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Where Do You Belong To? Land and the Construction of Community in the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Mackenzie, Fiona
Conference: Crossing Boundaries, the Seventh Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Conf. Date: June 10-14
Date: 1998
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/545
Sector: Land Tenure & Use
Social Organization
Region: Europe
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
land tenure and use
property rights
Abstract: "The Gaelic greeting, 'Coit do'n buin sibh?', appearing in translation in the title, signifies at one level, the historically deep association between people and land in the crofting estates of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It recalls people's tenacious struggles to maintain a livelihood in a land where the notion of dualchas, that sense of rootedness particular to place and legitimated through a 'sense of hereditary and customary right of occupation' was under threat at the time of the Clearances. At another level, it strikes at the heart of contemporary debates about land in Scotland as the task of rethinking land ownership takes on new meaning with the redrawing of political responsibilities and the resetting of the political discourse with the proposed new parliament. At this level, in creating a new 'property democracy' which breaks the thrall of feudal land tenure, David McCrone argues, it is essential to break out of the either/or of dominant political discourses of land, of espousing either 'mass public ownership of land', or 'treating it as an alienable product over which owners have absolute rights'. Ironically perhaps, he continues, the 'feudal' tradition has 'bequeathed', 'in the midst of its reactionary rag-bag of ideas and notions', a 'sense of conditionality, that there are shared property interests in any piece of land (use values as well as exchange values), so that public interests are prior and paramount, and have rights over private ones'. "The objective of this paper is to discuss preliminary research into the tensions of land ownership and use among crofting communities on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides. The politics and practice of crofting are examined, first, in the context of contemporary discourses of land in Scotland and specifically proposals to create community trusts following recent initiatives in community ownership of estates in Assynt and Eigg. Second, crofting practices on the island are related to proposals for changes in EU policy which address issues of agricultural and environmental sustainability. Suggestions have been made, for example by the Scottish Crofters Union, that crofting may provide the model for more sustainable practices than has occured in areas of intensive cultivation outwith the Highlands and Islands. The paper is divided into three substantive parts: 1. Politics and Poetics: The Croft as History In this section of the paper I examine the extent to which the historically resilient notion of the croft is negotiated within contemporary discourse within Harris..." 2. Land as Property: Community Trusts? In this section, discussion centres on proposals for community trusts on land managed by the Scottish office... 3. Land and Discourses of Management In this section of the paper I examine current land use practices as they pertain to both inbye land (that is, land over which the crofter exercises individual control) and the areas of common grazing, with reference to initiatives proposed for changes to EU policy which explicitly address the question of environmental sustainability..."

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