Central Appalachia: A Peripheral Region within an Advanced Capitalist Society


In the course of the 1960's, Appalachia was rediscovered as a social problem region. Efforts of mainstream social scientists to explain the stubborn persistence of poverty and underdevelopment in Appalachia can be categorized as two types: the subculture of poverty model, and the regional development model. In response to the inadequacy of these models, and the social policy that followed from them, radical intellectuals and activists developed an internal colonialism model for the Central Appalachian region. In recent years substantial gains have been made in the theoretical and empirical investigation of neocolonialism, dependency, internal colonialism, advanced capitalism, and the capitalist world system. The resulting clarification of these concepts suggests that the analysis of Central Appalachia as an internal colony needs to be reconsidered, and a more adequate formulation developed. My conclusion is that Central Appalachia is best characterized as a peripheral region within an advanced capitalist society. Each of the three current models was first developed in the context of underdevelopment in the Third World, and later applied by analogy to the Appalachian case. I will suimmarize and criticize these models and argue for the alternative formulation suggested above.

The question is more than academic. At issue are the goals and strategy of a movement for social change. Writers using the internal colonialism model have been ambiguous about what solution is appropriate for Appalachian problems. Taking the term "colony" in its strcngest sense, that of a suppressed nation, would prescribe an Appalachian nationalism aiming at secession and an independent nation-state. No one has proposed such a solution, although a weaker version -- a state of Appalachia -- has been mentioned. Nor have many sericusly suggested that the region would be better off if all the coal companies were owned by the local elite of "hillbilly millionaires" -- a sort of bourgecis decolonization -- instead of the national and international energy corporations, although an exclusive focus on absentee ownership might lead to that conclusion. If the heart of the problem is defined aF liivate ownership of the coal industry, then the possibility of public ownership, perhaps even limited to a regional basis, is suggested. If the problem is defined as capitalist relations of production generally, then the alternative -- some form of socialism -- takes on a dimension that goes far beyond the nationalization or Appalachianization of the coal industry alone. It is this challenge of defining socialist goals and strategies that is presented by the model of peripheral regions within an advanced capitalist society.

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