Professional News

Reid, Taylor Return 'Common' to Commonwealth

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 24, 2010) - What would you do if you woke up one day and the world as you saw it had gone away?

In an attempt at solidarity, community activists in New Guinea turned to Google in early 2003. They wanted to know if anyone else was living on an Earth that looked more like the moon due to strip mined land.

Google yielded some surprising results; New Guinea had some global company.

While Google pointed out the moonscape problem areas, former University of Kentucky professors, authors and spouses Herbert Reid and Betsy Taylor are doing their part to fix them. Global and local activism is nothing new to the pair, and according to both, the ecological issues are longstanding, especially in the Appalachian region.

"These groups of people are continuing to fight the negative aspects of globalization," said Taylor. "You find these moonscape communities worldwide. Larry Gibson in Kayford Mountain, W.Va. has had the same challenge as the New Guinea residents."

On March 1, Reid and Taylor published "Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place and Global Justice," a work they hope will provide theoretical tools needed for practical solutions to human and environmental crises from Kentucky to Kenya.

Reid and Taylor possess backgrounds in political science and anthropology, respectively and have worked decades rebuilding communities and local economies around the Appalachian region. Throughout the book, the duo employs social theory, local experience and field study to create a strategy for attaining a reliable and long-lasting world.

"A planet that has been 'moonscaped' is increasingly uninhabitable," explained Reid. "Global issues resulting from climate destabilization spell disaster for local communities."

"Moonscapes are the result of the commodification of natural resources," said Taylor. "This is the neoliberal view of making everything marketable. If you do that, you lose the intangible value and you lost economically in the long run."

Prior to publishing the book, Reid and Taylor were able to put some of their ideas to work during the 2001-2005 UK Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, a program that brought together scholars and activists from Appalachia as well as the Global South with similar environmental and social circumstances.

"Throughout our experiences in Appalachia and similar regions, we saw people coming together to fight the destruction of their sense of place," said Taylor. "These areas are revitalizing public culture and facilitating community participation."

The Rockefeller program's focus was not only on community participation, according to the authors, and "Recovering the Commons" has a scholarly aim as well. Reid and Taylor are particularly concerned with the involvement of academia in social issues.

"Academic theory can learn from the local knowledge of communities," said Taylor. "More universities are starting to move in this direction with increasing focus on interdisciplinary studies and community engagement."

UK's Appalachian Center, which Reid helped establish in 1977, promotes understanding of Appalachian society, history and culture through research, education, civic projects and arts programming.

"The Appalachian Center is the type of interdisciplinary work we're talking about here," said Taylor. "There are so many entry points in helping out these communities."

Kentucky's establishment as a Commonwealth also is familiar to most of its residents, but the definition is foreign to some.

"Kentucky's founders had the idea that everyone would take care of the community, its culture and its natural resources, and this is what we call the Commons," explained Taylor. "If we treat our natural capital, in only market terms, we'll destroy it."

Reid's work and influence at UK and around the Appalachian region will be the topic of a panel discussion at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 25, in the Niles Gallery in the Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library. 

For more information on "Recovering the Commons," please contact Reid and Taylor at and