Place as Common and Un-Common Wealth: A Relational Ethnographic Analysis of the Conceptual Landscapes of Place Amidst the Shifting and Marginalized Grounds of Letcher County, Kentucky and Southeast Washington, D.C.
Crase, Kirsten Lee
Caughey, John L.
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This dissertation presents a relational ethnographic analysis of how people in two marginalized places that are undergoing significant disruptive change understand the idea of place. The rural eastern Kentucky coalfields community of Letcher County and the urban neighborhood of Southeast Washington, D.C. share in having been structurally and discursively marginalized, both historically and in the present; they also share in having residents who are disadvantaged through the interplay of race, class, geography, and other factors. Both places currently face significant shifts in their social, economic, and structural landscapes. The disruptive shift facing Letcher County is the intensification of mountaintop removal coal mining methods that threaten ecological well-being and inflame longstanding local tensions over livelihood, identity, and the future of the community. The disruptive shift facing Southeast D.C. is increasing levels of redevelopment, as associated with the beginnings of gentrification in the community, and the heightening of longstanding tendencies toward displacement among the community's most marginalized residents. This study uses interviewing and participant observation to bring the flexibility of ethnography to bear on the complexities and subtleties of how people understand place. The focus of my study is a series of in-depth interviews with four key research participant residents in each community, interpreting their articulations in terms of the relationship between place, marginalization, and change. This study also makes use of a relational approach, juxtaposing and interlacing explorations of both places. There are many differences in the disruptive changes facing these places and in their general characteristics as communities--Letcher County is a rural, overwhelmingly white community and Southeast D.C. is an urban, overwhelmingly African American community. I argue, however, that broad and foundational resemblances exist between how residents of the two communities think and feel about place in relation to marginalization and change. I conclude that my research participants in Letcher County and Southeast D.C. share broadly similar understandings of what constitutes local well-being, or common wealth, and I demonstrate those parallels by elucidating my participants' conceptual landscapes of place.