Hoey, Brian

Brian A. Hoey is an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. He received his B.A. in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Before coming to Marshall University, Hoey was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan's Center for the Ethnography of Everyday Life, a Sloan Center for the Study of Working Families.

Through two years of ethnographic fieldwork in the rapidly growing lakeside communities of rural Northwest Lower Michigan, his dissertation research explored non-economic migration where downsized and downshifting corporate workers relocate as a means of starting over in places they believe provide the necessary refuge to rethink work, family and personal obligations. Findings are presented in a book manuscript entitled "Opting for Elsewhere in America: Relocation and the Remaking of Self in the Post-industrial Middle class." This work explores present-day social and structural transitions through examining the meaning of relocation in middle-class working families away from metropolitan areas to growing rural communities. Hoey interprets this relocation as a way of negotiating building tension between personal experience with material demands in pursuit of a livelihood within the flexible, contingent post-industrial economy and cultural conventions for the good family and community life as a basis for defining individual character.  Hoey argues that this migration is a continuation of long-standing American traditions of starting over rooted in a belief that we can remake ourselves through sheer force of will while at the same time it is also a uniquely modern expression as people respond to challenges and opportunities of a flexible economy based increasingly on contingent work.

Although Hoey’s fieldwork has more recently been focused here in the United States, his research experience is both international and domestic with fieldwork ranging from the outer islands of Indonesia to the American Midwest. Although different, these projects share important characteristics that express enduring intellectual interests. These include a desire to conduct community based research as well as work in issues of migration, narrative constructions and identity, community building and participation, and personal negotiations between domains work, family, and the self in different social and historical contexts. Hoey also has a longstanding commitment to environmental studies and exploring cultural dimensions of human-ecological problems. As a Fulbright Scholar to Indonesia, Hoey studied community building in far-flung agrarian settlements built from the ground up as part of a government-sponsored migration program. His continuing interest in planned and intentional community and identity politics informs current work on issues of career change, personal identity and the moral meanings of work in the American middle class.

While a post-doctoral fellow, Hoey’s research considered forms of ‘New Work,’ alternative arrangements of work and family life, explored by so-called free-agents of the New Economy. This project aimed to reveal how certain individuals and groups are exploring, tentatively at first perhaps, unfamiliar landscapes of New Work as a kind of frontier of social and economic arrangements thus helping to redefine the meaning, purpose and place of work in personal and communal life. As pioneers of an emerging post-industrial world, how are some of today’s free-agents engaged in a kind of “frontiering” as they seek to find or create “good work” that has intrinsic value and allows them to experience a sense of dignity, self-respect and purpose? At the same time, how are they also challenging the presumptions of a frontier mind that characterizes the cultural history of America in their effort to redefine the relationships between work, family, community and self?

Hoey’s current project entails “deconstructing” the Appalachian state of West Virginia.  Having long played a significant role in the railroad industry, natural resource extraction, and the struggles of labor, West Virginia stands at the “Rust Belt’s” fuzzy edge, a term used to conjure images of decaying industrial places from another economic era. West Virginia has suffered a great deal of out-migration during the second half of the 20th century as young people abandon industries of their forebears that once defined entire communities.  Despite a recent history of often-bleak economic conditions, these communities may be places to examine new forms of entrepreneurship, community building, and place-marketing according to emerging cultural and economic models. The grassroots efforts of increasing numbers of local activists stand in sharp contrast to the dominant order of the Industrial Era and sharply at odds with popular images of the State. The predominant model for encouraging investment, in-migration, and population retention has for some time relied on rolling back taxes and providing cheap land and labor in an attempt to entice a single large employer in what has been called “smokestack chasing.” Following alternative approaches, activists advocate for preserving or enhancing quality of life in order to attract entrepreneurial migrants, the so-called creative class, interested in pursuing particular lifestyle choices which emphasize quality of life and livability.  Current research builds on prior experience in thematically related international and domestic research and is designed to document emergent cultural meanings and social behaviors in the everyday lives of community activists in Appalachia.

A future project will entail both archival and ethnographic research to consider some of the different ways that culturally meaningful space, what is referred to as "place" in the literature, may used therapeutically. The role of the physical environment in shaping the quality of public health and civic life is the center of an emerging area of inquiry at the intersection of both academic and applied interests. Although the field of public health, and especially environmental health, has documented the negative health effects and risks to the physical person associated with particular places such as industrial sites, there has been comparatively little consideration of the health promoting or creating role of place or "sense of place" in human physical and mental health. This research will explore the therapeutic uses of place within purposively created or "intentional" community. Fieldwork will consider in what ways the intentional space of place-based community created for therapeutic purposes seen in projects ranging from the 19th century "moral treatment" mental asylum to a variety of communitarian experiments throughout U.S. history are mirrored in contemporary initiatives such as the so-called new urbanism.  By taking an historical and ethnographic perspective, this research promises to offer an important context for evaluating current planning proposals to create “healthy places” for work and family life.

In addition to numerous contributions to reports in print, radio and television media, Hoey has published on these themes in several book chapters and articles in the American Ethnologist, the Journal for Anthropological Research, the Journal for Contemporary Ethnography, and Ethnology.

Expertise: Changing Definitions of Families; Community Planning and Development; Community, Work and Family; Dual Earner Families; Downsized/Downshifting; Global Economy/Global Focus; Livability/Quality of Life Initiatives; Resiliency and Stress; Telecommuting; Work-Family Balance; Work-Family Conflict; and Work/Life Integration

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Marshall University
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
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Huntington WV 25755-2678
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