From early in her career, Shannon Elizabeth Bell (Class of 2005) knew that her research must benefit the people she was studying. Bell recently published Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia (MIT Press, 2016). Along with her previous book, the award-winning Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice (University of Illinois Press, 2013), Fighting King Coal brings to light the myriad environmental injustices taking place in the coalfields of Appalachia.
Bell is currently an associate professor at the University of Kentucky. Her books and career build from her Future Generations practicum. Titled West Virginia Photovoice, her practicum bridged activism and the academy through in-depth interviews, participant observation, geospatial viewshed analysis, and document analysis.
One important insight from her graduate work with Future Generations was building from successes. She led fifty-four women in five coal mining communities through an eight month process of “telling the story” of their communities. These stories included the strengths, beauty, and challenges, as well as the participants’ ideas for change. Many ideas became realities thanks to the visibility that Photovoice provided. Roads were repaired, municipal waterlines were built, and a community park and pool were reopened. The project increased participants’ sense of efficacy and empowerment.
To learn more about Shannon Bell’s West Virginia Photovoice project, visit www.wvphotovoice.org.