Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This dissertation explores the dynamics of rural resistance against government interventions in the Ozark uplands of Arkansas during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It employs microhistorical analysis to delve deep into the experiences and attitudes of rural folks as they encountered and interacted with different arms of government authority during this long period of change and transition for rural America. The findings question and complicate long-held assumptions about an "exceptional" rural hill culture that supposedly eluded change and remained isolated from mainstream American developments since the pioneer settlers of the Early Republic. In particular, this work's collection of case studies probes the reasons for conflicts between rural people and government power, how hill folks perceived these conflicts, and how conflicts and attitudes changed over time.;Historians have shown a growing interest in the Ozarks in recent years. A number of them have attempted to understand how rural regions such as the Ozarks contributed to the rise of modern conservatism in America during the second half of the twentieth century. Bethany Moreton's and Darren Dockuk's works, for instance, both emphasize a continuity of rural conservativism from the first half of the twentieth century to the second. This study, however, discovers significant change and nuance in the dynamics of rural conflict with and attitudes toward government power in the Ozarks during the long twentieth century. More often than not, rural resistance sprang from a populist Left during the early twentieth century, as smallholder farmers in the backcountry saw their struggles against intrusive arms of government as stands against the self-serving capitalist elites who controlled them. By the 1960s, however, the long evolution of agricultural consolidation and industrialization in the region led to the virtual extinction of small family farms. Thousands of rural Ozarkers hit the migrant trails to Western and Midwestern cities during and after World War II, and an industrial- and agribusiness-oriented political economy that depended upon low-wage, non-union labor finally replaced the region's smallholder farm society in the backcountry. In this New Ozarks environment, town business elites and local political officials who feared a slippage of their local control led a new brand of conservative resistance that came to characterize a number of the major standoffs against government in the region during the second half of the twentieth century. Unlike the populist backcountry defiance that had shaped most rural clashes with government during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this more recent New Ozarks conservatism most resembled the tea party culture that is commonly associated with the region today.;This dissertation also contributes to a body of scholarship led by political scientist/anthropologist James C. Scott on governments' attempts to solve social problems and encourage progress. While Scott places the "high modernism" of distant bureaucracies at the center of conflicts and failures between governments and their people around the twentieth-century world, my work finds local disputes and uneven access to government power at the heart of the story.
Perkins, J. Blake, "Dynamics of Defiance: Government Power and Rural Resistance in the Arkansas Ozarks" (2014). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 6404.