Path Dependency (or, Appalachia is not Post-Industrial)

Pollutive industries, like manufacturing and energy, continue to drive economies across Appalachia. Air and water quality suffer, landscapes are scarred, and communities are held at the mercy of a boom-and-bust cycle, trending toward bust.

The term “path dependency” refers to a sort of historical inertia resulting from a resistance to change and a desire to stay the course. Existing structures and institutions can constrain the ways we live—economically, politically, culturally, ecologically. In other words: the past matters. Historical choices limit our options today. Contemporary choices limit options tomorrow and into the future.

The photos to the right, made in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, illustrate the ongoing influence of industrial technologies on Appalachian life. We're hanging on to an economy driven by extraction, even as we are developing clean methods of meeting needs. This is a visual document of the legacy our ancestors left for us—and what we will leave for others.

The Cheshire Baptist Church sign reads "Jesus is the only way to get into heaven" and advertises worship times and a food pantry next to a simple red brick church. In the background smokestacks spew white clouds into the gray blue sky

Cheshire, Ohio

Layers if olive paint peel off of an unidentified rusting metal surface that could be an oil barrel

Perry County, Ohio

A closeup shot of two concrete cooling towers against a gray sky. One tower has significant soot soiling on its shell

Willow Island, West Virginia

Many cars are parked on patchy grass with a large sign that has been stripped down to just its metal skeleton. The sky is gray with rainclouds.

Willow Island, West Virginia

A yellow schoolbus is parked in a grass yard in front of a red brick house and leafless trees with an industrial plant spewing pollution in the background

Little Hocking, Ohio

A tall metal fracking rig rises against a gray-blue sky

Washington County, Pennsylvania

Two tanker trucks are parked in a concrete lot with pipes and mechanical equipment in front of leafless trees

Washington County, Pennsylvania

Children's toys are strewn about a green turf area next to a brick house with a white fence. The sky is cloudy.

Washington, Pennsylvania

An abandoned single-story white building with a white garage and two old vending machines photographed from across the road

Marianna, Pennsylvania

A number of simple, two-story homes with pitched roofs are seen along a hillside with three trailerless truck cabs and a sign saying "WATCH CHILDREN" in the foreground

Marianna, Pennsylvania

Powerlines criss-cross in front of a forest of trees, some evergreen and some leafless for winter

Athens County, Ohio

A man wearing a hardhat and reflective vest works beside two blue metal barrels in front of a red wall with an American flag decal

Washington County, Pennsylvania

Two tanker trucks with American flags along the silver tanks and blue cabs are pictured behind a chain-link fence

Belpre, Ohio

A cooling tower and smokestacks are seen in the background with a dirt road lined by modest two-story homes in the foreground. The sky is cloudy

Eureka, West Virginia