This is the professional website of Brian A. Hoey–cultural anthropologist, ethnographer, and author.
I am the Associate Dean of the Honors College and a Professor of Anthropology at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. My administrative work focuses on encouraging and supporting both faculty and students to help make the college an incubator of innovative pedagogy, inspirational leadership, and meaningful service to the communities of which we are apart. As faculty, my ethnographic research encompasses a number of themes including personhood and place, migration, narrative identity and life-transition, community building, and negotiations between work, family, and self in different social, historical, and environmental contexts. My research has focused increasingly on health outcomes (both physical and psychological) shaped by different abiotic, biotic, and cultural factors at the individual and collective levels.
As evidence of this shift, my most recent research entails extended oral history and collaborative ethnographic work in the context of a jointly conceptualized and researched study with more than fifty different people across various positions in academia and local communities. This study has lead to an innovative book titled “I’m Afraid of That Water.” It foregrounds the ongoing concerns of West Virginians and people in comparable situations in places such as Flint, Michigan who are confronted by the problem of toxic contamination, where thresholds for official safety may be crossed, but a genuine return to normality is elusive
Other local research has been concerned with migration, community development, and economic restructuring here in the Appalachian region of the United States. Despite a recent history of often bleak economic conditions and an continued mixed prospects, the communities like Huntington, West Virginia (the hometown of Marshall University) are perfect places to conduct research on new forms of work, entrepreneurship, community building, and the marketing of place according to emerging cultural and economic models that may stand in sharp contrast to the dominant order of the Industrial Era. In an area where plant closings and grim economic forecasts became commonplace over the past several decades, innovation which challenges conventional wisdom should not surprise us.
My long-term project in Northwest Lower Michigan has explored non-economic or “lifestyle” migration where downsized and downshifting workers relocate as a means of starting over. Other research considered how therapeutic ideals are attached to particular physical settings–including purposive communities that range from 19th century moral treatment asylums to today’s new urbanist developments. As a Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia in the late 1990s, I studied the contested nature of constructing personally and culturally meaningful space within the process of creating imagined and intentional community in far-flung agrarian settlements within a government migration program.