May 12, 2010

'Dry' villages and male power

During my interview for this class I asked the 21 year old female Mekoryuk Alaskan Native her view on keeping her village ‘dry’. She responded by being very stern in her view of keeping the village dry. Her past experiences completely constructed her perception, and because she has personally experienced the negative effects of alcohol she never wants to see the village become wet/damp. She provided me with a stack of papers she had written on the topic and due to what she has experienced in the village – she could not even picture what would come of the village if alcohol was legal.
Even though people still import hard liquor such as R & R into the village, she believes the impact would be devastating if it was legalized. With the ban of alcohol on the village it creates black markets. My interviewee described this market as being one controlled by the middle aged bachelor men, who often provided to the younger females. This can create conflict with the elders in the village, because they do not want the middle aged men distributing alcohol to the young girls in the village. It also often results in rape and abuse to these young women who usually do not report the events. They are taught at a young age to ‘just go with it’ because they do not have a voice within the village. Also getting a trooper into the village takes days and often does not resolve the issue that occurred.
Looking at the stories she shared with me I noticed a trend of conflict theory on many different levels. These groups in the village are in continual conflict, although it is hidden. The girls who “just go with it” and get raped are often stuck in the village raising their child. The male powers over the females within the village created dominate groups that organize this black market to help keep their control. Their power over the young females oppresses them into not reporting problems, and continues the male dominance. Even though this seems harsh, I believe it is in result to the other layer of conflict theory I saw in her stories.
The Western ideologies that were enforced by organizations such as ANCSA have created this multilayered society that lives in the village. Congress insisted on economic development and growth of their land to improve social and economic conditions. ANCSA was written in Western-adopted ways, and has a business nature view land as collateral. This new ideology on the land and life trickled down to the people of the village. The impact of the Western views changed these villages. Patriarchy was present in the past, although now it has a black market to live in.
My question is would legalizing cause more harm than good on the village? Many sociologist believe the legalization of drugs in America would be beneficial because they would be able to monitor the drugs better, and slowly get rid of the black markets. However rural life is different than city life, so I can not help but want to listen to the girl who came from the village.

May 11, 2010

Tourism is a large factor in Alaska. According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in the article "Senator Mark Begich promotes Alaska tourism," tourism brings in about $2 billion for Alaska each year. In the Summer I work in Valdez as a crew member for a wildlife and glacier cruise company. I have been working for the same company for the past 5 years, so the impact tourism has had on my employed life is quite large. The article discusses that with the economic decline, tourism is suffering a slide of it's own. To help resolve the problem, according to the article, Senator Mark Begich has introduced a bill. Within the article it is stated that "The Travel Regional Investment Partnership Act would allow the Department of Commerce to create a competitive matching grant program that would award marketing money to hot spots such as resorts and parks." This is good news for hot spots within Alaska, but what about smaller rural areas that still depend on tourism, but are not popular enough to meet the bill's standards? I do think this is a step forward, but I still believe more needs to be done in order to maintain a solid tourism structure throughout all of Alaska.
Although it might be vague in the ways that it applies, I think that the conflict theory could be a factor in the decline of tourism. Tourism is competitive in that it usually consists of companies that offer the same or similar services. For example, there is much competition in the cruise industry. In Prince William Sound alone, there over five companies that offer glacier and wildlife tours within the three larger communities (Valdez, Cordova, and Whittier), and this does not even include the gargantuan cruise companies that enter the area (i.e. princess tours, and holland america). With the money given to the areas considered hot spots, I believe the less successful areas will begin to fall at the hands of those companies that do receive money from the Travel Regional Investment Partnership Act.

Representing Rural Alaskans

This November Alaskans will have the chance to vote to add 6 more legislators to Alaska's house and Senate. The size of Alaska's population is twice as large as it was when Alaska was made a state, but the number of legislators has never been changed. The purpose of the amendment is not necessarily to address the change in the size of the population, but rather the distribution of the population. An estimated 80% of Alaska's population resides in 6 major urban areas, and this trend of urban migration has stretched district boundaries to extreme sizes, decreasing the effectiveness of representation. It is unknown at this time whether or not passing the amendment will increase the political power of rural areas, but it should at least result in more accurate representation of rural populations. The power issue will be decided by the next reapportionment commission, and it will be interesting to see what they decide. One way or another, the decisions will be influenced by social ideologies of rurality. Perhaps urban voters will choose not to increase the size of the legislature; being the dominant group, they may not be concerned by distorted rural districts because they don't have to know or care. Perhaps it will pass, and then reapportionment will give more relative power to rural voters because we hold a romantic value towards rural areas. Either way, social ideologies are at work and affecting the lives of rural Alaskans. And don't forget to vote!

