Sustainable Community Development in Boom and Bust Economies: A Comparative Case Analysis of Institutional Stakeholder Interaction in Four Appalachian Natural Resource Dependent Locales

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this dissertation research is to examine how local context in four natural resource dependent Appalachian settings shape the formal Basic Engagement Plan (BEP). In 2002, the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) formed a partnership with AmeriCorps VISTA and local environmental improvement organizations to restore Appalachian locales suffering from pre-regulatory environmental damage. To stimulate diverse local institutional engagement, the partnership developed the BEP. It is a formal process of institutional interaction to initiate working relationships where none exist between participating organizations and public administrators, legislators, and nonprofit organizations. To explore the research question, I use a multiple-case study design and comparative analysis. Because the partners work to restore local environments through sustainable community development, the research is grounded in sustainable community development literature. I continue the trend that juxtaposes its considerations of environmental protection, economic development, and social justice with the interactional perspective of community, a sociological model of community grounded in social interaction. Sustainable community development literature is dominated by an authoritative intervention paradigm. The juxtaposed model at the heart of this research does not deny the important contributions of authoritative intervention. Rather, it complements this conventional arrangement by discussing the important role of horizontal institutions in the process. Key findings show local contexts are multi-faceted and dynamic. In this regard, the variation in impact of local contexts on the formal BEP process shows that a one-size-fits-all approach is problematic for sustainable community development in natural resource dependent settings. The dissertation concludes with a set of comparative findings across the four cases and discussion of four important ways in which the research contributes to theory and practice.



Interactional Perspective of Community, Sustainable Community Development, Authoritative Intervention, SMCRA, Appalachia, AmeriCorps VISTA