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Sustainability and Coal: Conflicts over future Imaginaries in Coal Country Appalachia

Authors: Alicia Harley*, Harvard University
Topics: Sustainability Science, Qualitative Research, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Imaginaries, sustainability, Appalachia, transitions
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 1:00 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Virtual Track 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Coal mining has been a dominant driver of human-environment interactions over the past 200 years in In Central Appalachia. Like in other countries and regions where development pathways have been shaped by the patterns of resource extraction, powerful interests fueled by rent-seeking behavior have led to maldistributions of power with local populations often suffering while distant elite enrich themselves in what is known as the 'resource curse'. Because of the central role of resource extraction in the history of Central Appalachia, it is a useful case for studying the role of power in stabilizing incumbent development pathways. It is also a useful case for studying the ways in which local activists are creating beyond coal imaginaries that aim to destabilize existing power structures and foster a transition to more sustainable development pathways. This project combines a historical case study of the influence of power on development pathways with interviews with local activists and leaders to understand the processes involved in overcoming existing power structures and support transitions toward more sustainable development pathways, focusing specifically on the work being done by local actors to craft new imaginaries for the future of the region.

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