De-Essentializing Appalachia: Transformative Socio-Legal Change Requires Unmasking Regional Myths

26 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2018 Last revised: 10 Jan 2019

See all articles by Nicholas Stump

Nicholas Stump

West Virginia University - College of Law

Anne Marie Lofaso

West Virginia University - College of Law

Date Written: February 20, 2018


Appalachia has long been beset by insidious social, cultural, and economic stereotypes rooted in the region’s perceived “otherness.” Such pervasive regional stereotypes can be traced back at least to the nineteenth-century literature of William Wallace Harney’s “A Strange Land and a Peculiar People” and the novels of John Fox Jr. However, these problematic stereotypes — which collectively create an essentialized “myth of Appalachia” — are not based on fact. Considered scholarship on Appalachia has demonstrated that the myth of Appalachian “otherness” is not only frequently false but also profoundly and multidimensionally detrimental to the region. The Appalachian myth has been wielded by powerful capital interests (e.g., fossil fuel industries) and captured governing elites to facilitate the systemic political and economic marginalization of the Appalachian citizenry and the exploitation of the region’s natural resources.

In this Article, Professors Stump and Lofaso contend that de-essentializing Appalachia is a crucial foundational step in formulating innovative, effective, and transformative socio-legal change in the region. Contrary to longstanding regional myths, Appalachia is not some “other America,” a “lesser region” with homogenized, largely negative characteristics. Rather, Appalachia is marked by a rich range of regional diversity that is rarely acknowledged in the U.S. at large or by pertinent policymakers. This Article explores Appalachia’s diversity by joining in the collective project of unmasking many of the most pervasive and problematic regional myths — and thereafter demonstrates how these myths have long stymied transformative socio-legal change. This Article then provides broad, prescriptive recommendations for achieving that transformative change, based on grassroots-centered approaches that are steeped in critical intersectionality and linked with broader sites of reform. Ultimately, in de-essentializing Appalachia — in examining the actual, lived, diverse reality of the region — socio-legal reform advocates will be better-positioned to explore just, tangible, and deeply effective structural change in Appalachia.

Keywords: Appalachian Studies, Critical Theory, Systemic Reform, Transformative Change, Law and Social Movements, Grassroots Activism, Environmental Law, Labor Law

JEL Classification: K00, K31, K32, P1, P16, P48

Suggested Citation

Stump, Nicholas and Lofaso, Anne Marie, De-Essentializing Appalachia: Transformative Socio-Legal Change Requires Unmasking Regional Myths (February 20, 2018). West Virginia Law Review, Vol. 120, 2018, WVU College of Law Research Paper No. 2019-005, Available at SSRN:

Nicholas Stump (Contact Author)

West Virginia University - College of Law ( email )

101 Law School Drive
Morgantown, WV West Virginia 26506
United States

Anne Marie Lofaso

West Virginia University - College of Law ( email )

PO Box 6130
101 Law Center Drive
Morgantown, WV 26506-6130
United States
304-293-7356 (Phone)
304-293-6891 (Fax)

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