Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Southern Studies


Southern Studies

First Advisor

David Wharton

Second Advisor

Andy Harper

Third Advisor

Ted Ownby

Relational Format



From global non-profits to local community centers, many groups working with and from within mis- and under-represented populations have embraced documentary media in activist work as a tool for undermining stereotypes and engendering positive identity formation. Despite steady increases in community-based documentary work, such programs remain relatively underscrutinized, with the majority of scholarship praising the liberatory potentials of documentary self-representation. Further, of the many programs implementing community-based documentary work as a tool for social change, I found very few based in rural regions of the Southern U.S. Likewise, in scholarly discourse associated with such programs, the South, in general, remains an understudied region. The one exception to this rule is Appalshop, a community media organization based in Whitesburg, Kentucky. While Appalshop is widely celebrated for its documentary activist work, this thesis is primarily concerned with Appalshop's organizational self-representation and how particular assumptions therein may inform, and problematize, their contemporary activist goals. I examine Appalshop's organizational identity, especially as it manifests in concepts of tradition and cultural authenticity, in the utilization of positive stereotypes, and in an asserted commitment to the "value of diversity." I consider how Appalshop's particular approach to place-based identity may perpetuate a process of cultural exclusion that is rooted in early strategies to define and "fix" southern Appalachia. In the following chapters, I first provide an overview of the particular social and political ideologies undergirding comperceptions of Appalachian culture, beginning with particular attention to outside influences and then briefly introducing an internal movement in opposition that emerged in the early 1970s, at which point Appalshop becomes my central focus. The next two chapters comprise a two-part critique of Appalshop: First, exploring a perceived commitment to authentic Appalachian culture central to their work, and, second, considering how this commitment to authenticity undermines their organization's contemporary commitment to the "value of diversity." In conclusion, I consult scholarship on cultural heritage tourism and poststructuralist feminist discourse on education and identity in order to begin to imagine alternatives approaches to doing implementing community-based documentary education programming in rural Southern contexts. This work is an exploration into the potential of community-based documentary work to engender radical thought and action, with the hope that it might contribute to a larger project: a framework for self-sustaining documentary education programs, specifically suited to rural communities in the South.



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