The University of Arizona

The continuum of coal violence and post-coal possibilities in the Appalachian South

Erin R. Eldridge


From the coalfields in the mountains to the coal-fired power stations scattered throughout the region, the coal economy has long shaped landscapes and livelihoods in the Appalachian South. This article combines the "continuum of violence" framework developed by Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2004) with a political ecological approach to examine at the multiple dimensions of violence associated with the coal economy in the Appalachian South. Drawing on insights from fieldwork and the history of coal in the region, this article specifically examines the socio-political arrangements, perverse economic incentives, and legitimation strategies at the heart of the blatant, symbolic, and structural forms of violence that manifest all along the 'social life' of coal. There has always been much more to this popularly misunderstood region than coal, however. As a number of anthropologists working in the region recently noted, Appalachia also has a long history of activis m, solidarity networks, mutual aid traditions, and non-market subsistence strategies. To conclude, some of the possibilities emerging out of current crises of the coal economy are discussed.

Keywords: extraction, coal economy, coal ash, socio-ecological violence, political ecology, Appalachia

Full Text: