Drawing regional bright-lines to separate one “kind” of space from another is often complex and nebulous, if not impossible, in social science research. These circumstances generate two countervailing tendencies: they (1) promote multiple conceptualizations of a given ideational region; and (2) increase demand for a standardized operational definition of that region with which to facilitate intertemporal and interdisciplinary empirical research. These two tendencies animate much of the discourse on “Appalachian” geographies in America. While comparatively theoretically-oriented work emphasizes the unbounded, socially constructed nature of Appalachia, empirical research must often represent the region as a bounded spatial unit. The operational definition commonly used in such empirical analyses is the one established by the federal Appalachian Regional Commission in the 1960s. This research note engages in exploratory spatial data analysis to illustrate some pitfalls that are possible when this political/administrative definition functions as a study area in quantitative Appalachian social research.

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