Drinking not just a problem in rural Alaska

"Public drinking arrests rise in Fairbanks" was published in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner on May 9th and it interests me because I work at the ER Admissions desk and we see A LOT of intoxicated patients. So it makes me wonder if Fairbanks has more of a drinking problem then some of the rural villages? The article states that one officer arrested 10 people in one day because they were intoxicated (among other things) and this is an increase from the winter. So why do we have so many people that a intoxicated in public? Is it because people normally drink inside, then decide to come outside because of the nice weather? Are people coming in from the wet/damp/dry villages and getting hammered? From my personal experience, majority of the intoxicated individuals that come in are 1) homeless 2) native 3) visiting from a village 5) jobless 6) lost their family and friends because of their alcoholism.

Using the Critical Power Conflict Theory, it seems like the intoxicated people are powerless because they are not able to control their addiction (especially if they are coming in from a village), so then who is in power? I would think that sober individuals are in control, only because they are functional members of society and are not getting arrested for public intoxication, DUI's, etc. Our society (Fairbanks) is in constant conflict with the drunks and are trying to oppress them, especially in the summer!

I think Fairbanks will always have some type of problem, if we took all the alcohol away, then we would have problems with drugs, if we took drugs away, we would have problems with guns, etc. So with this being said, I think we are always going to have group conflict with the "lesser" group because we don't agree with what they are doing.

A future oil spill for Alaska?

"Environmentalists to Argue Against Arctic Drilling" was published by the Fairbanks Daily News Miner on May 6th and it basically says that Earthjustice wants Alaska / US to reconsider drilling up north because of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While reading this article it made me think "what if we did have an oil spill up North?" and I automatically knew that it wouldn't be pretty; the environmentalists would blame the greedy oil companies, etc.

I guess there are two different sides to this story in that environmentalists want what is best for our environment and our animals that inhabit our beautiful Alaska land, and some Alaskans, the US, and the oil companies want oil and money. The social paradigm being used in this article is Critical Power Conflict Theory because the groups in our society are in continual conflict and it seems as if the oil companies have more power than the environmentalists. The oil companies are trying to gain control over the scarce resource, oil, and oppress the environmentalists. The oil companies are trying to explain themselves and justify why they should disrupt our land to get this oil... I'm pretty sure if we were to ask one of the oil companies (BP) they would say that the chance of having an oil spill is so slight, blah, blah, blah. But when it comes to reality, the possibility is very high and it just happened a few weeks ago in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bethel Drinking

In Rhonda McBride’s May 2010 article “Children dying for a drink: A Young Start to Links of Suicide,” alcohol use by youths in Bethel is being highlighted due to the vote in progress restricting alcohol in Bethel, Alaska. Alcohol in Bethel has traditionally been restricted over the previous decade, but in November the restriction was repealed. It now looks as if the city might be re-implementing the decade long restriction. The results of the vote are expected May 11, 2010.
Rhonda McBride’s KTUU Channel 2 News article describes how youth in Bethel often start drinking at ages that might be rather unprecedented. The article explains the situation from Bethel emergency room director Matt Greenberg’s personal experiences. Alcohol has historically been a rampant social problem in Alaska. The irresponsible use of alcohol often can be linked to bigger problems underlying a community with high alcohol related problems. Social forces often can be an indicator and can lead to potential solutions.
Using the sociological conflict perspective I analyze the issues of culture clash between capitalist ‘greater America’ culture and that of traditional Native Alaskan culture. Values are in conflict and have grown incompatible between the two cultural perspectives. I believe this puts pressure on Native Alaskan’s and the political process that implement policy and regulation in the region. This cultural squeezing can create a malaise in a community and in that of the individual.

