Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Geology and Geography

Committee Chair

Ann Oberhauser.


This dissertation investigates the livelihoods of women heading households in rural parts of Appalachia and South Africa and develops a conceptual and methodological framework for transnational, comparative feminist research. Situated within a feminist geographical framework that is informed by feminist materialism and livelihoods analyses, it focuses on both historical and contemporary socioeconomic, cultural, and political forces at various scales of analysis that either enable or restrict women's ways of 'making due' in the two regions. The study focuses on five counties in northern West Virginia in the Appalachian region and Limpopo, including the former bantustan of Venda, in South Africa and utilizes a qualitative methodology. Through individual interviews, focus groups, and survey data, the dissertation tells the stories of how women heading households in West Virginia and Limpopo piece together work in both the formal and informal economies; government assistance programs; subsistence agricultural activities; family and community support; and co-habitation and 'doubling-up' strategies to construct a livelihood that will support their families. With respect to their livelihood strategies, this research analyzes how they are accessed and utilized; associated benefits and drawbacks; and how they fit with women's productive and reproductive responsibilities. It is argued that while women's livelihood strategies in the two regions are embedded in specific contexts and local household and community relations, they are connected to broader socioeconomic and political processes that operate similarly across place. This research makes evident that the power to exclude or empower women is constituted through various institutions and processes at various scales of analysis and recognizes women's agency by examining the multiple and diverse strategies they create to combat unequal and oppressive relations and acquire sustainable livelihoods.