Evaluating Community-Based Participatory Research Methods in the Appalachian Land Ownership Study

Authors: Deborah Thompson*, Berea College
Topics: Field Methods, Social Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Land ownership, Appalachia, participatory research
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1981, a community-based study of land ownership in Appalachia, titled Who Owns Appalachia? revealed that only 28% of land and 20% of mineral rights were owned by local people across 80 counties in five states: Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Further, research into public revenues in those communities indicates that legal frameworks such as property and mineral tax assessment, as well as severance tax legislation, creates an imbalance of wealth and lasting environmental impact.

A broad collaborative research coalition was formed in 2016 to undertake a new study, again with non-profits, colleges and universities partnering with community researchers to gather data in their own communities. Community-based research methodologies have been employed in both research designs and in gathering qualitative and quantitative data beginning in Harlan and Martin counties, Kentucky, as test locations.

This paper will describe and analyze the participatory methods used to create and test our research design as well as the methods used to engage with the community and their local knowledges. We include semi-structured interviews, social mapping, power mapping, and other participatory methods including timelines and transect walks.

We will draw on such literatures on Community-Based Participatory Research as Wallerstein and Duran (2006) and Sullivan et al (2001) to analyze the success of our research, which remind idealistic scholars of the potential pitfalls and the power imbalances that may occur between institution-based researchers and community researchers.

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