Mines-bodies: a performance ethnography of Appalachian coal mining Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Harvey, Hannah Blevins
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication
  • From November of 2003 to the present, I have gotten to know a group of primarily disabled coal miners in southwest Virginia. Their stories are powerful, poignant, and deeply embedded in the ambiguities of daily living with death in the mines. The complex web of social and kinship networks, body politics, and economic in/stability is wound around one substance, coal, and their daily doing of working in the mines, even as that same work has un-done these miners through severed limbs, dis-abled bodies, and the psychological wounding of watching loved ones become crushed in mining rock falls. Their richly-textured stories are often silenced under dominant narratives of Appalachians as either "simple and stupid" or "dirty and dangerous." This dissertation cross-connects the politics and poetics of southern Appalachian coal mining culture by asking: How is Appalachian coal mining culture in southwest Virginia performed as an intimate relationship with the body of the mines (or, the "mines-body")? I first ground the reader in the context of southern Appalachian cultural history, an abject and Othered region I figure as a postcolonial space. I then investigate miners' unique understanding of the mines as having a living body, character, and language. This configuration of mining space as a body is central to miners' conceptions of their work, the ways they negotiate and construct their own identities in relation to the mines, how they cope with the daily dangers of their work, and how they later deal with disability as separation from a community of other miners and from the mines with which they have formed a sustained relationship. The dissertation highlights women miners' narratives of subjugation, sexual harassment, and empowerment, in addition to the often silenced narratives of disabled miners with black lung who literally have no breath with which to speak against those who unjustly deny them compensation or disability status. iv My research culminated in the original live performance Out of the Dark: The Oral Histories of Appalachian Coal Miners (DVD archive included). I conclude with reflections on the collaborative process and impact of this embodied performance as scholarship and activism.
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  • In Copyright
  • Madison, D. Soyini
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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