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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Sweetgrass basketry: The political ecology of an African American art in the South Carolina Lowcountry
by Grabbatin, Brian Charles, M.S., College of Charleston, 2008, 107; 1450460
Abstract (Summary)

This case study sheds light on how Mt. Pleasant basket makers have adapted to and resisted environmental changes associated with amenity-driven land development in Lowcountry South Carolina. This thesis contributes to the political ecology literature that addresses land-use change and rural livelihoods in the United States. Case studies from the Western United States point to patterns of amenity-driven development that result in the cultural displacement of rural livelihoods, called rural gentrification (Brown 1995, Walker and Fortmann 2003, Ghose 2004). Scholars have also documented the persistence of rural livelihoods across the United States, where access to publicly owned lands contributes to what Emery and Pierce (2005) call contemporary subsistence. These writers emphasize how localized social processes of culture and power underlie changes in the relationship between land-use and livelihoods, described as co-production by McCusker and Carr (2005). This case study applies the lessons of co-production to suggest that cultural displacement is not an inevitable outcome in rapidly developing communities. It also emphasizes the importance of privately owned lands for the persistence of land-based livelihoods.

In Mount Pleasant, South Carolina people of African descent have made coiled baskets for over 300 years, but amenity-driven population growth and rapid urbanization since the 1970s have raised concerns over supplies of local plant materials for basket making, generational interest in the craft, security of basket making communities, and the displacement of roadside sale locations. To examine the impacts of urbanization findings rely on content analysis and grounded visualization of interviews with basket makers, participant observation at public meetings and events, and Global Positioning System (GPS) field surveys. Results show that despite social and environmental pressures that interrupt traditional methods of gathering materials, sewing baskets, and selling baskets, sweetgrass basketry persists as a source of cultural expression and supplemental income for its practitioners. Results also indicate that the basket making community continues to find social pathways of change that incorporate their craft within dominant development patterns, reinventing the process of basketry. This research suggests that by understanding the relationships contributing to the persistence of basket making, policy makers and preservation and conservation organizations are in a better position to develop initiatives that support and expand on the current social pathways basket makers use to access materials and secure sale locations.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hurley, Patrick T., Halfacre, Angela C.
Commitee: Rashford, John H., Rosengarten, Dale R.
School: College of Charleston
Department: Environmental Studies
School Location: United States -- South Carolina
Source: MAI 46/05M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Black studies, Cultural anthropology, Geography, Design, African American Studies
Keywords: Contemporary subsistence, Non-timber forest products, Political ecology, Rural gentrification, South Carolina, Sweetgrass basketry
Publication Number: 1450460
ISBN: 978-0-549-49052-4
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