Our Work (2022)

Spring 2022 Environment and Society Lab Senior Capstone

As part of the spring 2022 ANTH 488 senior Anthropology Capstone course, we organized our work collectively and collaboratively around the theme of socio-environmental dimensions of natural gas hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in West Virginia and Appalachia. The first weeks of the course were dedicated to understanding the broad impacts (social, environmental, infrastructural, geographical, political) of the natural gas boom in the United States. We watched the journalist-activist Josh Fox's film Gasland and read from journalistic, anthropological and sociological accounts of the fracking process and its impacts, the anthropology of extractivism, and works in critical and multi-modal ethnography. Students then selected books to focus on through detailed individual and group reviews (Eliza Griswold's Amity and Prosperity; and Colin Jerolmack's Up to Heaven and Down to Hell), and they chose research groups organized around the broad themes of Environmental Health and Justice, Corporate Strategies, and Science and Regulation, respectively. From there, each group selected a case study through which to explore these broad themes, as outlined below. The next phase of the course was dedicated to background research and research project design. Overlapping with this second phase and moving into the final third of the course entailed a deep dive into ethnographic fieldwork, data collection, analysis through fieldnotes, and project construction and publishing.

We invite you to check out our Environment and Society Lab website! In it you can find book reviews, research bibliographies, a photo gallery, and videos (under the "Our Work" tab); research overviews, analyses and writeups (under the "2022 Projects" tab); the listing of Lab Team members (under "Team"), and links to various relevant grassroots and advocacy groups (under "Resources").

Acknowledgments: To assist in course design and website construction, the West Virginia University Humanities Center awarded Daniel Renfrew with summer funding through a 2021 Pedagogy Innovation Grant. The website's development would have been impossible without the generous and expert design and assistance of former anthropology student Michael Lirio.

Environmental Health and Justice Project: "Dirty Money: Emerging Cryptocurrencies & Morgantown's Secretive 'Science Center'"

This project examines a local node in the rapidly developing global nexus between energy development and cryptocurrency. A subsidiary of Northeast Natural Energy, which has long operated a natural gas well pad in Morgantown's Industrial Park (MIP), had a permit approved by the WV Division of Air Quality in March 2022 for the development of a "Science Center", designed to draw unprocessed natural gas from one of its local wells. The energy extraction is alleged to fuel a cryptocurrency data mining facility that would run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, just down the hill and across the river from multiple starter and residential neighborhoods and schools. The project critically examines the permitting process, community perspectives and responses to the corporate secrecy surrounding this proposed data center, and the anticipatory anxieties and doubts invoked by potential and expected risks from air and sound pollution.

Corporate Strategies Project: "Visualizing Prosperity: A Portrait of a Contemporary Sacrifice Zone"

Inspired by the work of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eliza Griswold in her book Amity and Prosperity, this research project traces the social, material and visual dimensions of the "post-boom" fracked landscapes of Southwestern Pennsylvania, posing questions about corporate promises made and the more grim realities left behind. The project combines visual ethnography, participant observation, interviews with local residents and activists, and perspectives drawn from critical corporate and development studies and "sacrifice zones" scholarship to examine the enduring legacies of resource extractivism in hard-hit rural postindustrial zones.

Science and Regulation Project: "Murky Waters: How Concerns of Water and Habitat have Empowered Grassroots Organizations to Push Back Against the Mountain Valley Pipeline" 

This project examines the longstanding grassroots and environmentalist resistance to hydraulic fracturing infrastructure through the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline project spanning over 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Opposition has mobilized broadly and dynamically against what activists recognize as the pipeline's various ecological, environmental, climate, property and social impacts. This research project draws from perspectives from the anthropology of infrastructure, science and technology studies, and multispecies ethnography to examine the meanings, effects and aftermath of a recent federal court's denial of a key permit for MVP construction in Fayette County, WV in the name of protecting the endangered Candy Darter fish species.

ANTH 488 Senior Capstone Syllabus (Spring 2022)



ANTH 488

T-Th 1:00-2:15 Hodges 116

Spring 2022


Instructor: Dr. Daniel Renfrew

Office: Knapp Hall 318

Office hours: Virtual only, by appointment

E-mail: Daniel.Renfrew@mail.wvu.edu


Course Description:

This senior capstone course is designed as both a theoretical and practice-based advanced introduction to ethnography. It combines individual and collective efforts in conceptualizing, designing, and carrying out ethnographic research. Students will be introduced to the basic principles of research design, and to the methods, analytics, and ethics of ethnographic inquiry. The course focuses on a specific topic of anthropological interest and of relevance to the people of West Virginia, which is then studied collectively through collaborative ethnographic research. This semester’s theme is the socio-environmental dimensions of natural gas hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Following the principles of a “multi-modal” anthropology that engages digital formats and attempts a close collaboration with our publics, we will seek to transcend traditional classroom learning by publishing our work publicly on a webpage platform.


