Shannon Elizabeth Bell | Alumna Earns Distinguished Dissertation Honorable Mention

BellPhotoThis story was published originally on the website of the University of Oregon Graduate School.

Shannon Elizabeth Bell, who earned her PhD in Sociology from UO in 2010, was awarded a rare honorable mention for the “Distinguished Dissertation Award” by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and ProQuest Dissertation Publishing. First presented in 1981, these awards are made annually to individuals who, in the opinion of the award committee, have completed dissertations representing original work that makes an unusually significant contribution to the discipline.

Bell’s dissertation, Fighting King Coal: The Barriers to Grassroots Environmental Justice Movement Participation in Central Appalachia, seeks to address an important void in social movement research: understanding the factors and processes that hinder social movement participation among groups experiencing injustice. She explores the question of movement non-participation through a case study of the coalfields of Central Appalachia, where an extremely destructive form of coal extraction known as mountaintop removal coal mining is assaulting the health, safety, and way of life of coalfield citizens. The increasing frequency of coal-mining-related sickness and destruction has led to the emergence of an environmental justice movement in the region; however, while the coal industry’s impact on local communities has been far-reaching, recruiting new local citizens to join the movement has proven to be an ongoing challenge. Bell’s study examines the barriers to mobilization within this context. Data are drawn from 13 months of field research conducted between 2006-2009 in southern West Virginia. Methods of data collection and analysis included in-depth interviews, participant observation, content analysis, geospatial viewshed analysis, and an eight-month “Photovoice” project with 54 women living in five coal-mining communities. (For more on Bell’s Photovoice project, see

Now an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of Kentucky, Bell’s research falls at the intersection of environmental sociology, gender, and social movements. Her primary focus has been understanding the ways in which environmentally-destructive industries acquire, maintain, and exercise their power and discovering strategies for increasing the political participation of local citizens who are most affected by environmental injustices. Bell’s first book, Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice, will be published with University of Illinois Press in Fall, 2013.

Bell is presently revising her dissertation for publication as her second book. Congratulations to Shannon on this prestigious award!

CSWS Editor’s Note: In addition to the 2009-2010 UO Doctoral Research Fellowship, Shannon Elizabeth Bell also received two CSWS Graduate Research Grants in support of her research in the Appalachian coalfields. She will be one of the speakers at the CSWS  “Women’s Stories, Women’s Lives” Symposium”on Friday, November 8, 2013.