“I care more about this place, because I fought for it”: exploring the political ecology of fracking in an ethnographic field school



This paper draws from data provided by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania 2012 Ethnographic Field School to accomplish two goals: to open questions about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on people’s relationships to the environment in western PA and to explore the pedagogical possibilities and limitations of teaching through publically engaged projects rooted in political ecology. The history of local land use, whether coal mining and its consequences or the creation of conservation zones, captures the imagination of differing publics and influences their interpretation of energy extraction, particularly its acceptability and risks. At the same time, the encounter with Marcellus Shale has prompted people to explore, question, and redefine their relationships to place and to the legacy of coal in the community. This paper details the possibilities and pitfalls encountered in ethnographic projects by student researchers designed to explore and prompt public dialogue about people’s changing relationships to land and water. Despite theoretical and methodological challenges, this paper argues for the value of community-based ethnographic field schools and publically engaged political ecology research in creating a context for productive dialogue between stakeholders on a controversial issue.


Fracking Natural gas Coal Marcellus Shale Ethnographic field school Political ecology Pedagogy Public anthropology 


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© AESS 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyIndiana University of PennsylvaniaIndianaUSA

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