Theories and Methods…

When first reading the blog prompt I got a bit nervous—though I think I am beginning to get a better understanding of the theories that scholars use in their work, I still struggle to completely understand what is meant by “methodology” (and from reading a couple classmates’ posts, it appears I am not alone). However, this post is an attempt to pin down both of those components of the article I chose, Dr. Sally Ward Maggard’s, “Cultural Hegemony: The News Media and Appalachia.” After our class on primary sources and discussions of perhaps including an analysis of news coverage of the “Palmertown Disaster” (considering renaming the event—see other post), I decided to spend some time over break looking into any sources that discuss how news is covered in Appalachia and/or during the early 20th century in America.

Sally Ward Maggard was the Assistant Director of the Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky at the time this article was published in 1983, and eventually became Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology and Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at West Virginia University. Her extensive background in Appalachian Studies certainly qualified her to write a piece on the ways in which news media has traditionally portrayed Appalachia, and this article has provided a useful theoretical framework for my project.

Within the first two pages of the article, Maggard introduces how the processes involved in shaping identity or consciousness and defining knowledge are a part of what is known as “cultural hegemony” or, the power to shape definitions of reality (68). The theory of cultural hegemony frame Maggard’s article, as she discusses the ways in which media in part has had the task of “producing and disseminating the content of the dominant culture” in America, and in doing so have portrayed a certain image of Appalachia (72). She discusses how news coverage of Appalachia either occurs only in the event of an extraordinary occurrence (good or bad—mostly bad), or fails to provide the context within which these events occur. Maggard explains the negative consequences of this selective coverage:

“Defined as moonshiners or miserable people, residents of Central Appalachia face great odds in trying to use the national media to interpret their needs and problems to the general public. Deeply embedded stereotypes affect the way the news media perceive, and define for the general public, protest from the mountains” (78).

By introducing and detailing the theory of cultural hegemony, describing the process through which it was established and then applying the theory to a case study of news media coverage in Appalachia, Maggard provides an effective illustration of the use of a theoretical/methodological framework. I believe this article and cultural hegemony will prove useful for my project, and I look forward to applying this theory to the case study of the Palmertown Disaster.

4 thoughts on “Theories and Methods…”

  1. This article looks like it could be quite useful for you — good find! Your description of it raised a few questions for me — Does her article address why the news coverage would choose to construct Appalachians as disaster prone or as moonshiners? Does her article explain why/how cultural hegemony is a useful theory to use when writing about news coverage? And how does she let you know that she understands the theory?
    I’m also wondering when this article was written and if any have cited it since — cultural hegemony was a really popular concept in the 1980s (and there’s a really good article by T. J. Jackson Lears that explains it well – published sometime in that decade).

  2. Hi Carmen,

    I think the article and idea of cultural hegemony is very interesting and possibly helpful. It makes me think of what was the dominant culture in Saltville/Palmertown? Was it the company?

  3. Dr. Jones,

    The author did note how cultural hegemony is useful when writing about news coverage–she states: “The media bring people their concepts, symbols, images of heroines and heroes, emotional charges, definitions of public values, and directional information. As a result, the media is a potential resource for people who want to reinforce the prevailing social order, as well as people who hope to present oppositional messages” (68).

    As we discussed in the primary source class meeting, the ways in which newspapers from outside the region report on Appalachia could certainly be influenced by dominant perceptions of the region, and this article suggests that these news reports reinforce ideas already held by society.

    Maggard also states that news coverage of the area has been inaccurate and without any in-depth, contextual analysis that would help “outsiders” to understand why these events are particularly destructive to the region. However, while she claims there is a tradition of the region being perceived as a “hillbilly-land” she does not indicate where or when this trend began.

    Her article was written/published in 1983, so right in the period where the theory of cultural hegemony was becoming popular. When I did a Google Scholar search of related articles, the most relevant was actually an article published in an undergraduate research journal. “From “Pockets of Poverty” to Potential Prosperity in Appalachia: Examining Mass Media Narratives of Poverty Stereotypes in Appalachia,” written by Gloria So, references cultural hegemony, but utilizes “framing theory” to make her argument. I will have to look more into this theory and its origins.

  4. Faith,

    While I think discovering what the predominant culture in Saltville/Palmertown will be very important, I think this article is going to be most helpful in attempting to understand why outside papers or sources reporting on the event in the ways that they did.

    I do have similar questions about Saltville culture though–I wonder about the level of influence that the company had during the 1920s. While it did NOT own the town during this period, it was certainly the largest company and source of revenue, so that should speak to its importance to Saltville society.

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