My name is Loka Ashwood. I am an environmental and rural sociologist at Auburn University. I work with communities to research issues that pertain to agriculture, cancer clusters, land loss, and pollution.
Why is it that rural people bear much of the toxins, hazards, and risks of modern day society? This article introduces a special issue on the topic of rural as a dimension of environmental injustice. With my co-author Kate MacTavish, we argue that the majority orientation of the government, where the most people or the most money rules, leaves rural people especially vulnerable. Please visit the link the learn more, and check out the supporting papers including perspectives from epidemiology, public health, sociology, anthropology, and the law.
Sociologists have taken much liking to Pierre Bourdieu’s foundational work, and the notion that class (often infallibly) structures taste in music. In fact, Bourdieu boldly proclaims that “…nothing more clearly affirms one’s ‘class’, nothing more infallibly classifies, than tastes in music’ (Bourdieu 1984, p. 18). Michael Bell and I argue that while class most certainly influences musical taste, affections forged through place can cross what often is penned an insurmountable economic barrier. “All comers” can take, as Tig Coili boldly proclaims in the photo above. We bring our knowledge of traditional music in Galway, Ireland, and Morpeth, England, to make our case in Sociologia Ruralis.
Co-author Steve Wing and I have published Worker Alienation and Compensation at the Savannah River Site in the journal New Solutions. This crossover article speaks to practitioners, workers, as well as scholars studying exposure and compensation for workers at nuclear weapons plants.
The nuclear weapons Savannah River Site (SRS) been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a hazardous Superfund Site, and the health repercussions for its workers have been quite severe, so severe that the United States Department of Energy provides lump-sum compensation to plant workers who demonstrate exposure. But as we explain in this paper, those exposures are not always officially documented, making it difficult for workers, especially those who worked as temporary contractors, to get compensation now. Those who we interviewed felt alienated from their employers by the secrecy and elusive protocols that they struggled to make sense of.
We suggest here that overcoming these challenges requires data collection and analysis of exposure data that is not reliant upon the same corporate operators who profit from plant operations. Further, we suggest that such plants reconsider their practice of isolating workers from the risky samples that they collect, and findings of contamination.
Co-authors Noelle Harden, Michael M. Bell, William Bland, and I published the article “Linked and Situated: Grounded Knowledge.” which won the award for Best Paper in Rural Sociology and was placed as the lead article in the issue.
Here is the abstract for the paper:
Local knowledge registers prominently in scholarly efforts to resolve environmental problems, ushering in widespread use of participatory practices of deliberation. Without the incorporation of local knowledge, many scholars contend that environmental science and planning remain beholden to the unbridled reign of the expert, and the daunting complexity of environmental problems remains seemingly impossible to penetrate. Following in this vein of work, we formed our participatory research project on nonpoint water pollution in two watersheds around four action clusters. On the local side, we included a cluster of farmers and farmland owners and a cluster of general community members. On the expert side, we included a cluster of researchers and another of government officials. However, we found in our research that the development of democratic deliberation depended more on whether participants situated and linked their knowledge than whether it was local or expert in origin. We suggest grounded knowledge, situating one’s experiences in a way that enables participants to actively link with other knowledge, as a concept useful for scholars to better understand which ways of knowing enable deliberation in the participatory processes.
Ashwood, L., N. Harden, M. M. Bell, and W. Bland. 2014. “Linked and Situated: Grounded Knowledge.” Rural Sociology 79(4):427-452.
Co-authors Danielle Diamond, Kendall Thu, and I analyzed a sector of the hog industry to investigate why the production practices and contracts have developed differently than those in the poultry industry. Here is the abstract:
Scholars largely assume that hog production is following the same industrialization process as the integrated poultry industry. Since the collapse of hog farming in the 1990s, academics have anticipated that producers will eventually become trapped in contracts that leave the integrator with full control over the production process. Embedded in this prediction is an assumption that hog farmers respond to these productive pressures individually. Our analysis of the Carthage Management System suggests a different path for the hog commodity chain. The Carthage Management System is a conglomeration of business management firms that bring finishing hog farmers together to form limited liability corporations (LLCs) in the breed-to-wean stage of hog production. We use a sociology of agrifood framework to suggest that the nuances of hog production encourage the use of what we call folding corporations to limit liability in ways that profoundly transform the family farm. Corporations and individual hog farmers alike employ this creative LLC structure to deflect responsibility for the risks of hog production. We identify how folding corporations externalize the costs of production onto rural communities. Additional research is needed to better understand unfolding farmer identities, legal protections for farmers, how widespread organizational structures like Carthage Management System are, and their consequences for rural communities and the industrialization process.
Ashwood, L., D. Diamond, and K. Thu. 2014. “Where’s the Farmer? Limiting Liability in Midwest Industrial Hog Production.” Rural Sociology 79(1):2-27.