Influence of Cultural Capital in Two Rural Appalachian Towns: A Comparative Case Study
Despite natural beauty and strong ties to kinship and community, the Appalachian region has experienced economic and social disadvantages compared to other regions of the United States. Historically rural areas have been left by the wayside with little federal or state funding; rural areas received $401-$648 less per capita than their metropolitan counterparts in the years between 1994 and 2001(Kellogg Foundation, 2004). 42 percent of the population of Appalachia live in rural areas, compared to 20 percent nationally (Gohl, 2013). As of 2014 the poverty rate in Appalachia is 17.2 percent in comparison to the national average of 15.6 percent (ARC, 2016). Consequently Appalachian towns have been privy to anti-poverty policies and development work by the United States government for over half a century (Farmbry, 2014). But the anti-poverty measures did very little to change the region.
In order to promote change and prosper as a region, many Appalachian towns have turned to using their cultural capital as a community development resource. As a tool in community building, cultural capital shifts the focus of a community away from its problems, towards its assets (Phillips and Shockley, 2010).
The purpose of this study was to explore how two rural Appalachian towns use cultural capital to impact their community's viability. To do so the researcher used qualitative interview methods and focus groups to understand the experiences of three leadership groups in each community. The findings of this study provide insight into how communities identify and operationalize their cultural capital, and what impact it has on their economic and social prosperity. Additional research should be done on community viability in rural areas, including community visioning, and power dynamics of rural spaces.