May 10, 2010

Polar Bear Patrols

Since the artic ice is losing a battle against global warming, polar bears are now having to change their direction inland to find food and space to live. With this increase in Polar Bear activity coastal villages far in the north of Alaska have developed Polar Bear patrol programs to protect villagers from the possible threat of attack. The probability of an attack taking place is high, as Polar Bears are known for their unpredicatable behavior. So it is probably a good plan that these patrols are taking place. At this point the Polar Bears are protected under law and are on the endangered species list. They can only be killed if human life is involved and at risk of being injured or killed. But Polar Bear attacks have remained a very rare occurence for Alaskans in the past. But with their hunting grounds melting away, Polar Bears may soon become a more frequent problem for Alaskan villages and residents. It may soon come to a point were some of these Polar Bears may have to be eliminated so that rural residents can remain feeling secure and safe. Conflict theory can be applied here with adherence to power and staying in control. The moment these communities begin to feel not in control, the animals may be the ones to suffer. Some serious changes are going to be taking place within the Artic habitat as ice continues to melt. Humans and animals alike are going to feel these effects and most will have to compromise with these changes. Rural communities are having to adapt to this change taking place, Polar Bear Patrols are just the beginning of a possible Polar Bear decline. Part of this decline will be a direct result of human safety, and human reasoning will be applied to help resolve the Polar Bear issue with serious consequeces for the Artic animal. But I also like to stay optimistic and scientists will hopefully find a way to make things better, and somehow find solutions for the Polar Bear population without harm.


Tragedies don't elude rural areas

As we have learned all semester, crime rates and other problems are exist in small places just as they do in larger places.  It is unfortunate that some people just break the rules.
In St Marys, Alaska, an intoxicated teenager (age 18) broke into a home and tried to sexually assault a 55 year old female resident.  
Reported in the same article was a fatal fire in St. Marys.  Officials do not believe the two events to be related.  
Approximately 5 months ago, a mother accidentally ran over her child while she was trying to pay attention to some approaching snowmachiners.  Alcohol was not seen to be a factor.
These stories represent a small fraction of the incidents that occur all over Alaska.  With and without alcohol, people make bad mistakes.
I don't think that these things can't happen elsewhere, because they do.  I do feel that they are more significant within a smaller village where everyone knows everyone.  This is part of the interactionist theory, where everyone has their own particular part to play.  When someone "forgets a line" or decides to do something that is not within their part, things break down and don't really work out so well.

Pedal Powered: Alaska to Argentina

Why is it that no matter what a person has going for them the grass always seems greener on the other side? What is it about leaving your 9-5 job and going out and doing some good in the world...alone? That is exactly what 32 year-old Gregg Bleakney from Seattle did in July of 2005. He had been planning the trip for years, but not just for pleasure. This man had lost his mother to Diabetes when he was in college. He decided that he wanted to plan a bike trip in order to raise money for Diabetes Research. This trip was going to be unlike any of the other organized trips that are done annually. This trip would have robbers, bandits, jungles, the arctic, all kinds of hardships, and solitude. The trip began in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ended two years later in Ushuaia, Argentina. Bleakney raised over $ 44,000 for the American Diabetes Association and covered over 19,000 miles on his journey.
After is trip he just could not stay off of his bike. He has a software job now, but continues to do all of his travel by bicycle and planned a trip to ride across Europe. He is drawn the the pace of the bicycle, something that only it can offer.


Kristin Jackson, " A Seattleite's epic bike ride from Alaska to Argentina," The Seattle Times, 2007, Northwest Traveler.

May 9, 2010

Cell Phone Colonialism

The capitalist spirit is in full swing. The goal of all should be to buy, buy, buy. We work hard to make money, then we work almost as hard to spend it. Undeveloped land lost profit for someone, and who ever can develop and make the most from the useless and idle land is ahead in the game. This can be seen in the huge shopping district that is popping up on the North East side of town where Wal Mart, Old Navy, Sports Authority, and so many others have made something profitable out of what was empty land. This same mind set can be seen in cell phone coverage. You can't see it, like a large one-stop shopping center, such as Fred Myer, but the empty space between point A and B is up for grabs in a battle that only the people who are desperately hanging on to their rural ways of life will lose. Im sure you have seen the commercials for ACS, AT&T, and Verizon where everyone boasts that they have the best coverage. My favorite are the ones where the guy pulls out his phone and a map of the united states pops up to show how much coverage he has. He is then shunned and looked down upon by his Verizon using peers. Seeing those red and blue dots that cover the entire country really bothers me, because the goal of the phone companies is to cover EVERYTHING. More coverage means more cell towers, more roads leading to cold steel monsters, and more money in the pockets of the huge companies for a commodity that isn't even needed. There will be no untouched land left, no adventure, nothing uncharted. The invasion of the cell tower is the colonialism of our time.

