This article brings together education, rural sociology, and political economic perspectives to examine the role of Appalachia in ongoing conversations about civic polity and dynamics of social, economic, and spatial exclusions. First, we explore how the imaginaries of the Appalachian region (and American rurality more generally) reflect the marginalization of those spaces in the context of a deepening rural-urban divide where both are framed as “other”—the former as a socially, culturally, and economically marginal space, with the latter as a realm of the liberal and cosmopolitan elite. We discuss how social and political phenomena are embedded in historical material relations, and how patterns of economic accumulation and inequality reinforce and are reinforced by relations of power. Last, we consider how enduring narratives become fixed in terms of polarization and “identities of dispossession.” We conclude with recommendations for effective strategies to resist these polarized and rigid conceptions by exploring critical pedagogies that invite opportunities to engage in social action that serve to sustain health, economy, and education in Appalachia, and within rural America more broadly.

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