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Once Upon a Place: The Fading of Community in Rural Kentucky
  • Kenneth D. Tunnell, Eastern Kentucky University

Across the globe, something is amiss. Even pedestrian observation recognizes that rural communities and small towns are fundamentally changing. Local economies, generations-old cultures, and ingrained ways of life are being severely altered. Within the United States, these changes are symbiotically tied to the demise of the family farm. The decline in family farming and -- the so-called “development” of the country-side -- race along unimpeded and, in fact, are aided by public officials and their policies. With these two great and fundamental changes – the downturn in family farming and the general paving of paradise – locally owned and operated small businesses are dying as big-box retailers come to dominate local economies.

The “Wal-Marting of rural America” alters the economic and cultural landscape of rural communities and small towns. People are leaving their homes where their families have lived for generations. The exodus of residents, for example, from the Kansas plains and the Ohio Valley is tied to these forces of late modernity. The result: once-quaint hamlets are becoming vastly different places than of only a generation ago. Some of those places simply no longer exist. Living in central Kentucky and as a rural dweller, my community and I likewise are not immune as we are confronted with vast changes.

I contemplate their affect on my life, my family, and our shared anxiety about what may come and what might have been. Over the past few years I have set out to document these fundamental shifts within rural Kentucky. I have paid visual attention to the downturn in family farming and to the closing of local businesses, schools, post offices, and churches; to local governments’ difficulties at providing infra-structural resources to financially strapped counties; to the aggressive influx of big-box retail chains; to the decaying, abandoned, and forgotten symbols of community awash in change; to the near absence of “civic community” among some public officials in rural villages and small towns; and to indications of subsequent social disorganization played out as myriad social problems that over- run ill-equipped communities. My observations of these unprecedented events within Kentucky, one of our country’s most rural and poorest states, are described within these pages. Readers will see too the many photographs that I have composed as I have made my rounds, camera in hand, to record geographical and cultural features of rural life in the throes of late modernity.

My observations and writing are intended for both popular and scholarly audiences. Readers will soon learn that I take guidance from academic sociology. I have spent my adult life writing and teaching in sociology. Across this book, the fields of visual, rural and criminological sociology – particularly that specific to communities – guide the descriptive and theoretical analyses. My hope is that the prose is easily accessible.

  • photography rural Kentucky,
  • community Kentucky photographs
Publication Date
Citation Information
Kenneth D. Tunnell. Once Upon a Place: The Fading of Community in Rural Kentucky. Bloomington, Indiana(2011)
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