May 7, 2010

Fuel Sources in Rural Communities: Gas Prices High Until June? (April 28, 2010)

In McGrath, Alaska the unleaded fuel prices went up literally overnight from 6 dollars a gallon to 9.20 a gallon. City and business officials decided the best possible way to deal with the situation was to have the fuel flown in. Shallow rivers were the cause of the barge delay, which it is thought would make this method of shipment unavailable until sometime in June.

Many rural areas rely on the barging of fuel as well as heating oil in coastal and riverine Alaska. Many fuel supply problems can be exacerbated where shipment may be prolonged due to natural conditions, such as ice and variances in water levels from year to year and season to season. This is something lager cities don't have to contend with. In these cases other methods must be undertaken and often enough the cheapest method is the normative method, i.e., shipping by barge. Other options entail an increase in cost, normally by air. Often these areas are located off of the road system and heavily depend on one shipper. Issues outside of nature may arise such as unpredicted increases of fuel use necessitate predictive expertise. In these conditions more planning is involved for these contingencies.

When a contingency in fuel prices develops there con be an increase in the general conflict within a community between the gatekeepers of the scarce product: the decision makers and suppliers of the fuel, and between that of the people effected by the decisions and actions of those gatekeepers. Feelings of conspiracy may develop, feelings of exploitation may create a tension that last long after fuel prices are restored. However unfounded, some anger may be harbored in a small town where you rely on your neighbors for support. Businesses such as the one gas station in town, might be looked at as responsible in some ways when they are not gatekeepers. Trips planned to driving in our out of McGrath may be halted until gas prices go back down. The Town mayor Kas Healy stated: "For people who basically are living at subsistence levels, I think it's criminal that this is not regulated". Healy may be stating that this is a prevalent enough problem to where it is deemed necessary to put a state regulated price ceiling on the selling of fuel in similar situations. While the cost for flying fuel in to McGrath is more than transporting it by barge, the residents still feel that the prices do not justifiably reflect the porportional increase in fuel prices at the McGrath pump.

May 4, 2010

New York City Family Moves to Rural Virginia

In a book that was published in the last year, a family of three moves away from everything that they know to live in rural America. The Ward family quit their jobs, puts all of their belongings in storage, pack up their two year old son and move from their New York City home down to a small rural town in Virginia, into a home on 40 acres that they convert into a historically accurate 1900 home. The family decides that they will leave behind everything that they know for some adventure, and an escape from their busy city lives. They have no knowledge of how to grow their own food, cook using a wood stove, how much food they will need to preserve for the winter, how to drive a horse, or anything outside of their regular New York lifestyle.
In the book "See You In A Hundred Years" Logan and Heather Ward tell about how their year long adventure worked in their lives. In the book the Wards describe what kinds of roles they each took on during that year.

Ward, Logan. See You In A Hundred Years. New York: Delta, 2009.

May 3, 2010

Domestic Abuse in Rural Areas

Think about rural crime for a minute. What do you think of? Drugs, alcohol? How about domestic abuse? Domestic disputes that start out as arguments and turn violent are common in most societies, if not all of them, but for women in rural areas this creates a special kind of dilemma. Apart from being far away from a larger city, the sense of community and that every one knows everyone can present itself as a problem. If a husband or partner presents himself as a “good ol' boy” she is not likely to be believed, and therefore unlikely to be helped. Another problem this sense of community presents is a woman risking her reputation amongst neighbors, particularly if the abuser is abusing her in a manner that leaves bruises that aren't normally visible.
Women in abusive situations in rural communities are also more often than not living to an expectation of her gender role. Many women in these situations are taught they are supposed to be supportive of their partners and to be soft-spoken and feminine. Also, typically, women who are very adherent to their gender roles do not work for pay, they are typically farmhands to their husbands, which makes getting the financial security to run very difficult. On the other end of the spectrum, however, a woman who owns her own business faces a difficult decision to leave, particularly if her business (a general store, for instance) provides her community with a service they need.
Being in an abusive situation is never easy for the individual being abused, but several conditions in rural areas make the abuse even more difficult to escape from and to cope with.
You can read more about the issue of rural domestic abuse here:

May 1, 2010

President Obama's Take on Rural Farm Development

"Support Strong Farm and Rural Economic Development

The President believes farm programs should target family farmers and provide the stability and predictability they need. President Obama believes that American farmers should have protection from market disruptions and weather disasters. At the same time, farm program effectiveness should be improved through restrictions on commodity payments to wealthy farmers. The President also supports the implementation of a commodity program payment limit, which will help ensure that payments are made only to those that most need them.
The President supports rural development programs including microentrepreneur assistance, rural cooperative development grants, value-added producer grants, grants to minority producers, and cooperative research agreements."  (
Through the eyes of a sociologist, this strong support for farm and rural economic development from the President is necessary for many families to continue doing what they've always done.  Farming, while it has become largely commercialized, is still how many people make their living.  By providing some commodity and help when natural disasters strike or the market falls will help provide some stability for those providing food to Americans.  It is fantastic, in my opinion, that the President has chosen to support rural development programs that will allow people who may not have the ability to be the CEO of major companies to become entrepreneurs.
In retrospect, had we chosen to implement grants, rather than just loans, 20, 30 or 40 years ago, perhaps we would have more legal workers today that are paid livable wages.  So often farm hands are cheap help, but the farmers still sell their food at a higher cost.  

Apr 22, 2010

A Road to Nome

A Road to Nome is an article published in the Daily News-Miner and was published on the front page of Monday, April 5th 2010's issue. It can be found at this: link

This article is about building a road from Manley Hot Springs to Nome. This would connect many out laying rural areas by an easily accessible highway. A road to Nome was proposed 10 years ago but at the point in time there economy was striving and there was no concern about increased fuel and grocery bills. With the failing economy, people living in rural villages can no longer afford to pay the incredibly high rates that come about when fuel has to be shipped 500 miles. Rural dwellers have also seen an increase in cost of shipping hundreds of pounds of groceries from Fred Meyer's a few times a year. Having a road to Nome with allow people to haul their groceries in at a severely reduced price. It would also decrease the cost of shipping fuel into rural villages which would ultimately cause a reduction in the cost of fuel which would allow more people to continue their life style in rural Alaska. A few individuals are still against the road being put in because it means easier access for city dwellers also. The rural people fear that the fish and game will disappear completely if people from urban areas can easily get to the rural areas.

I feel like this is a good mix of structural functionalism and conflict theory. Its conflict theory because people have opposed the road to Nome for decades and some still do oppose the proposal. It saddens me that people are having a road built against their wishes not because there group has lost control but simply because people who enjoy living this lifestyle can no longer afford to live in the rural areas of Alaska. I see this as structural functionalism because rural Alaska has been so inaccessible for so many hundreds of years, and building a road that connects many rural all at once to one main road greatly upsets the cogs of societal machine. All of a sudden these rural cities may not be rural any longer. More people may decide to move there because its affordable not that far from the nearest large city.

One question I thought of while reading and reviewing this article was once the main road to Nome goes in how many other villages will build roads connecting their village to the main road? And what will the repercussions of having an easily accessible community?

Rural Education Plan Advances

The Daily News-Miner printed an article titled Rural Education Plan Advances on the front page of Friday, April 2, 2010 issue. I couldn't find the link when I searched the News-Miner's website. The article is about a bill the Senate approved by a 19-0 vote to begin funding the construction for elementary, middle, and high schools in unincorporated rural communities. The money for this fund will be taken out of the budget that is usually given to schools in urban areas. The bill also address that it would cover up to 70% of the debt rural schools have due to construction. The senators that were interviewed all thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for Alaska and Alaska's children/students.

I agree with the senators that this is a wonderful thing for every qualifying rural school in Alaska and its students. Rural areas have been neglected for far too long, especially when many children are shipped out of their life long communities to attend middle and high school else where in the state. If there is adequate funding, schools, and teachers young adults won't need to leave behind the rural life style. Also, if there is no need for young adults to leave the village for school they may remain in their village or the rural setting for their lifetime which would mean that communities wouldn't decline and loose their young population to city life. To me this can be viewed as structural functionalism because the villages haven't been counting on federal money for many years now and with this new bill the cogs in the social machine have changed directions and this may revolutionize the structure of rural communities by having the minors present in the village.

