Theoretical Model for Culture, Intergenerational Development, and Community Building
Based on this research, we present the following theoretical framework which attempts to bring together a series of related constituent elements (Figure 7.1). There are several levels which we feel justify the merits of traditional creative art forms and practices.
At the center of our analysis are traditional expressive forms of creativity, which bind people, objects, and practices. As the diagram suggests, the starting point of this process is the very personal and emotional appeal that inheres within the creative processes surrounding such art forms. Its attractiveness lies in its individual personal expressive qualities, both for those engaged in creating such art forms and among those who come to subjectively appreciate and gain pleasure and meaning from its inhering qualities. The personal appeal of the art forms we suggest, however, does not exist in a contextual vacuum, but is linked to the wider social environment from which it derives its inspiration.
FIGURE 7.1 Conceptual model for the interrelation of cultural traditions and community development
Here, we shift our emphasis towards a community perspective; to underscore the connectedness between traditions as derived from the substantive and symbolic features of community life, past and present.
Traditions are intrinsically connected with the symbolic construction of community; much of what it is exists in symbolic form which provides the “capacity to make meaning” (Cohen, 1985, p. 15). In the process they can also serve to contribute towards the formation of boundaries and are intrinsic to social and self identity. The nature of tradition is such that it requires ongoing interpretation and continuity with the cultural repertoires and practices associated with other generations. This leads to the third key dimension of our framework, which is the significance of social interaction and participation for traditions and cultures to prosper. Without open, accessible avenues and channels for actors to meet and interact together, traditional art forms are likely to decline and be lost. On the basis of this interaction and participation, we then come to the final point of our perspective, which is that arising from the commonalities of these relational elements, community agency unfolds, fonning the bedrock of further organized efforts and ultimately stronger potential for personal and social well-being in contemporary community life.
For continuity in tradition to exist requires actors who can act as bearers of community traditions. Our fourth point then is that intergenerational relationships are necessary and can be strengthened in order for traditions to continue as living practices. The notion of generativity is introduced as a guiding mechanism through which tradition can gain continuity and be passed on. In turn, such processes can lead to the development “of’ community, as community narratives emerge in the interactions of individual actors across the generations. Our final point is that these processes in their entirety help to develop community agency.
We now elaborate is somewhat more detail these conceptual strands which we seek to tie together based on our research findings.
1. Personal and emotional expression
At its most basic level, music and other performative traditions provide an immediate source of individual self-expression and creativity. People engage in such creative outlets for the positive feelings they encounter through perfonn- ance, interaction, private practice, or as listeners. Wood and Smith (2004) suggest that the appeal of music lies in its constitution of “emotional geographies.” In other words, music as it is performed—in the theatre, the house gathering, the outdoor concert, the jamboree—has a remarkable way of engaging and tapping into people’s emotionality. From both the perspective of performer and listener, music performances especially can provide a means of communicative exchange not based on language but rather through a relational emotional space.
DeNora (2000) notes that the self is very much invoked within music and argues convincingly the case that “musical materials are active ingredients in identity work, how respondents ‘find themselves’ in musical structures” (p. 68). Like other art forms, music materials are actively utilized for their transfonnative power: to change and enhance mood; to encourage particular activities, to express and affirm emotional states of sadness, happiness, and anger; to highlight identity to others and to enrich one’s own sense of self. Music is a powerful semiotic mediation through which memories are brought back to life, and which can help relive, albeit in altered ways, experiences of another time. The associational qualities can be profound. Leonard’s (2005) research among younger people in the UK reveals that Irish music as a style or genre can have positive emotional appeal, as many associated the music with natural landscapes of rural Ireland and the “socio-scapes” where music invariably can be heard, such as pubs or farmhouses.
Cheek and Piercy’s (2008) research among quilters in Amish, Appalachian, and Mormon communities reveals the multiple psychological needs that are resolved through this expressive activity: the satisfaction of leaving a legacy, giving to others, passing on traditions and teaehing/skill building. Creative and artistic activity therefore has profound meaning in the lives of many over and above the actual activity itself. Such activity finnly connects with defining who people are to themselves and as part of a wider community; and in this sense, the “personal” often implicates the “community.”
The opportunities presented for personal expression and personal development cannot be overlooked. Such activities not only contribute to the development of the self but also of the individual’s roles, responsibility, and connection to the community itself. This sell actualization also sets the stage for more focused purposive involvement in the community development process to take place.
