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Homosocial stewardship: the opposed and unpaid care work of women water stewards in West Virginia, USA

Martina Angela Caretta, Geology and Geography Department, West Virginia University


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The identity of people living in Central Appalachia is tightly connected with water. Because of the threats to water resources due to coal mining, and most recently, hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas pipeline projects, citizens have formed several nonprofit organizations to preserve or restore rivers and watersheds. Notably, women head the biggest, state-wide, most active and visible of these organizations. Grounded in 25 in-depth interviews with female water stewards in West Virginia, this article examines nurturing approaches, financial impediments, and opposition that make water stewardship in West Virginia essentially homosocial care work. Expanding on the knowledge-agency-care stewardship framework, this article contributes to the under-researched dimension of care. It also suggests that the analytical lens of homosociality is fruitful to understand the gender and power dynamics that hamper water stewardship in WV. Finally, it challenges the renewed stereotyping and essentializing of Appalachia through the representation of women as passive, ignorant, bound to their homes, victims of overdoses, sexual trafficking, and violent marital relationships by showing how, against material and societal odds, women persist in their care for water.

Key words

homosociality; stewardship; water; watershed organizations; West Virginia; women

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087