While reading this article I started thinking that if this much needed and necessary money is being taken out of the budget from urban schools where will the urban schools get the money for their upkeep and other needed items? What kind of things will urban schools go without?

Apr 9, 2010

Reading assignments

Here are the readings for the rest of the semester.

April 14     Wolf control in Alaska
read: Anahita and Mix (2006) “Retrofitting Frontier Masculinity for Alaska’s War Against Wolves." I sent each of you a copy of this article by email.

April 16     Pebble Mine

April 19     Intentional communities in the rural

Mar 29, 2010

Christian Militia members arrested in Michigan

While looking though the cover stories on one of my favorite news sites today, I came a cross a particularly interesting headline: "Militia members in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana charged with police-killing plot". Clicking on the headline presented me with information detailing Christian-militia's plan to kill a law enforcement official and then to attack again at the funerals of any police officers they may have killed. The article was particularly interesting due to due to its location.
While one might expect crime like this to come out of a large city like Detroit, the scene where this group was located is described as being "rural, wooded property". Even more interesting to me is that though the article describes this property as being rural, it states that there were neighbors close by (who were not part of the militia), and that even though the individuals who are facing charges were aware that there were people around them who could observe their behavior, they made no effort to disguise that they were part of a militia group. A neighbor stated that most every one knew that they were involved with what they were, and the individuals even ran a website whose mission statement proclaims that they are willing to fight in the name of Jesus. It's interesting t me, that while they weren't too far away from a city, if there were people who were openly declaring to be militia that neighbors would neglect alert the authorities sooner than they had. The social implications here all point towards the militia group as being dominant in the area they were in, perhaps scaring their neighbors into submission, but it's still intriguing to me that no one would have placed a phone call or reported the activity when they went to the city to buy supplies.
Even more interesting, perhaps, is the fact that two grown children were involved in this group, one of whom is still avoiding arrest. One has to wonder why these grown individuals, children of the two who run the group, would continue to believe in the group, particularly in the presence of neighbors who could have provided some external opinions. They were probably socialized into these beliefs, but one has to wonder how? The obvious paradigm would be conflict theory; that the parents and friends of the parents in this situation set up a social system to bear over the children and ensure that their social beliefs mirrored that of their own, but symbolic interactionism is also worth looking into. Do you suppose it's possible that while to the vast majority the performance of these individuals would be considered "botched" in the situation they were living in had they opted to act in any other way they would have been considered to have given bad performances and would the lose standing with he group and so were forced in a way to carry these values into adult hood? I'm also interested in the one son who ran away; on the surface it certainly seems like he's just avoiding getting into trouble (which is almost undoubtedly a motive), but is it possible that he's finally found a way to escape the oppressive environment, or have a chance to give a performance he believes is good?

The whole article can be found here:

Mar 11, 2010

Rurality blogging

A Google search for "rural" and "blogs" yields over fifteen million results. Of course, the vast majority of these links are dead ends when looking specifically for blogs focused on rural life, but spending just a few minutes weeding through the first two pages presented several relevant sites. Following links from within those blogs presented even more results. All in all, there are a plethora of blogs dedicated to discussing personal experiences as well as political, social, and economic issues in rural areas.
The presence of these blogs demonstrates that there is a substantial niche for those interested in the issues of rurality. Not only does this niche exist, but the Internet has provided a place where individuals and groups from all over the country, and even the world, can gather to expose these issues to a large audience. Blogs in particular ensure that rural issues are not relegated only to those concerned individuals living in rural areas or those studying sociology at academic institutions because of their generally accessible writing style and personal feel.
Granted, unless one is specifically looking for these blogs, the chances of stumbling upon them are somewhat limited. However, it is more likely that someone will find out about rural issues by bumbling around the Internet than he or she would by perusing scholarly literature, simply because most individuals do not casually browse scholarly articles.
Increased exposure to rurality issues could lead to increased concern and ultimately increased focus on solving these issues. In terms of the Symbolic Interactionism paradigm, rural issues have moved from small, local theatres to the big stage of blogging on the Internet. The authors of these blogs play a particular role when creating new entries, trying to convey a specific rural issue in a way that will engage their audience. Their primary audience is their avid readers, those dedicated to rural issues. But then they also reach that secondary audience, those that stumble upon the blogs by chance. It is that growth in numbers of concerned individuals that can make a difference in problems facing rural areas.