Learning Objectives:

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

·       Identify the parameters, goals, possibilities and limitations of ethnographic research

·       Demonstrate proficiency in basic ethnographic methods and tools of data collection

·       Collect original ethnographic data

·       Analyze both secondary sources and primary ethnographic data

·       Apply ethnographic insights to West Virginian socio-cultural dynamics

·       Demonstrate proficiency in academic writing, through a substantial collective research and writing project

·       Communicate ideas effectively and concisely through oral, written and digital formats


Required Readings:

Books: (available at local textbook retailers, or through online ordering)

·       Wylie, Sara. 2018. Fractivism: Corporate Bodies and Chemical Bonds. Durham: Duke University Press. (Required)

·       Griswold, Eliza. 2018. Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Recommended)

·       Jerolmack, Colin. 2021. Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. (Recommended)

·       Pearson, Thomas W. 2017. When the Hills Are Gone: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Recommended)

Several articles and book chapters are also required and available in PDF format through eCampus.


SOCA 488 has been designated as a SpeakWrite course by the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. As part of the Eberly College’s commitment to fostering effective communication skills, this course will:

·       Emphasize informal and formal modes of communication

·       Teach discipline-specific communication techniques

·       Use a process-based approach to learning that provides opportunities for feedback and revision

·       Base 95% of the final grade on successful spoken and/or written performance

For more information about the SpeakWrite program, please visit SpeakWrite.wvu.edu.  Students are also encouraged to visit the Eberly Writing Studio for assistance and feedback on writing and/or oral presentation assignments: http://speakwrite.wvu.edu/writing-studio

Class format:  Classes meet twice a week and involve discussion, student presentations and collective workshops. The class format is primarily seminar style and horizontally collaborative. This means lectures will be kept at a minimum, with a greater emphasis placed on collaborative student engagement and collective learning. I will provide prompts, guidance and basic analytical building blocks, but the expectation is that we will learn and research collectively and collaboratively.  This means students must keep up with all assigned work, complete the assigned readings for each class, diligently pursue outside research, and be prepared to participate in small group or full class discussion.  Students will be placed into research groups (of 4-5) that they will keep for the duration of the semester. A significant portion of student efforts will be designated to research outside of class. Students will be graded both collectively and individually. This means everyone is counting on each other! We will be collectively building website content as the public face of our research efforts. This means that I expect the highest levels of care and professionalism in putting together final materials.

Assigned readings will be due during the first two-thirds of the course.  The last third will be dedicated fully to the research process. Class time will be dedicated to sharing, reflection, and strategizing. This is the time students will be expected to collect ethnographic data, write field notes, and plan the various dimensions of the final project. I will add some methods-oriented readings, as necessary.

Attendance will be taken daily, but is not formally mandatory. In other words, there is no point system linked to attending class. However, given the collaborative nature of this course, I expect every student to be in class every day and to engage fully in out-of-class activities, barring exceptional circumstances (such as illness, extreme weather events, and/or university excused/unavoidable travel). I reserve the right to make changes to the syllabus, and will notify students with as much advance warning as possible. Finally, due to the unpredictable nature and challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the course schedule is subject to change, and I ask that we all be flexible and understanding should the need arise to ‘pivot’ online or to outright cancel class.

SUPPLIES AND LINKS: No specific equipment or supplies are mandatory for the success of this course.  However, students will be expected to engage in ethnographic interviewing and participant observation, when possible. In these cases, some kind of audio and/or visual recording device might be helpful to have. 

I strongly suggest students sign up for content alerts through FrackCheckWV.net. This is a good source of information as well as possible research leads. Other good sites to connect with are the FracTracker Alliance (www.fractracker.org) and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (www.wvrivers.org).

GRADING AND EVALUATION:  Students will be evaluated on their understanding and use of the course material, their successful engagement in collaborative research, and their ability to express this knowledge in written assignments and group presentations. 

Your final grade will be based on the following point distribution (as measured by percentage):

Book Review (10 Individual; 5 Group):                                                                    15 points

Ethnographic Field Notes/Journaling (minimum 4- Individual):                         20 points

Final Project:

Literature review (10 Individual; 5 Group)                                               15 points

Methods section (Group):                                                                           5 points                                       Data analysis/write up (Group):                                                                      25 points

Presentation (Group, 5-in class; 10-website):                                     15 points

Participation (Individual, peer-evaluated):                                                        5 points

(Total possible):                                                                                                    (100 points)


Book review (15 points): Student groups will be organized according to one of four themes related to fracking, and each will have one of the recommended books assigned to this group. The book and theme pairings are as following: environmental health and justice (Griswold); infrastructure (Pearson); corporate strategies (Jerolmak); and science and regulation (Griswold or Jerolmack). Students are expected to complete a short book review of your assigned book (10 points), which should be an estimated 3-4 pages in length (double space). Once you receive your grade and feedback, your group will be charged with writing one collective book review (on the same book, same length, 5 points) for the purposes of posting onto the course webpage.


