Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

Major Professor

A. Elfin Moses

Committee Members

Jerry Cates, David Harrison, Margaret Wheeler


This study was designed to develop a deeper understanding of the social realities of low-status, rural Appalachian women. Its methodological base is to be found in phenomenological philosophy which points to the power of the social context in the construction of social meanings.

Existing studies of low-status Appalachian women present conflicting pictures of the women and contain little information regarding the women's point of view. Some observers have portrayed the women as members of a traditionalist subculture -- unable to adapt to the modern world -- exhibiting dysfunctional personality characteristics (Looff, 1971; Photiadis, 1970; Polansky, 1972; Weller, 1965). Other observers have suggested that the economic exploitation of the region since the nineteenth century and the cultural imperialism of the middle-status newcomers have had an adverse effect on the lives of the indigenous people (Lewis & Knipe, 1978; Whisnant, 1980).

As a means of gaining access to the women's perceptions of their world, this study used qualitative research methods -- participant observation and unstructured interviews. The researcher resided in the community, part-time, and conducted interviews with the participants in their homes. The eighteen women in the study were Appalachian born and raised, currently rearing children, and had incomes below the rural poverty standard. The participants ranged in age from 21 to 67 and comprised fourteen households.

Interviews were dictated immediately after leaving the home and then transcribed. The resulting data were analyzed using grounded theory method, coding the data for categories of meanings and developing the linkages between the categories.

Three areas of social process, which aid in defining the women's construction of their world, became clear in the course of this study: (a) the belief system that directs the women's family role behaviors, (b) the morality that directs the conduct of their interpersonal interactions, and (c) the construction of the women's self-appraisals. The dynamics of this social process are as follows: the women take for granted their participation in traditional family roles. They expect personal attention and egalitarian treatment in their interpersonal transactions. When the women believe others are treating them unfairly, they feel hurt, angry, and "put down." But most of the women are able to maintain positive feelings about themselves by confining their self-evaluations to their family role performance, their ability to persevere, and their own equitable treatment of others. The women take pride in their achievements and accomplishments, no matter how small. They grasp opportunities to improve their life situations and value their ability to maintain some modicum of independence or control.

Results of this study should be useful to social workers and other professionals who are providing social services or planning programs in this region. Knowledge of the women's perception of their social context can enhance communication and allow the tailoring of social programs to fit the women's perceived needs.

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