Various blogs about rurality:
Sustain Rural Alaska,
Anchorage Daily News, The Village (A Rural Blog),
Blog for Rural America,
Rural Matters,
The Rural Blog,
Rurality Bytes,
Legal Ruralism,
The Rural Populist,

Mar 7, 2010

Rural Chile still functioning

While it is important to recognize the challenges that face Concepción after the earthquake that hit Chile, it is also important to not overlook the rural areas that were destroyed by the quake and the subsequent tsunamis. Even before this natural disaster, rural villages such as Tubul and Tirúa have been neglected by the Chilean government, receiving little in governmental aid. Now, the residents of these struggling areas must pull together to solve their problems such as the lack of food, drinking water, and fuel, because it is not likely that these isolated areas will be receiving outside help any time soon.

There are two different sociological paradigms to examine the dire situation in rural Chile. While it would be easy to discuss from the control-conflict perspective the struggle between urban and rural communities over sparse resources, the more interesting approach would be to use the structural functionalist paradigm to examine how these communities are making life work.

As mentioned, in these rural areas, the residents are pulling together to help each other. They are clearing the rubble from the streets together, building shelters together, and catching food to share with their neighbors. While they are essentially abandoned by the government, they are still functioning by working together. With everyone playing their part as a cog making the machine operate, they can continue to live and function.

Read the New York Times article about Tubul at

Feb 28, 2010

Denali Wolves

Wolves have been controversial in Alaska for many decades. In fact, wolves have been controversial in many other states and around the globe. But none are so controversial as the wolves who live in Denali Park and the land surrounding the park.

Here is a news article that briefly describes the latest conflict:
The issue is whether to expand or eliminate a buffer zone around Denali Park that will protect the park's wolves when they wander outside the park's boundaries.

Regardless of your own personal opinion, consider the issue sociologically. How would a structural functionalist analyze the proposed elimination of the buffer zone? What kind of symbolic communication would a symbolic interaction notice? What would a conflict theorist say about the opposing groups and the ideologies that have been invented?

Thanks to for the photo of two Denali wolves.

Feb 21, 2010

Inventing ideologies

Noorvik is an Inupiaq village located in northwest Alaska. In a sociologically fascinating twist of events, the community recently decided to reject some of the Christian ideologies forced upon the people by missionaries. About a hundred years ago, when missionaries descended upon Alaska communities, Native people were forced to abandon much of their culture, including dancing and other traditional spiritual practices. The missionaries, in cahoots with the US government, sought to erase traditional Inupiaq culture and to impose Western ideas and culture. To justify their erasure of Native culture and to ensure compliance with official US policies of assimilation of Native people, missionaries invented ideologies. The invented ideologies centered around ideas that Native dancing was evil, that traditional healers and religious leaders were allied with Satan, and that Native people were doomed to hell if they persisted in their traditional way of life.

If the analysis of cultural changes that occured in Noorvik sounds like what a critical power conflict theorist would say, you are right! Recall that CPC theorists analyze social life as a series of conflicts, with inequalities justified and legitimated by dominant groups. One of the main strategies dominant oppressor groups use is to invent ideologies. The invented ideologies forced upon Noorvik and other Alaska Native groups are an excellent example of how the process works. The invented ideologies became so ingrained in members of the community that the people participated in their own oppression by reproducing the ideologies and passing them down through the generations through religious teaching. CPC theorists would consider also the role played by agents of socialization, including schools, religion, families, and the state, in the reproduction of Western ideas and the suppression of indigenous ideas and practices.

Earlier this year, when Noorvik discovered that their community would be the first to participate in the 2010 US Census, they decided to pass a new law that lifted the century-long ban on traditional dancing. I find it extremely interesting that Noorvik used the Census--an iconographic illustration of forced assimilation--as a moment to reclaim their traditions and to reject the very assimilationism that had been forced upon them by missionaries.

You can read a newspaper article about Noorvik's rejection of assimilationist ideologies and the hard work the community is taking on to recreate its culture here:

You can read the profile of Noorvik here: Some interesting data to notice: the gender distribution; racial/ethnic distribution; and median age compared to the state's median age.

