Independence, Pragmatism, and the Flow of Money

An ethnographic research report from the Topos Partnership for Resource Media on Central Appalachia's economic transition away from coal towards a more sustainable economy identifies opportunities for engagement and insights into potential pitfalls. 


The report offers an in-depth understanding of attitudes around coal and economic transition in Central Appalachia, including residents’ lived experience, values and cultural assumptions.


Residents consider Appalachia’s economic transition through three frameworks:

1. Independence Through Work

  • Strong values of independence and self-reliance in the region
  • Coal jobs have traditionally represented a clear path to economic security and the loss of coal jobs may mean that people will leave the region
  • The challenge is discovering what solutions allow families to remain in the region and restore independence

2. Money Flow

  • The Money Flow model offers an explanation for coal booms and busts and offers a model to help people think about economic transition
  • The economic folk model asserts that coal brought money to the region and now that the flow has slowed, there isn’t enough to support businesses and good-paying jobs
  • Gaining access to the flow of money, individually and regionally, is a primary concern and is a filter on other issues

3. Pragmatism

  • Residents are suspicious of unrealistic “happy talk” about how money will flow back to the region
  • The enthusiasm for coal is based more on practical economics than identity or loyalty
  • People are open to conversations about solutions if they seem to lead to an opportunity to secure economic independence, yet there is not a high degree of optimism


  • Speak to desires and anxieties about work and dependency
  • Recognize economic concerns about the decline of coal
  • Engage in respectful dialogue about a more diverse economy
  • Avoid "war on coal" rhetoric
  • Avoid symbolic solutions 

Organization: Resource Media
Strategic Approach: Engagement, Other
Organization: Resource Media
Strategic Approach: Engagement, Other

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