Ethnographic Fieldnotes (20 points): Students are expected to write at least four ethnographic fieldnotes based on their research experiences. Fieldnotes serve as a way of documenting the research process by providing a combination of rich detail, summary, incipient analysis, and personal reflection. They are meant to serve as the basis for more formal written analysis. I will provide details and examples for you to follow. Students are encouraged to submit field notes upon completion (for instructor review and to ensure timely completion). All final un-submitted field notes are due on the second-to-last day of class.


Research Project (60 points): For the research project, students will engage in collaborative ethnographic research on a particular theme related to the “fracking” issue in West Virginia. Potential themes to choose from are: environmental health and justice; corporate strategies; infrastructure; and science and regulation. Research groups are expected to select specific topics and sites to research through these overarching themes. Topics will be developed collectively and in consultation with the rest of the group, the class (to ensure complementary research), and the professor. Research will be conducted both individually and collectively within your groups. The point breakdown for the research project is as follows:

-Literature review (15 points; 10 individual, 5 group): utilizing library-based research and content mapping, individuals will compile a short literature review (4-6 sources). Following grading, your groups will be expected to compile a full literature review (16-20 sources) that will be a core component of your group research project. Literature reviews should aim for 5-7 pages.

-Methods (5 points, group): This section will be short (1-3 pages) and turned in as a group.

-Data analysis/write up (25 points, group): Students will work together with their group to submit a collective write up of their research results. This will be the core of your final project and should be 10-15 pages long.

-Presentations (15 points, group): You will be asked to engage in a short, 15 minute presentation (5 points) on the last day of class through Zoom. We will invite a broader public to join us for these presentations. The second “presentation” (10 points) is the final visual group project in condensed form that we will post to the website. This is due during finals week.

More detailed guidelines on all of these components will be forthcoming.


Participation (5 points):

Students are expected to participate actively in class and within their research groups, and you will be assigned a grade for your participation. Grades will be peer-evaluated through your research groups. Participation means: You participate equitably within your research groups. You share responsibilities and contribute your portion to group outcomes. You keep up with schedules and deadlines, and offer feedback to your group members in your collective projects.

There is no formal attendance policy.  You are advanced students preparing to embark into graduate school or the “real” world, and therefore I leave it to you to be responsible and take full advantage of this experience.  I will take attendance regularly for accounting purposes. However, if you regularly miss class (i.e. more than a few absences throughout the semester) you will not be able to fully or adequately “participate,” and therefore your participation grade will suffer. Students egregiously failing to adhere to the above criteria may receive as few as 0 points.


Grading criteria:         

The following grades will be assigned for written work according to the designated criteria:

A (90% or more): A superior performance surpassing assigned work in unique and novel ways and integrating diverse ideas from a wide range of sources in addition to those discussed in class.

B (80-89%): Excellent work surpassing the expectations of the assignment and demonstrating initiative

and a willingness to move beyond the basic requirements of the assigned work.

C (70-79%): Satisfactory work meeting all basic requirements of the assignment.

D (60-69%): Work in some way less than satisfactory. Although conforming to basic requirements in some way, the completed work is nevertheless not a coherent response to the assignment.

F (59% or lower): A profoundly unsatisfactory performance that does not meet

the intent of the assignment at any level.


Statement on Academic Integrity

The integrity of the classes offered by any academic institution solidifies the foundation of its mission and cannot be sacrificed to expediency, ignorance, or blatant fraud. Therefore, I will enforce rigorous standards of academic integrity in all aspects and assignments of this course. For the detailed policy of West Virginia University regarding the definitions of acts considered to fall under academic dishonesty and possible ensuing sanctions, please see the Student Conduct Code at http://studentlife.wvu.edu/studentconductcode.html. Should you have any questions about possibly improper research citations or references, or any other activity that may be interpreted as an attempt at academic dishonesty, please see me before the assignment is due to discuss the matter. 


Inclement Weather: Make your own decisions on whether to attend class on days of inclement weather. You will not be specifically penalized, and I encourage you to consider your physical safety above course attendance.   Additionally, I reserve the right to cancel class should I personally deem it unsafe to make it to campus.