Applications of this finding could take the form of partnerships between local community groups, historical associations, schools, and others interested in promoting arts and cultural heritage. Equally important would be the support and funding of arts/music programs in primary and secondary schools, as well as the promotion of such activities by youth and community. Such investments should not be seen as minor efforts; as such activities provide a clear connection between the individual and the community development process.
2. Interaction and participation
In previous generations, music making and other cultural practices held particular meaning in the everydayness of family and community life. The interactive effect of such actions cannot be overlooked. Quilting, for instance, was a creative social process with utilitarian functions, to keep one’s family and others warm (Cheek & Piercy, 2008; Piercy & Cheek, 2004). Such activity usually involved several persons, working in “bees” or “guilds,” and constituted an expression of solidarity in the face of hard times. These activities also provided social support to families dealing with the harsh realities of rural mining life, with social groups quilting in the dark hours prior to and after sending loved ones off to the often dangerous mines.
Similarly, old time music played a central role in the lives of many residents and the community in general. The distinctiveness of old time and other traditional music, aside from obvious rhythm, tunings, and melody, is the nature of the social practices associated with performance; that is, in the social nature of interaction and the communality that exists between musician and the listeners or dancers, at square dances, jamboree, house gatherings, or wherever the opportunity exists to perform.
In Thomas’s (2001) account of the formation of community in the world of clog dancers in Appalachia, she notes “the group’s eagerness to include new faces in their ranks accelerates the formation of bonds of affinity among individuals” (p. 176). In other words, active efforts are needed to build pathways into the group so that the tradition can be recreated. Indeed, Thomas illustrates very well the highly social nature of traditional clog dancing. Participation and encouragement within the clog dancing group defines the creation of a “community of practice.”
In a broader community development setting, music, storytelling, and other similar activities provide invaluable venues for interaction that might not otherwise exist in the community. As such, diverse local residents can come together in an informal setting, and through interaction understand their shared general interests as well as unique challenges that they may be facing. It is in these settings that channels of communication and more sustained and focused interaction can emerge. The power of such interaction should not be underestimated, for it is the seeds of community development and collective capacity building. Culturally based activities might actually be among the more beneficial venues for interaction, in that they celebrate a local connectedness that often transcends our various local divides. One key informant described this process:
We found that this storytelling project we did last spring, it brought people out who had not been involved with us before and it was because it was bringing back a time that was no longer talked about very much. And it was placing that on the forefront, giving it importance. And it was just so good to see people coming out to hear those stories and being proud of them.
As Cheek and Piercy’s (2008) research reveals, involvement in creative crafts such as quilting provides benefits and opportunities for the development of friendships and bonds between family members and fellow craft workers. The women in their research valued this aspect as much as the quilting itself and the authors rightly suggest that such activity forms the bedrock of social support for these women in older life. As Leonard’s (2005) research makes the point, without organized classes and social events for young musicians, the sense of collective identification would be weaker since community members certainly would have less motivation to come together. For many of the teenagers in her study, again the social aspects of the music scene were important, that is, having friends and being able to socialize with others of the same age as well as being able to travel to events.
According to Thompson and Moser (cited in Hyde, 2006), aside from the entertainment value that storytelling has played within Appalachian community life, it also employs a symbolic role and function in the nature of interaction that unfolds. They maintain that storytelling:
creates a social bond between and among teller and audience members. Some stories, for example, those of the trickster Jack, model such socially accepted behavior as cleverness, generosity, and hard work and deride such antisocial and foolish behaviors as selfishness, dishonesty, and egotism. Listeners and storytellers alike can explore the intricacy of relationships, the difficulties of growing up, or other psychological issues through following the characters in traditional stories.
To build community, the enhancement and promotion of venues for social interaction should be seen as a priority. Such venues can take a variety of physical and social forms. Included are the establishment of community centers, town halls, parks, and other facilities open to all residents and which serve as a location for a variety of services, functions, and events. These venues could provide an environment where residents can meet, interact, and discuss general issues relevant to the entire community.
This leads us on to the next connection: the importance of intergenerational relationships and generativity for cultural continuity. Without a legacy of past practices that are sustained by key carriers, masters, and inspiring bearers of traditions, there is little opportunity for tradition to continue in the interpretations of younger members of the community.
3. Intergenerational relationships and generativity
Cheek and Piercy’s research (2008; Piercy & Cheek, 2004) among female quilters in three distinct American communities, illustrates the significance of generativity to these women in their mid-late years. We suggest this is an important conceptual consideration in locating the significance of intergenerational relationship building. The authors apply Eriskson’s term to analyze how quilting fulfils this need for generativity which they suggest,
In a broad sense ... encompasses learning to involve oneself in the care and nurturance of the next generation, and the failure to accomplish its central tasks leaves a person with a sense of personal stagnation, a lack of purpose, and a feeling of not having left a mark on the world.
