Civil disobedience has long been a core dimension in the struggles against the ravages of the coal, oil, and natural gas industries in the rural United States. While Indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline is the most prominent recent example, the past decade has witnessed acts of civil disobedience in such far-flung locations as the Montana coalfields, the Keystone XL Pipeline in Texas, and pipelines in Minnesota and Louisiana. How should we make sense of these actions? And what can these acts of rural resistance teach us about our understanding of civil disobedience?
As a result of jail and prison expansion in Eastern Kentucky, the region has become a center of gravity in the fight over the future of the carceral state. To understand this carceral boom, we need to appreciate how multiple crises have converged in Eastern Kentucky to produce a historical moment – a conjuncture – in which prisons and jails serve as putative solutions to a variety of social and economic problems.
Broadband access in rural areas in the United States is not only a market failure, but a market disaster, as private providers have little interest in serving expensive, hard-to-reach places. In its most recent attempt to bridge the rural-urban digital divide, Congress allocated $42.5 billion for broadband deployment, the distribution of which is to be determined by the FCC’s national broadband maps. Yet these maps, which themselves have been outsourced to private actors, have consistently exaggerated broadband availability, depriving many rural communities of much-needed funding and a voice in this critical infrastructural issue.
Research on racial disparities tends to focus on the urban, constructing an important story of race-based segregation and inequality that takes place on the city block or the suburban cul-de-sac. But with nearly all farmland in America (98%) owned by white people, these same racial dynamics are just as important to contemporary generational wealth disparities for rural people. It is thus critical to understand not only how property law has historically constructed these patterns of racial difference but also the role that property law continues to play in maintaining these disparities.
For decades now, we have been in an era of geographic divergence, with “superstar” cities and certain regions capturing growth, while others fall behind. Dominant explanations for this phenomenon focus largely on inexorable economic forces, such as globalization or the benefits of concentrating talent. Yet these explanations leave out a critical factor: the effects of specific regulatory choices on economic geography. From the Progressive and New Deal Eras through roughly the 1970s, the United States had a system of structural regulation in transportation, energy, communications, and banking that was designed to disperse economic activity. Deregulation naturally had the opposite effect: it concentrated economic activity and growth.
If you read the New York Times or listen to certain economists, you’ve probably heard the following story: rural regions in America are economically unsustainable, irrationally resentful, and increasingly obsolete. An LPE lens can help us see why this narrative is mistaken. If we want to understand the story of rural America, we need to begin by examining the governing choices — the laws and institutions — that have disadvantaged rural communities. By revealing the human agency that shapes our collective fates, we can see that new and better possibilities remain within our collective control.