Dissertation Overview

My dissertation, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation and will be completed in spring of 2020, will provide a comprehensive theoretical and empirical analysis of rural natural resource dependence in the United States. By evaluating demographic and economic data, my analysis provides three main contributions concerning what it means for a rural county to be dependent on their local environment for economic development, whether it be for extractive (e.g. coal, timber, mining) or non-extractive (e.g. tourism, amenities) natural resource development.

  1. I theoretically ground natural resource dependence within sociological theory surrounding spatially uneven development and dependence by arguing that natural resource dependence represents a special case of economic dependence where local natural resource abundance facilitates higher levels of exploitation from both extractive and non-extractive interests due to the placement of the community within the national and global capitalist system.

  2. Using rigorous spatial fixed effects models I test and compare the historical impact of extractive and non-extractive natural resource development on income growth, poverty, and inequality, providing an evaluation of how natural resource development affects income, and its distribution, within counties over time.

  3. Using models of impacts to income growth and poverty to identify empirical thresholds of dependence, I evaluate trends and transitions in socioeconomic well-being for extractive and non-extractive natural resource dependent counties from 2000-2015.



Article 1: Natural Resource Dependence: A Theory of the Dual Dependence of Resource Rich Areas in Rural America

Abstract: Spatially uneven development represents a wicked problem for rural people and places. Research has shown that underdevelopment is more likely in natural resource dependent communities than in places with non-natural resource-based economies. While researchers have investigated the linkages between natural resource dependence and negative socioeconomic outcomes, the need for a middle-range sub-national theory of resource dependence linking natural resource dependence, poverty, inequality, and income growth in the United States remains. In this paper I develop a theory of rural natural resource dependence, addressing both extractive (e.g. mining, timber) and non-extractive (e.g tourism, real estate) development in the United States. I draw on three bodies of literature---the resource curse literature, the resource dependence literature, and the critical literature of uneven development---to argue rural natural resource dependence represents a special case of the core-periphery relationship, wherein rural resource rich areas form a dual-dependence upon both the global capitalist economy and the local natural environment. This results in targeted exploitation from natural resource interests. Due to the lack of within-country economic regulation and the free movement of capital, external interests can use their power to pressure rural economies in directions outside their best interest. While historically these interests were predominately focused on natural resource extraction, over the past 50 years non-extractive interests have increasingly replaced extractive forms of development. When viewed this way I argue that non-extractive interests, while pushing a different use of the resource base, do not fundamentally vary in their exploitative relationship with rural communities in the United States

Working paper on SocArXiv: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/e4akp/

Article 2: Testing the ‘resource curse’ at the county level from 2000-2015 in rural U.S. counties: The differential impacts of extractive, and non-extractive, development on income growth, poverty, and inequality

Abstract: This article tests theorized patterns of dependency linking increases in natural resource development to decreases in local income, increases in inequality, and elevated poverty in the United States of America. Natural resource development generally has two forms, extractive—oil and gas, mining, timber—and non-extractive—tourism, recreation, real estate. However, research assessing the socioeconomic impacts of natural resource use and development has largely focused on extractive forms of development, limiting empirical and theoretical understanding. I expand the literature by testing these relationships with spatial panel fixed effects models to demonstrate the non-linear impacts both extractive and non-extractive natural resource development had on per capita income, local income inequality, and poverty in the rural counties of the contiguous United States from 2000 to 2015. I find non-extractive development decreased per capita income and increased inequality and poverty, with relationships being non-linear, meaning detrimental impacts on outcome variables steepened for large increases in non-extractive development in all models. Unlike non-extractive development, modest increases in extractive development increased per capita income and decreased inequality and poverty, with all relationships tapering for larger increases in extractive development, and impacts on both per capita income and poverty becoming negative for large increases in extractive development.

Working paper available upon request.

Article 3: Trends and transitions in natural resource dependence in rural America from 2000-2015: Extractive dependence, non-extractive dependence, and hybrid dependence

I will create a new classification of natural resource dependence for both extractive and non-extractive uses of the local environment as the primary driver of the local economy. The overall natural resource dependence classification will be stratified by two non-mutually exclusive categories: extractive and non-extractive dependence. Because rural economies can have competing uses, allowing a county to be both dependent on extractive and non-extractive uses, which I term hybrid dependence, acknowledges the wide variation possible in rural economies. Unlike previous classifications of dependence, I will use models from Article 2 to empirically determine the thresholds of diminishing societal returns from increased market concentration of natural resource related industries.

I will evaluate trends in socioeconomic well-being by overall, extractive, non-extractive, and hybrid natural resource dependence from 2000 – 2015. Beyond basic trends I will also explore trends associated with those rural counties in the United States that transitioned from extractive dependence to non-dependent, or from extractive dependence to non-extractive/hybrid dependence. This will determine whether or not those counties that transitioned to either amenity based natural resource related economies or to economies not dependent on natural resources have had better socioeconomic outcomes over the past 5 decades than those which remained dependent on extractive development.