(2008, p. 13)
Several elements were identified as important: the women felt valued for their expertise, knowledge, and skill of the craft and in passing on the tradition; they valued the bonds and relationships that grow, very often with grandchildren; the women keenly welcomed the legacy they left in quilts that are special to family life and imprint upon the memory of family; and the women valued their contribution to wider community effort, for example, donating quilts for annual auctions to support community services such as the local fire department, to pay community school taxes or for local medical services (Cheek & Piercy, 2008, p. 21).
We would argue, that this need to share and provide is an important resource for building relationships between older and younger generations, particularly through community traditions. The research underscores the significance of such craft activity not solely as self-expression but in terms of the wider contribution that processes of generativity create and the positive sense of personal development and satisfaction that arises from this. Older people take great pride in being able to pass on that which has formed a key part of their lives. The same processes are likely to be in evidence in other creative artistic forms, including music.
Appalachia is one region, as elsewhere, where traditional music forms have grown from and contributed towards its distinctiveness. Across Appalachia, a multiplicity of “old time” music styles coexist where distinctiveness is typically associated with musical repertoire, and the presence (and legacy) of particular local personalities (master musicians) who have come to symbolize stylistic variations. Traditional forms of music as practiced and performed can represent a continuity with a place and members of its past. Again, in our exploratory fieldwork, the Action Group in Cowan Creek offers a cultural program that includes the Cowen Creek Mountain School, a weeklong school held every year in June since 2001. The Mountain School specializes in Kentucky Mountain Music.
A community organization, Appalshop, was the original initiator of this school in partnership with the Cowan Community Action Group, but since the second year, it has been produced and managed by the Action Group with support from Appalshop’s Traditional Music Program. Workshops are provided on string band instruments, singing, square dance, and storytelling at several levels, from beginners to advanced. The school also features a Master concert series, nightly square dances, jamming sessions, special interest workshops, and field trips. The school offers young people the opportunity to learn the traditional repertoires and styles of playing that define the east Kentucky region, and in particular the music of Letcher county. The intergenerational dimension of this process was noted by one of our key informants:
We usually run it out of the school. Basically afterschool, musicians will meet with young students, and their parents, grandparents, teachers, anyone who wants to take classes and teach them the local traditions of the area. The repertoire depends on the musician who is teaching the program ... It was something that grew out of the Cowan Creek Music School as a way to have a year-round program where kids could learn by ear and be mentored by older people in the community.
What is critical though is that there is a corpus of older and younger traditional musicians with the skills, understanding, and capacity to teach a growing audience of keen musicians. For tradition to be a living and meaningful presence, the need and opportunities for interaction and participation are vital. The Action Group hopes to develop another Appalshop initiative, the “Passing the Pick and Bow” program which offers free after-school old time music classes in fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin to children and youth aged 8 to 18 in three counties in Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. As with much tradition, the program revolves around learning by ear and students are taught to play in a string band through monthly square dances and/or jam sessions. Monthly old time jam sessions are held through the winter and fall and these are regarded as vital to building an audience. It is thereby recognized that interaction and participation are key to the vibrancy of local culture and “cultural persistence” (Olick & Robbins, 1998, p. 129); a key point which we return to below.
Finally, the intergenerational aspect of the arts also reflects a venue of enhanced social support. The ability of younger and older citizens to support each other in times of emotional need and major life events is significant. One of our key informants highlighted this impact with two events:
Last year right during one of the music schools we had one of our little girls from here and her father died right at the time. She had been taking music classes at the school and this really is her playground since she is from right around here. At the nighttime after the music schools ever)' night we have a square dance and then clean up. I’ll always think what a significant role it (the music and school) played for her to be able to spend time here away from a lot of that grief. You could just see it. She would just sit up on one of those tables, in the middle of the table, and play her fiddle while we’d be cleaning up. You just know that we’re important in this community if just to be able to do that for that one little girl.
You know when you are changing the life of a child. I remember coming in here last week and there was a little boy sitting over there with a young college student playing fiddle tunes onto a cassette tape to send to his father in Afghanistan. That’s such a significant thing. How in the world do you even evaluate what that means to that child and that dad to be able to connect that way?
