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Removing Mountains

Extracting Nature and Identity in the Appalachian Coalfields

2010
Author:

Rebecca R. Scott

Removing Mountains

Coal country lives in southern West Virginia

In this rich ethnography of life in Appalachia, Rebecca R. Scott examines mountaintop removal in light of controversy and protests from environmental groups calling for its abolishment. Removing Mountains demonstrates that the paradox that faces this community—forced to destroy their land to make a wage—raises important questions related to the environment, American national identity, place, and white working-class masculinity.

Rebecca R. Scott takes us into the coalfields, mining the cultural poetics that give rise to conflicts over the meaning and significance of this disturbing technology. Her careful excavations reveal the roles that gender, race, and class play in shaping people’s sense of belonging both in their local environments and in the larger modern world. These are deep—and sometimes deeply contradictory—cultural processes that are all but invisible to those content to stay on the surface. Scott strips away the easy answers and finds hard questions underneath.

Matt Wray, Temple University, author of Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness

A coal mining technique practiced in southern West Virginia known as mountaintop removal is drastically altering the terrain of the Appalachian Mountains. Peaks are flattened and valleys are filled as the coal industry levels thousands of acres of forest to access the coal, in the process turning the forest into scrubby shrublands and poisoning the water. This is dangerous and environmentally devastating work, but as Rebecca R. Scott argues in Removing Mountains, the issues at play are vastly complicated.

In this rich ethnography of life in Appalachia, Scott examines mountaintop removal in light of controversy and protests from environmental groups calling for its abolishment. But Removing Mountains takes the conversation in a new direction, telling the stories of the businesspeople, miners, and families who believe they depend on the industry to survive. Scott reveals these southern Appalachian coalfields as a meaningful landscape where everyday practices and representations help shape a community’s relationship to the environment.

Removing Mountains demonstrates that the paradox that faces this community—forced to destroy their land to make a wage—raises important questions related not only to the environment but also to American national identity, place, and white working-class masculinity.

Removing Mountains

Rebecca R. Scott is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Missouri.

Removing Mountains

Rebecca R. Scott takes us into the coalfields, mining the cultural poetics that give rise to conflicts over the meaning and significance of this disturbing technology. Her careful excavations reveal the roles that gender, race, and class play in shaping people’s sense of belonging both in their local environments and in the larger modern world. These are deep—and sometimes deeply contradictory—cultural processes that are all but invisible to those content to stay on the surface. Scott strips away the easy answers and finds hard questions underneath.

Matt Wray, Temple University, author of Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness

Scott presents complicated facets of history. Although her studies document southern West Virginia’s coal story, it represents all Appalachian coalfields. Her photographs of the area, extensive notes and bibliography provide authority to the subject that heats up the conversation of both the opponents and the defenders of mountaintop removal.

The Courier-Journal

Scholars studying the Appalachian region, natural resource extraction, and the cultural processes that shape some communities’ paradoxical support of destructive industries will find a wealth of important observations and analyses in this well-written and engaging book. In addition, Scott’s analysis may provide important insights into cultural patterns replicated elsewhere in other sacrifice zones within the United States.

American Journal of Sociology

Removing Mountains is rich in ethnographic detail and convincing in its presentation. The book takes up an important topic, is meticulously researched, and eloquently connects micro- and macro-level processes.

The Pennsylvania Geographer

Removing Mountains is rooted in place, attempting to reconcile people’s love for the Appalachian hills with their simultaneous support of modernization, fitting nature to human goals, and supporting its destruction. Scott’s book fits within a larger literature that looks at environment and society as coconstructions producing multiple, contested meanings. The book takes on linkages between environment, democracy, and capitalism through the creation of a national sacrifice zone and its concomitant ‘jobs versus environment’ debate.

Social and Cultural Geography

Richly nuanced and theoretically sophisticated, Scott’s book is not only a stunning contribution to environmental sociology, it is a major contribution to cultural sociology in general.

Dwight B. Billings, Social Forces

Removing Mountains

Contents


Preface
Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Logic of Extraction

1. Hillbillies and Coal Miners: Representations of a National Sacrifice Zone

2. Men Moving Mountains: Coal Mining Masculinities and Mountaintop Removal

3. The Gendered Politics of Pro–Mountaintop Removal Discourse

4. ATVs in Action: Transgression, Property Rights, and Tourism on the Hatfield–McCoy Trail

5. Coal Heritage/Coal History: Appalachia, America, and Mountaintop Removal

6. Traces of History: “White” People, Black Coal

Conclusion: Coal Facts

Appendix: Guide to Participants
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Removing Mountains

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