Reinvention and Revisioning in an Appalachian Industry Cluster

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The theme Evolution/Revolution invites us to consider how historiographical frames are imposed on human events, and to reflect on the capacity of ethnography to both subvert and ratify dominant interpretations. We draw on ethnographic research conducted at a former mill town in the Appalachian foothills which was widely credited with surviving because it ‘reinvented itself’ after the textile era. The result was a homegrown ‘industry cluster’ where a manufacturing system for a certain product category “is organized around the region and its professional and technical networks rather than around the individual firm” (Saxenian, 1994; Porter, 1998). We found ‘innovation’ itself has an ideology that biases potential recipients leading them to expect epochal breaks with the past to be the only successful strategy and suggest how departing from ‘the tyranny of the epochal’ (du Gay, 2003) with its demands for bold programs of ‘Renewal’ or ‘Modernization’ can lead to visions of more achievable innovation.

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