The possibility for intergenerational collaboration is particularly appealing to the development of community. In the settings younger citizens can learn skills, culture, and the arts from knowledgeable and experienced elders. Such activities are relevant to youth development, but also contribute to the wellbeing and development of older community members. Through this unique form of interaction, as young people interact with older residents, focusing on the arts, the opportunity to develop community emerges.
In this setting youth learn life lessons along with skills, while older citizens pass on their knowledge, and at the same time attaining important social supports. From a youth development standpoint this form of interaction is particularly unique. It is far different than the usual coach or mentor relationships that characterize traditional adult-youth development. This form of interactions and mentoring allows youth and elders to interact as equals and directly learn from each other.
Applications for this funding can take many forms. Most obvious would be community-based efforts where young people and older residents are encouraged to take part. Community bands, music festivals, arts festivals, and storytelling events would all be useful applications. Through these, older residents could be actively sought out and invited to mentor youth. Similarly, young people, through schools or their organizations could be made aware of their importance in passing on traditional cultures and arts and be invited to take part.
4. Towards “community” narrative—the development of “community”
Storytelling is a unique cultural practice that engenders community in symbolic ways (Cohen, 1985), inculcating people’s own personal narratives to locate themselves, others, and historical events within the knowledge frame of community life (see Bellah et al., 1985; Olick & Robbins, 1998). The personal is very evident in the oral tradition of storytelling, which can be seen as forming important mechanisms in the fonnation of narratives of place and its people; its “sociobiographical memory” (Olick & Robbins, 1998, p. 123). As symbolic and social constructionists maintain, people are continuously engaged in ways that seek to define who they are, from what they are not, and is evident “in the discussions and gossip of everyday life that constructs the discourse relating to the collectivity” (Mewett, 1986, p. 74).
In many ways, music and storytelling is a means for creating community in a symbolic way as it draws on stocks of knowledge that locate individuals, local sites, social practices, and events of the past and present. The capacity to contribute and understand the import of such narrative construction can be a source of community identification and attachment, much as gossip forms an overall function to the formation of community narrative (Peace, 2001).
Storytelling in our view is best described as a form of “memory talk” (Degnen, 2005) which is important to how people relate to one another, amid ongoing change in the places they inhabit. Degnen’s (2005) research in the UK reveals the importance of “talk”—of local personalities and characters, webs of relations, and local sites that once existed—in making sense of the present and figuring out people’s family and historical connections:
Part of figuring out who is who in the village necessitates a referencing back in time to activities, relationships, and places of habitation occupied by the person in question previously. What is particularly striking in memory talk is how place operates within this shuttling back and forth between past and present. Both places and people are named explicitly in this discourse, and are explicitly linked.
One of our key informants, a community activist, spoke of how older women had described their involvement in the project as “therapeutic”, in terms of socially reconnecting them with others in ways once familiar in small community life; thereby providing space to talk about their lives in the present and the past. This process was recounted as:
During our meetings through the winter months we had women come in here in tears, saying “this is like therapy for me. It is just so good to sit amongst you.” Which is things we used to do. It used to be part of our culture, to gather on our porches and share our heartaches and talk about our lives. And you know, we don’t do that anymore. They needed so much to interact again with people in their community and talk about all that has gone on. There is a lot of significance in us working toward keeping that going.
In particular, the case was recalled of one particular woman living in a quite remote part of the mountains, who up until her participation in the project had rarely interacted with other members of the community. She became involved in the storytelling project and her participation was viewed as highly significant to remembering key ways of life (that others had not) and her personal contribution could be viewed as an important piece of the community’s narrative and memory. Her story was described as such:
One of the ladies that participated in the project is someone who lives on top of one of our mountains. I mean so isolated. So she started coming to our meetings. She came to our first meeting. She did not miss a meeting. And she was such a vital part of that. If she had not been part of it, we would have missed something. But that has meant so much to that woman to be a part of it. And she told many many stories of what life on the mountain was like, going into the caves, and all kinds of things like that. It was really exciting.
Despite the variations in the individual experiences and meanings of places and community life “memory talk is inherently framed by shared memories, shared experiences, and place” (Degnen, 2005, p. 734). Storytelling is perhaps somewhat more ritualized than what Degnen describes, but it is nonetheless an “organic,” “active, processual and perfomiative” (ibid., p. 737) form of community engagement.
There is a further collective identification dimension to this type of activity. Reliving the life of Appalachia through story can constitute an important corrective and resistance to the negative stereotyping and myth-making that surrounds Appalachia and its people. For those involved, sharing stories of hard work and solidarity counters much of what has been contained in dominant discourses about the region.
