The Rhetoric of Appalachian Identity is an exploration of the various ways that social, economic, and cultural factors influence the identities and educational aspirations of rural working-class Appalachian learners. College teachers are often unaware of the challenges faced by these students, who often come from an isolated cultural environment, largely invisible in the public domain beyond the derogatory stereotypes, and whose values may conflict with dominant university perspectives. Educational research has proven useful in increasing the awareness of the academic struggles of first-generation college students, but it has not yet addressed the particular challenges of an Appalachian student population. My objective is (1) to highlight the social, economic, and cultural obstacles that impact the intellectual development of such students; and (2) to address how these cultural roadblocks make transitioning into college difficult. My methodology consists of auto-ethnography; auto-critography; qualitative studies; the collection of socioeconomic data; and, perhaps most importantly, the analysis of cultural, visual, filmic, historical, and theoretical texts.
In regard to organization, The Rhetoric of Appalachian is divided into three separate parts, with each part maintaining a distinct theoretical and argumentative focus. Part I: Appalachia and the American Imagination (Critical Theory) focuses on dominant cultural rhetorics that influence and shape Appalachian identity. I begin by turning my attention to the most visible aspect of Appalachian culture, a tradition of derogatory stereotypes that I refer to as the Hillbilly. The Hillbilly is the idea of Appalachia as it has been historically crafted by outside forces, an idea that has been used to justify the economic domination of Appalachian people. The Hillbilly also embodies the limitations Appalachian people often attribute to themselves as a result of this process of othering. I theorize the Hillbilly as both cultural stereotype and internalized oppression.
In Part II: Material Reality and Appalachian Identity (Personal Experience), I discuss the social, intellectual, and economic obstacles many Appalachian students experience during their pre-college days. The culture shock and identity struggles I faced as a student are juxtaposed with memories from my childhood in Willoughby Trailer Park in Cowen, West Virginia and sprinkled throughout the book in a post-modern style that tiptoes the line between rhetorical scholarship and personal reflection. My goal is to demonstrate how family work histories impact the educational aspirations of Appalachian learners.
On May 6th, 1968, twenty-five coalminers were trapped inside a mine owned by Gauley Coal Company. My grandfather, Lowell Snyder (left-of-center looking downward), was a member of the rescue team that saved the lives of twenty-one miners. In Chapter 3, I revisit my grandfather’s stories from this horrific tragedy and consider how they shaped my cultural worldview in regard to gender-specific notions of “work,” “education,” and “holme.”
In Part III: Appalachia and the Academy (Ethnographic Research), I present data from three ethnographic surveys and discuss the pedagogical implications of those studies. First, I look at the educational attitudes of parents of potential first-generation college students from rural Appalachia. Next, I explore the insights and perspectives of contemporary college students from rural Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
In the final section of the book, Part IV: Critical Consciousness and the College Diploma (Critical Pedagogy), I provide a brief history of critical pedagogy and discuss the need for this method of instruction in Appalachian colleges. In doing so, I outline the core tenants of critical pedagogy and work to highlight some of the key thinkers who are sometimes unrecognized as contributors. I also explore the language of critical pedagogy in an attempt to demonstrate how this approach meets the intellectual needs of many first-generation college students from small town Appalachia.
Both scholarly and personal, The Rhetoric of Appalachian Identity blends critical theory, personal narrative, and ethnographic research to demonstrate how family work histories and community expectations both shape and limit the academic goals of potential Appalachian college students.