Inclusivity Statement

The West Virginia University community is committed to creating and fostering a positive learning and working environment based on open communication, mutual respect, and inclusion.  Any suggestions as to how to further such a positive and open environment in this class will be appreciated and given serious consideration.  If you are a person with a disability and anticipate needing any type of accommodation in order to participate in this class, please make appropriate arrangements with the Office of Disability Services (293-6700).



(readings should be finished for the day on which they are assigned, listed next to the date)


Week 1: Fracking: An Introduction

11 Jan: Overview of Course

           -Homework: watch Gasland, Directed by Josh Fox (available through Kanopy, WVU libraries)

13 Jan: Read: Wylie, Introduction (pp. 1-18)


Week 2: Dimensions of Fracking: Environmental Health and Justice; Corporate Strategies; Infrastructure; Science and Regulation

18 Jan: Read: Griswold (pp. 1-36) (*available on eCampus)

           -Jerolmack, Introduction (pp. 1-27) (*available on eCampus)

20 Jan: Read: Thomas W. Pearson, “Introduction: Magic Mineral” (pp. 1-31) (*available on eCampus)


Week 3: A Multimodal Anthropology of Extractivism

25 Jan: Read: Sherry Ortner (2016) “Dark anthropology and its others: Theory since the eighties,” HAU:

Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(1): 47-73.

           - Kirk Jalbert, Anna Willow, David Casagrande, and Stephanie Paladino (2017) “Introduction:

Confronting Extraction, Taking Action,” in ExtrACTION: Impacts, Engagements, and Alternative Futures. London and New York: Routledge (pp. 1-14).

**Choose Research Groups and Book**

27 Jan:  Read: Collins, Samuel, Matthew Durington, and Harjant Gill (2017) “Multimodality: An

Invitation,” American Anthropologist 119(1): 142-53.

           - Collins, Samuel, Matthew Durington, and Harjant Gill (2021) “The Uncertain Present and the

Multimodal Future,” American Anthropologist 123(1): 191-93.

           -Benton, Adia, and Yarimar Bonilla (2017) “Rethinking Public Anthropologies in the Digital Age:

Toward a New Dialogue,” American Anthropologist 119(1): 154-56.

Lecture/Discussion: The Research Process


Week 4: Beginning Research

1 Feb: (Asynchronous) Read Assigned Group Book

3 Feb: Read: Wylie, Ch’s 1-2 (pp. 19-63; skim ch. 2)

           Preliminary Research Plan Due (Group)

           Discussion: Research Plans


Week 5: Research Design

8 Feb: Read: Group Books; In-class discussion

10 Feb: Read: Wylie, Ch’s 3-4 (pp. 64-114; skim)

           Revised Research Plan Due (Group)

           Discussion: Research Plans; Research Design


Week 6: Book Review

15 Feb: (Asynchronous) Read: Finish Assigned Group Book

17 Feb: Book Review Due (Individual)

In-class sneak-peak of website


Week 7: Literature Review and Concept Mapping

22 Feb: Lecture/Discussion: Literature Reviews and Concept Mapping

           Review eCampus guides

24 Feb: Read: Wylie, Ch’s 5-6 (pp. 115-164)

           In-class update on research progress


Week 8: Ethnographic Fieldwork Methods

1 Mar: Read: Wylie, Ch’s 7-8 (pp. 165-218; skim ch. 8)

3 Mar: Read: Wylie, Ch. 9 (pp. 219-246)


Week 9: Literature Review Due

8 Mar:  Read: Wylie, Ch. 10 (pp. 247-278)

           Discussion: Writing fieldnotes

10 Mar: Literature Review Due (Individual)




[Weeks 10-13: Focus on Data Collection]


Week 10: Ethnographic Research

22 Mar: Read: Wylie, Conclusion (pp. 279-304)

In-class reflection and strategizing

24 Mar: (Asynchronous) Group Research Work


Week 11: Ethnographic Research

29 Mar: In-class reflection and strategizing

31 Mar: (Asynchronous) Group Research Work


Week 12: Ethnographic Research

5 Apr:  In-class reflection and strategizing

           Literature Review Due (Group)

7 April: In-class reflection and strategizing

           Discussion: Writing about Methods


Week 13: Ethnographic Research

12 April: In-class reflection and strategizing

           Discussion: From fieldnotes to analysis

14 April: In-class reflection and strategizing

           Methods Section Due (Group)


Week 14: Analysis/Write up

19 April: (Asynchronous) Group research work

21 April: In-class reflection and strategizing


Week 15: Final Research Projects and Presentations

22 April: In-class: Prep and discuss presentations

           Last Day to Submit Fieldnotes

24 April: (ZOOM) Research Presentations

           Research Projects Due


** Website-ready Final Projects Due on or before Friday, May 6th, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.**