Communication, Development, and Cultural Preservation: The Case of Gullah History and Culture on James Island, SC Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
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  • Graves, Brian Andrew
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication
Abstract
  • This dissertation explores contemporary issues of communication, commercial development, and Gullah preservation on James Island, South Carolina. All along the coastal region of the Southeastern United States, African American communities, known as Gullah, have retained more of their African cultural and linguistic heritage than any other large African American community. From the times of slavery to the present, Gullah communities have lived in a Southeastern coastal landscape remarkably similar to the shores of Western Africa. During the later part of the twentieth century, however, modern suburban, commercial, and resort developments have transformed the region's physical, social, and economic geographies and threatened the culture's survival. In the wake of these developments, efforts to preserve Gullah culture have emerged, often with an emphasis on tourism, news, and entertainment projects designed to merge economic and cultural activity. The central thesis of this dissertation is that while forces of development and cultural preservation often appear to be at odds in popular discourse, they are actually different sides of the same coin in so far as they are a forced contextualization of people and places within systems of knowledge and communication that privilege modern European conceptions of history, politics, economics, and culture. Missing in the dominant social imagery of Gullah culture today, which either portrays a people who are behind the curve of modern progress, or, that evokes nostalgia for a now obsolete way of life, is an adequate representation of the present and ongoing struggle of Gullah history, identity, and sense of place. By looking at specific and concrete situations of development and cultural preservation on James Island, the chapters of this dissertation examine how Gullah communities themselves articulate their own history and culture, and define their roles as political actors in the modern world, both through and against dominant modern conceptions of history, culture, politics, economics, and communication. Through a locally oriented cultural political economy approach, the study also seeks to understand, through the work of cultural theorists James Carey and Harold Innis, among others, how culture as a concept can be used to develop a more detailed and fruitful analysis of the political and economic problems of communication, modern development, and cultural preservation.
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  • Hillis, Ken
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