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Betsy Taylor is a cultural anthropologist, activist and co-author (with Herbert Reid) of [Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 2010]

Areas of Work

Betsy Taylor has worked on many action projects for community-driven, integrated development in central Appalachia and India – including health, agriculture, forestry, culture and environmental stewardship. She writes about environmental and social justice movements, democratic planning & participatory research, gender, the commons, democratic reclamation of academe / professions – with a particular concern for regions directly affected by coal and other fossil fuel industries.

Betsy Taylor is currently Senior Research Scholar with the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Theory, at the Virginia State and Polytechnic Institute. At the University of Kentucky, she served as Co-Director of Environmental Studies, Research Director for the Appalachian Center and on the faculty of the Social Theory program.

Current Projects

Her current work can be followed at

Betsy Taylor gradually became aware of the commons over several decades of work in mountainous communities (in US coalfields and the Himalayas) which have been locked into the global economy by extractive industries (coal, timber, tourism, etc). Paradoxes of enclosure are vivid in such communities. On one hand, they struggle with radical forms of displacement (both material and psychological). On the other hand, they are often remarkable stewards of local commons, in fragile but resilient practices of material subsistence and cultural creation and tradition.

As she became conscious of the commons, she became fascinated by how enclosure, for hundreds of years, has been rewriting basic forms of society – in cultural, economic, political, ecological dimensions. Working for years with grassroots justice movements, she became aware that urgent practical problems of (under)development are deeply linked to the philosophic deformations of professionalism and academe – as displaced scholars and scholarship facilitate neoliberal forms of extraction, corporate enclosure, externalization and invisibility. With co-author Herbert Reid, she engages these linked challenges in a recent book, Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice. Drawing on grassroots justice struggles globally, Reid & Taylor develop a feminist theory of the commons, as dynamic articulation of systems of reproduction and production. Drawing especially on philosophic insights of Merleau-Ponty and John Dewey, it attempts to reclaim the knowledge commons, and, to chart the deformations of American political history by corporate power – in order to build platforms for global solidarity in a commons movement that integrates diverse political issues.

As she has become politically and intellectually awake as a commoner, she has understood that this consciousness arises from hard-to-speak, unconscious experiences of childhood and the material practices of daily life. Our knowledge of the commons arises from deep bodily knowing of ourselves as dynamic, changing points of intersection in the circling of life and death. Through fiction and memoir, Taylor is beginning to reclaim this dynamic awareness of place and commons – partly through the displacements of her own life. She was born in India (to American parents) and spent half her childhood in northern India, and, many years of travel globally.


2010 Interviewed by Jeff Biggers (with co-author, Herbert Reid), “Recovering the Commons: Inteview with Scholars on the Climate Justice Frontlines“ Huffington Post, September 17.

2010 (co-authored with Herbert G. Reid), Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

2010 “ Why nonviolent civil disobedience: On getting arrested at Appalachia Rising”. North of Center. 2: 19, 7. October 13.

2009 “‘Place’ as pre-political grounds of democracy: an Appalachian case study in class conflict, forest politics and civic networks”, American Behavioral Scientist, in special issue on "Democracy in an Age of Networked Governance: Charting the Currents of Change” (edited by Joyce Rothschild and Max Stephenson, Jr.). 52(6): 826–45

2009 “Grounds for democratic hope in Arunachal Pradesh: emerging civic geographies and the reinvention of gender and tribal identities", in Sanjib Baruah (ed.) Beyond Counterinsurgency: Breaking the Impasse in Northeast India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp 308-328.

2003 “Gender and the global struggle to reclaim the commons: civic environmentalism, anti-globalization and participatory research” in special issue on “Women and Sustainability: from Rio de Janeiro (1992) to Johannesburg (2002)”, Canadian Women’s Studies/Les Cahiers de la femme, Vol. 23 (1): 62-66 (Winter).

Forthcoming. (co-authored with Anita Puckett, Elizabeth Fine, Mary Hufford, Ann Kingsolver) “Knowledge Commons and the Reconstitution of Public Space in Mountaintop Removal Activism”, to be published in (Eds) Steve Fisher and Barbara Ellen Smith, Transforming places: lessons in movement-building from Appalachia. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Forthcoming. “Social Theory, Appalachian Studies, and the Challenge of Global Regions: The UK Rockefeller Fellowship Project, 2000-2004.”, Stephanie McSpirit, Lynne Faltraco and Conner Bailey (Eds.) in Academics and Activists: Confronting Ecological and Community Crisis in Appalachia, University Press of Kentucky

Forthcoming “Body~place~commons: reclaiming professional practice, reclaiming democracy”, Ananta Kumar Giri (Ed.), Pathways of Creative Research: Rethinking Theories and Methods and the Calling of an Ontological Epistemology of Participation, Creative Multiverse series. New Delhi: Shipra Publications.


betsy.taylor [at ]

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