Fishing for Heritage: Modernity and Loss along the Scottish Coast

Fishing for Heritage: Modernity and Loss along the Scottish Coast

Fishing for Heritage: Modernity and Loss along the Scottish Coast

Fishing for Heritage: Modernity and Loss along the Scottish Coast


Castles, lochs, seascapes. Coastal Scotland is one of the world's most romanticized tourist destinations, yet it is in the midst of severe economic decline. The North Atlantic fisheries crisis has hit Scottish communities hard and local fisherfolk are faced with chronic insecurity, anxiety over the decline of fishing and doubts about their cultural survival. The decline of this traditional industry has been accompanied by growing tourism along Scottish shores. Fishing villages are marketed for tourist consumption and culture has become a commodity.Drawing upon fieldwork, novels, folk music and travel literature, Nadel-Klein explores how these influences have affected locals' sense of identity and presence within a modern European nation. How is identity linked to power? What role do memory and authenticity play in the creation of Scottish heritage? How do locals feel about the onslaught of tourists? The topical nature of these issues and their relevance to other regions facing similar tensions make this book an important contribution to contemporary anthropology.


“In Viking days they put all the social anthropologists to the sword”

Cooper, The Road to Mingulay

Some might think a book on Scottish fishing villages to be a mite esoteric, even obscure. How many could there be, after all, and why should we care about them, other than as pretty places to visit on a holiday? I have spent a quarter of a century studying these villages and the people who live there, thinking about them almost daily. I have come to know many as informants and some as friends, so I feel entitled to give an answer. Actually, three answers.

The first is simply the one that any right-minded anthropologist or humanist might give, that all people, “great and small,” deserve our attention, not least because “human populations construct their cultures in interaction with one another, and not in isolation,” as Eric Wolf said in his preface to Europe and the People Without History (1982: ix). Fishers have been part of the larger story of Scotland, Europe and the world beyond.

The second is that by studying Scottish fishing villagers we learn something about the conundrums of modernity and perhaps of postmodernity (should it exist); for in their histories and in their present circumstances, they have experienced how capitalism can create and then dismiss a way of life. Living in small places initially adapted to a smallscale, decentralized industry, they now find themselves struggling to stay afloat in a world run by much larger players. Adapting to these changes over the years has given the fishers a toughness and resilience as well as a sharply critical eye and tongue. As I have said elsewhere, they are not about to watch their eclipse happen silently (Nadel-Klein 1991a). They see themselves as survivors. They are not sure, however, what legacy they can leave to their children.

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