Exploring the Connections between Community Cultural Development and Sustainable Tourism in Appalachia

While supporters of development in its neoliberal form view Appalachia as a counterpoint to their definitions of “progress,” critics of that conception see the region as home to a vital culture and hard-working population whose communities and way of life should be respected and assisted in their efforts to cope with the ongoing impacts of globalization and mechanization on their resource extraction-based economies. Poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, declining population and many other socioeconomic issues with which Appalachians have been struggling for years are real and should be addressed, rather than simply dismissed as the result of laziness or worse among those affected by them. This said, the question nonetheless remains of how the unique history and culture of the region can actively be engaged (and not simply commodified), to bring hope to citizens of these communities as they confront rapid social and economic change.

During the last few decades, community cultural development has been used as a tool to engage populations (Goldbard, 2006, 2013) and help them develop fresh alternatives to their dominant ways of knowing, in many parts of the world, including the United States (Stephenson & Tate, 2015). Based on exploratory research and 10-semi-structured personal interviews with community leaders and involved residents in Letcher County, Kentucky, which is now engaged in creating a “community cultural hub,” this paper will explore the process and significance of community cultural development as a mechanism for encouraging the exercise of individual and community agency (Sewell, 1992), and the implications of such efforts for developing community capacity for sustainable tourism, a currently popular alternative to secure economic growth in many of Appalachia’s hard-hit small towns.

Keywords: Community cultural development, Appalachia, Individual and community agency, Sustainable tourism


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Goldbard, A. (2013). The culture of possibility: art, artists & the future.

Sewell, W. H. (1992). A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation. American Journal of Sociology, 98(1), 1–29.

Stephenson, M. O., & Tate, A. S. (Eds.). (2015). Arts and community change: exploring cultural development policies, practices and dilemmas. New York: Routledge.