities, accentuated its agreeable qualities, and incorporated residents’ past critiques. The ability to tap into the lived pattern of meanings, values, and concerns that residents inhabited made the industry’s hegemonic leadership possible. The decimation of the UMWA over the past 40 years—and the concerted efforts of neoliberal policy makers to defund regional democracy assistance initiatives like the Community Action Program—did as well. The routine failure of activists to embrace environmental justice agendas made matters worse.8 Because environmental organizations often exhibited a narrow focus on climate change in lieu of the practical, everyday struggles that mountaineers faced, their campaigns tended to repel prospective allies while providing fodder for the industry to shore up its status as guardian of regional interests and values. While environmental organizations focused their advocacy on issues that seemed distant if not irrelevant to many mountaineers, the industry provided a framework that recognized and offered a solution to pressing problems within the local structure of feeling. This framework also extended mountaineers’ dignity and respect—items that were in short supply across the region. Residents granted the industry permission to exploit the region’s human and ecological resources in return. This was not necessarily an unequal exchange. If contemporary studies of poverty and social suffering reveal anything, it is that marginalized populations seek cultural recognition above material gain (Bourgois 1996). Rather than interpreting hegemonic leadership as a form of “false consciousness,” my work thus suggests that political and environmental sociologists should probe the cultural and emotional benefits that hegemonic leaders offer to subalterns. Like Norgaard (2011), my findings bring the tension between preserving the environment and preserving the sense of socially constructed reality that people inhabit into sharp relief. For Appalachians, the cultural changes that the transition to clean energy required were not as innocuous as recycling or purchasing energy-efficient lightbulbs. Rather, they threatened to melt the symbols and practices they had been socialized to regard as solid into air, bringing them face to face with the modern condition. As much as Shale Countians defended coal production to preserve their sense of economic opportunity, they also did so to preserve their sense of place, purpose, and ontological security in a rapidly changing—and often hostile—social world. The industry’s coal heritage nurtured these goals. Nonetheless, future scholarship should also explore where hegemonic leadership falls short and how dissident citizens disrupt it. Hegemony is an inherently vulnerable process that leaders must continuously renew. Indeed, dominant groups must “discard whole areas of [cultural] significance, reinterpret or dilute them, or [continuously] convert them into forms which support or at least do not contradict the really important elements of the current hegemony” (Williams 1977:116). Inquiry into hegemony’s fault lines, as such, might begin with an examination of “the vital points of connection” between the selective traditions that leaders curate and the lived pattern of meanings and values that subalterns inhabit. Because “the real [historical] record” is always “recoverable,” the same “vitals points of connection” that make hegemony powerful also render it fragile (Williams 1977:116). Scholars should also examine the traditions and meanings that leaders cannot incorporate into their rule. Indeed, hegemony’s pitfalls lie in the vacuums that leaders create when they exclude meanings and values that contravene their domination; make promises they cannot deliver on; and promote selective traditions that ultimately begin as incorporated grievances and critiques. I wish to thank Lynn Appleton, Paul Gellert, Matt May, Maria Paino, Patricia Widener, Mark Harvey, Phillip Hough, Farshad Araghi, and the anonymous reviewers at Social Problems for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Direct correspondence to: Philip G. Lewin, Florida Atlantic University, Department of Sociology, Culture and Society Building, Rm. 253, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, Florida 33431. E-mail: lewinp@fau.edu. Footnotes 1 “Shale County,” like the names of all people and places in this article, is a pseudonym. 2 The petition was open to the public and, at the time of writing, had amassed 3,211 signatories from Appalachians across the region—many of them from Shale County. 3 While past research has examined the relationships between income and environmental concern, it has generated inconsistent results. 4 Many mining jobs have been replaced with service jobs, which are now the leading source of employment in the region. Women have thus become the primary breadwinners in many mountain families (Legerski and Cornwall 2010; Maggard 1994). 5 I am writing in a purely emic sense here. My intention is not to essentialize “masculine” and “feminine” work nor to rank conventionally masculine occupations over feminine ones. It is to convey the economic and cultural realities of living in rural poverty from the standpoint of participants who subscribed to a hegemonic model of masculinity. 6 Environmentalists do not, of course, hail exclusively from urban locations. Most Shale Countians made associations between environmentalism and urban life, however. Previous research in rural areas has yielded similar findings (Cabrejas 2012; Desmond 2006). 7 Mechanization and union busting have reduced the UMWA’s rank-and-file from a mid-century high of 800,000 members to just 35,000 members today. No unionized mines remain in the state where Shale County is located. 8 As opposed to viewing people like displaced coal miners as collateral damage in the fight against climate change, environmental justice activists attempt to achieve “just transitions” to sustainable development. See, for example, Bell and York (2010) and Witter (2013). REFERENCES Barthes Roland. 1972 . Mythologies . London, UK : Paladin . 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Social ProblemsOxford University Press

Published: Oct 19, 2017

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