Feb 5, 2010

Being Caribou

Every time I watch the film, "Being Caribou", I get swept into the journey. I am startled when I turn on the lights and see people--you--instead of caribou. For those who missed the film, or those who want to see the last 18 minutes of the film, it is available to watch free online at this site:

Feb 3, 2010

Old Crow

After our discussion in class today about Old Crow and the film, "Locked Horns," I looked up the community online. Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation have an interesting website that includes a draft of their most recent integrated community plan. You can visit the community website here:
I urge you to click on their intergrated community plan and spend a half hour reading. They frankly lay out their community's problems, analyze what needs to happen, state their plans for the future, and describe how they are going to achieve their objectives.

Make sure you also click on Caribou Coordination. If you had any doubts as to the importance of the Porcupine Caribou Herd to the culture of Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin people, your doubts will disappear.

Only after you thoroughly read the community website can you imagine the fate of Old Crow. The picture that emerges for me is a community fiercely determined to maintain its heritage and the centrality of caribou and traditional ways. What picture emerges for you?

Jan 27, 2010

Hard times in AK villages

In class today we discuss the demographic changes that have occurred in rural areas over the last few decades, and we made predictions for Alaska's future. The majority of the class predicted growth overall in Alaska's population, depending, of course, on certain factors such as military bases and the global economy. A few people thought Alaska would lose population, and two folks were firmly on the "it depends" fence.

Folks seemed clearer when talking about rural Alaska. It is true that rural Alaska communities are under additional stressors: higher fuel prices, declining ability to hunt locally, youth out-migration, persistent lack of modern services, stress on traditional culture, etc.

I thought you might find this CNN article from last year interesting. The article describes a "perfect storm" of circumstances--poor salmon runs, unexpected weather patterns, high fuel prices--that combined to give a grime picture of rural Alaska life in winter 2009.
The portrait it paints of rural Alaska is heartbreaking. Nowhere in the article can I find the nostalgia for the old ways, or any glimmer of hope that things will be different in the future. How would sociologists analyze the portrait of rural Alaska as described in this article? Is a subsistence way of life possible anymore? Can rural Alaskans integrate modern technologies--such as snowmachines and oil heat--into their lives and yet keep some of the traditional technologies--such as hunting and gathering food? Is the picture really as bleak as the article describes? Or is it even worse? Does the state of Alaska have ultimate responsibility for ALL of its citizens, or only its urban citizens?

Photo courtesy of Dennis Zaki and CNN.

Jan 21, 2010


Welcome to our class blog, Rural Sociology. We will use this blog as a forum to discuss issues related to Rural Sociology that we encounter this semester. Rural Sociology is a fascinating area of study, and I know that you will enjoy the things we talk about this semester.

In Alaska, and particularly at UAF, most people think "rural" is code for Alaska Native and/or for Alaskan villages. Elsewhere, "rural" means not-urban, and has no ethnic connotation. Because we are in Alaska, but also because I was educated in a sociology graduate program that thought of "rural" as being about Midwestern farms, I have decided to take a both-and approach to the study of Rural Sociology. We will spend about one third of our time examining Alaska rurality, and about two thirds of our time studying non-Alaska rurality. I think you will discover that many rural issues crosscut regions, and even cut across time and historical periods. So, for example, rural communities have struggled to create vibrant local economic cultures in competition with urban areas for centuries. Matters of ethnicity and inequalities based on ethnicity and race have also plagued rural communities for generations. These issues are not new. But they are fascinating to study using sociological ideas, and that's what we will do together this semester on this forum. And many of the ideas we will talk about are new ways to look at rural issues. For example, we will analyze wolf control policies in Alaska by discussing masculinities. We will extend our analysis of rural masculinities to talk about drinking in rural pubs.

My particular focus on Alaska rurality is on the myths of Alaska. There is comparatively little sociological research that has been published on Alaska rural issues, and in trying to understand why this is, I came to realize that much that has been written and filmed about creates and sustains myths. We've all heard these myths: there's a moose behind every tree in Alaska; rural Alaska is the last frontier, where people can be true individualists; Alaska Native villages are either 1) crumbling into oblivion through inevitable forces, or 2) thriving by continuing their traditional ways. Which myth one believes depends partly on personal experience, and partly on who one listens to. The reality about Alaska villages probably lies somewhere in between these two poles, as we will talk about this semester.

I invite you to discuss the issues with me on this blog. Please see the guidelines for commenting and posting to the blog. I'm excited about our upcoming discussions, and I hope you are, too.