Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Harry F. Dahms

Committee Members

Sherry Cable, Paul K. Gellert, Derek Alderman, F. Scott Frey


The purpose of this dissertation is twofold: first, to explore the relevance of environmental gentrification, a concept largely applied to urban settings, as a means to understand social change in rural and small town Appalachia; and secondly, drawing upon political economy perspectives within environmental sociology and the tradition of early Frankfurt School critical theory, to contextualize the process of environmental gentrification within global capitalism. Conflicts over green economic development, including the maintenance of idyllic vistas, appear to have arisen among various groups with opposing interests and perceptions. These conflicts are complex, affected by the rise of gentrification accompanying uneven development and tied to global economic trends. Implicit in seemingly local conflicts over community planning, as new places are selectively layered onto existing places, are issues of environmental privilege, class prejudice, maintenance of ideology, and production of (socio) nature. Examining this layering of place illustrates the intricacies of political participation, governance, and economic development agendas in rural communities where environmental gentrification occurs. The findings of this study suggest that affluent newcomers act as developers and use their social capital, networks, and activist roots to effect community change. Employing the frame of early critical theory, my goal is to develop a sense of the ways in which localized community development agendas are restricted by the permeating effects of the logic of capital and, as a result, linked to the process of globalization. In other words, although gentrifiers’ narratives suggest that they are creating a sustainable version of development, study findings suggest that these alternatives are severely limited given the homogenizing effects of capitalism, on physical space and on ideology.

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