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Internal Colonization, Folk Justice, and Murder in Appalachia: The Case of Kentucky

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 31 Issue: 3 Dated: May/June 2003 Pages: 279-286
Shawn L. Schwaner; Thomas J. Keil
Date Published
May 2003
8 pages
This article discusses a study on whether there are sub-regional variations on homicide within the State of Kentucky.
The American South has had and continues to have murder rates that exceed those of other regions of the country. The South has been treated as a homogenous region by much research. This study focused on Appalachia in Kentucky, particularly the coal-producing sub-region, and hypothesized that internal colonization had created the climate for violence as an adaptation to environmental conditions. Based upon the use of internal colonization, subculture of violence, and lifestyle theories, three questions guided the research. The first question was whether there was a variation in homicide rates by sub-region within Kentucky. The second question was whether sociodemographic, economic distress, and Core-Appalachian subcultural region predicted homicide rates. The third question regarded alcohol arrest rates and whether they mediated a relationship between economic distress, Core-Appalachia subculture, sociodemographic variables, and the rate of homicide within Kentucky. Data were collected using the 1990 United States Census and the 1989, 1990, and 1991 Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports. Results show that, when Appalachia was coded as a homogeneous region, there was a significantly higher rate of homicide than in the rest of the State; it is twice as high. Core coal-producing counties in Appalachia had a higher rate of homicide than the State average and non-Core-Appalachian counties had a lower than State average. There was a significant and substantial variability of homicide rates within Kentucky, even within Appalachia. The conflict between coal mining companies and Appalachian residents and the use of violence as an informal form of social control persist in the Appalachian coal-producing counties. The role of alcohol significantly mediates endemic poverty, Appalachian core counties, and homicide. The emergence of alcohol demonstrates how the counties have developed lifestyles and a subcultural adaptation to long-term poverty, internal colonization, and exploitation. 2 tables, 1 figure, 41 references


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