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Constructing a Prison in the Forest: Conflicts Over Nature, Paradise, and Identity

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Prison expansion can be considered a geographical solution to deindustrialization and globalization. Postindustrial prison development to address declining productive industries in amenity-rich rural areas, however, can catalyze struggles over shifting rural land uses, ideals, and identities. Using participant observation, interviews, and texts, this article examines a prison siting in Appalachian Pennsylvania. The prison and the changes it might bring were strategically constructed by local politicians and then by citizen opponents and proponents of the prison. Alternative discourses that indicated differing levels of reliance on making a living from the local land, desires for “working” or “amenity” land uses, views toward minority newcomers associated with the prison, and legitimacy in land-use decision making played key roles in the prison debate. While prisons may seem a viable avenue for rural economic development, this article suggests that alternatives, such as indigenous, small-scale enterprises based on local resources and urban-rural coalitions, may provide more sustainable and equitable development for rural and urban areas impacted by economic restructuring.

Keywords: prisons; rural development; social construction of nature

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Western Michigan University

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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