Media and partisan representations of our current political environment tend to show a marked polarization on issues of both national and local concern.  What is not clear is whether this divide accurately reflects the true character of civic conversations and how people in communities think and feel about the local issues that matter to them most.

Voices of Virginia offers a qualitative study of the perceptions, concerns, and conditions that influence the civic engagement of Virginians from the diverse cultural regions of the northern peri-urban suburbs to the remote hollows of Appalachia. This study investigates how community members from various backgrounds in each Virginia region identify, analyze, and communicate local challenges and opportunities among themselves. Voices of Virginia further explores the extent to which these cultural regions share similar values and beliefs and under what conditions those attitudes can translate into cooperative civic engagement. The study uses interviews, focus groups, and observation of events to illuminate the impact of different citizen viewpoints on resolving local challenges. The aim is to highlight where shared understandings exist at the community level and to show where and how these communities overlap on issues of common concern.

History of the Voices of Virginia Project

The Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists (WAPA) is an association for professional anthropologists in the DC/MD/VA region dedicated to the promotion and practice of anthropology in various sectors, including community development, health, archaeology, politics, non-profit support, and research. Voices of Virginia began in 2016 from a salon of local anthropologists who sought to understand the new sociopolitical environment emerging in late 2016.  It was decided an ethnography would be an effective way to better understand this topic, while creating a new outreach and educational venue for WAPA.

The project draws together WAPA anthropologists and their institutional partners to explore and understand areas of contention and commonality among community citizens in the current socio-political climate. Researchers will use anthropological methods to examine the cultural and societal impact of political behavior on the way citizens view their world and at the same time uncover case studies illustrating how civic debate may promote a shared vision leading to a better future for our communities, state, and nation.  The project presents an opportunity for collaborative research among different institutions as well as a platform for extending training, field experience, and mentorship to social scientists of every educational and professional background.

Currently, the Voices of Virginia research team is conducting research in two regions of Virginia and are discussing project objectives with members of communities and potential institutional partners in other parts of the state.  The Voices of Virginia team is seeking anthropologists or sociologists of all expertise levels to participate in field research.

For more information, please email voicesofvirginiaproject@gmail.com.

Regions of Virginia

Six regions were chosen for their diversity, history, sociocultural and ideological features. Each region manifests different degrees of “conservative” or “liberal” perspectives. Three regions (Southwestern Virginia, Appalachia, and Shenandoah) tend toward conservative views, while three (Urban, Northern Virginia, and Tidewater) are typically more liberal.

Current Flagship Regions


The Appalachia region of Virginia represents a section of the 205,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. Virginian Appalachia is notable for its mining, agriculture, chemical industries, and heavy industry economies. Virginian Appalachia consists of the Alleghany, Bath, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Henry, Highland, Lee, Montgomery, Patrick, Rockbridge, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe counties.

Southwestern Virginia

Southwestern Virginia is defined by 13 counties that include Alleghany, Bedford, Botetourt, Carrol, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Henry, Montgomery, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Pulaski, and Roanoke counties. Southwestern Virginia’s economy consists of agriculture, mining, and manufacturing industries, similar to the Appalachia region.  However, Southwestern Virginia differs in historical backgrounds and culture, setting it apart from the Appalachia region.

Future Regions for Research

As support and resources become available, Voices of Virginia will extend its research sites to further regions of the state. Many represent a variety in demographics, culture, and sociopolitical perspectives that reflect the diversity of Virginia’s population.

Urban Virginia

Richmond City, Chesterfield, and Henrico counties make up the urban region of central Virginia. Richmond hosts a local economy centered on tourism, law, biotechnology, marketing, and finances. Richmond City has consistently voted majority Democratic with residents leaning towards a liberal/libertarian political view.

Northern Virginia

Referred to as ‘NOVA’ by local communities, the Northern Virginia region consists of Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, King George, Loudoun, Prince William County, Spotsylvania, Stafford, and Warren counties. Set within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, it is the most populous and affluent region in the state of Virginia. The local economy of NOVA centers on government and technology industries and is a central area for international relations. Annandale is a likely focal point for the northern Virginia study because its diversity embraces a strong immigrant and minority population.


The Tidewater region, along Virginia’s  southeast Atlantic Coastal Plain,  contains 28 counties, among them  Accomack, Arlington, Caroline, Charles City, Chesterfield, Essex, Fairfax, Gloucester, Hanover, Isle of Wight, James City, King George, King and Queen, King William, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, New Kent, Northampton, Northumberland, Prince George, Prince William, Richmond, Stafford, Surry, Westmoreland, and York.  It is the site of major cargo ports, the Naval Station at Norfolk, and the popular tourist location of Virginia Beach, all of which contribute to its local economy.

Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley lies in western Virginia, beside the Blue Ridge Mountains, and covers an area that includes the valley, the Virginia highlands to the west, and the Roanoke Valley to the south. Shenandoah is famous for its caves and is the home of the Luray Caverns. Shenandoah’s economy is similar to that of Southwest Virginia, but more prosperous, and it includes agriculture, manufacturing, forestry, and mining industries. Manufacturing and the federal and state government sectors are pre-dominant. Shenandoah is made up of the Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge counties.

For more information, please email voicesofvirginiaproject@gmail.com.

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