The organizers of the storytelling project believe it is vital to share with younger members of the community knowledge of what life was like in the mountains in days gone by, as a way of instilling pride and positive identification with their place of origins. It also can be used to explain to insiders and outsiders alike the context, history, and environment in which the uniqueness of local life evolved. Such narratives counter prevailing stereotypes and firmly place the culture in a context in which actions, behaviors, and beliefs can more completely be understood.
The project has also involved young teenagers from the community initiating their own storytelling performance, which was performed locally and ultimately at a large event in New York City. Throughout the key informant interviews it was noted how cultural differences led to acceptance and also misinterpretations of life in Appalachia. Noted were some initial condescension and misinterpretation of their style of storytelling by urban cultural elites; to those from Appalachia, this was a celebration of their lives in their own terms and communicative style. Interestingly, the audience that proved most receptive to their style and content was young African-American and Latino communities, whose own stories are so often occluded from the mainstream. Such was the ability of storytelling to transcend social and ethnic divides, while at the same time reaffirming individual group identities. In this way, storytelling, like music, “is central to the constitution of cultural and individual identities” (MacCarthy, 2004, p. 56). We believe that participation in such activity proves fundamental to deepening a sense of attachment and belonging to a place and its community narrative.
The transition from personal to community narrative is particularly interesting and important for application. Such community narratives transcend the individual, or personal, and reflect the wider development of community. These narratives also finnly place the individual within a wide historical and social context. Applications of these findings can take many fonns. Included are focused local efforts to instill common sense of identity history, culture, and knowledge. Such commonalities can be promoted through celebrations of common culture in events, newspapers, cultural outlets, public announcements, and a variety of other media.
Additionally local program activities that cut across distinct local groups with the intention of forming a cohesive local narrative would also serve this purpose. Included will be community based festivals, music exhibits, and other activities that stress the commonalities of local people and cultures. These would also provide the key venues for interaction that are seen as essential to the emergence of community. Such activities would also present a setting where diverse individuals could interact in a non-formal manner, thus leading to the building of purposive networks of communication and interaction.
5. Community agency
Through this process of interaction, an awareness of common needs and interests emerges among local citizens, as do opportunities for involvement in activities for meeting common needs. As interaction builds linkages across age, class, race, and ethnic lines, organized groups and associations, and other entities within a local population, the community field emerges and provides the interactional context supportive of individual and social well-being (Bridger & Alter, 2008). As these relationships are maintained and strengthened, they simultaneously increase local adaptability and capacity to address the many problems and issues which inevitably cut across special interest fields. This process and focus on interaction has been seen in a variety of research focusing on locally based collective action. Included are natural resource management (Brennan et al., 2005; Flint & Lulo, 2007), community development (Bridger et ah, 2009), and youth development (McGrath et ah, 2009).
Throughout our exploratory research, key informants routinely cited the importance of the community narrative as it is presented in various artistic forms. They also identified the arts as a common general focus of action that cuts across local divides and differences. The importance of this narrative and its relationship to identity and local cultural uniqueness allowed for the mobilization of local people, the emergence of community agency, and a clear focus for local action efforts. One key informant described these actions as:
One of the primary things we are trying to do here is preserve our history' and preserve our cultural arts, because they are dying. They are becoming a thing of the past. We realized that we weren’t having many square dances. We weren’t having people learn to play the banjo. We were not having anyone learn to play the fiddle. Not only did people not play those instruments, very few people even listened to the music and thought it was important. We realized that if we did not train up a new generation it would be gone.
The application of efforts designed to facilitate the development of community agency is essential. This development of local capacity to act is essential to future action efforts and community-based development. Without the ability for locally based self-help strategies, rural communities will likely exhibit gradual erosion of their culture and in many cases find themselves at the mercy of extralocal forces.
A wide range of literature focuses on efforts to link local groups and build collective local capacities. Local groups and organizations would do well to focus on activities which bring such diverse local citizens groups together. Included are local planning, vision, and action efforts designed to increase citizen involvement in local decision-making. The initial focus on local culture, arts, and related commonalities can be seen as the beginning stage for the emergence of community agencies and ultimately the development of community.
In this setting it’s particularly important that locally based development focusing on the arts is not seen as simply a one-off occasion. Moreover, these should be seen as activities that are one of many connected to a wider community development effort. To help build such local capacity a variety of resources exist. These include programming provided by local universities, cooperative extension, community-based organizations, professional organizations, and rural development centers. All can assist local communities and provide ongoing support, training, and consultation as they seek to build local collective capacity and enhance the community.