Dissertation Proposal Meeting: Meir Lewin
Title: Appalachian Physical Culture: Ultramarathon Running in Virginia and West Virginia
Abstract: While cast as a “fringe sport,” ultramarathon running has increased in popularity nationwide, including within Appalachian communities. Yet, recent studies of ultramarathon running have left out the region entirely. Instead, such scholarly work has largely focused on how the practice reproduces White, middle-class, neoliberal values of individualism, while functioning as a physical cultural means of reconnecting middle-class urban and suburban White Americans to “natural” spaces. Consequently, questions concerning Appalachian ultramarathon running, the lived experience of these rural runners, and how they understand their interactions with natural environments through the sport remain unanswered. Utilizing insight from works in Physical Cultural Studies, Appalachian Studies, and political ecology, this dissertation project proposes to employ ethnographic methods of participation, observation, and interview, to study the lived experiences of Appalachian ultramarathon runners and their interactions with political, economic, social, local, and natural environments. Although recent work of Appalachian Studies scholars has done much to complicate traditional and popular misconceptions of Appalachia, the current national discourse and the media’s coverage of now president Donald Trump’s appeals to the white working class, perpetuates an image of the region and its inhabitants as a singular sociocultural identity and class. By examining ultramarathon running in Appalachia, this dissertation aims to interrogate the role that this form of endurance running plays within the experiences and identities of particular residents, as well as contribute to efforts complicating a one-dimensional understanding of Appalachia.