Reimagining Culture: Histories, Identities, and the Gaelic Renaissance

Reimagining Culture: Histories, Identities, and the Gaelic Renaissance

Reimagining Culture: Histories, Identities, and the Gaelic Renaissance

Reimagining Culture: Histories, Identities, and the Gaelic Renaissance

Synopsis

Since the 1960s, policies to 'revive' minority cultures and languages have flourished. But what does it mean to have a 'cultural identity'? And are minorities as deeply attached to their languages and traditions as revival policies suppose? This book is a sophisticated analysis of responses to the 'Gaelic renaissance' in a Scottish Hebridean community. Its description of everyday conceptions of belonging and interpretations of cultural policy takes us into the world of Gaelic playgroups, crofting, local history, religion and community development. Historically and theoretically informed, this book challenges many of the ways in which we conventionally think about ethnic and national identity.This accessible and engaging account of life in this remote region of Europe provides an original and timely contribution to questions of considerable currency in a broad range of social science disciplines.

Excerpt

In Scotland during the 1980s, cultural identity and the Gaelic language were the subject of much -- and sometimes heated -- debate. After years of decline, there were signs that Gaelic culture was undergoing a renaissance. Gaelic language policies flourished: Gaelic playgroups, Gaelic learners' societies, bilingual and Gaelic medium education were established, and the Gaelic media expanded. in other domains too -- Gaelic arts, local and oral history, community cooperatives, crofting politics -- there seemed to be evidence of a renewed energy and interest in the Gàidhealtachd throughout Scotland.

This book is an ethnographic study of cultural identity and language in a community which I call Caman. Situated on the Isle of Skye, an Inner Hebridean island lying off the north-west coast of Scotland, Caman was widely regarded as a symbolically important 'test-case' of the Gaelic renaissance. Here I look at ways in which local people express their senses of belonging, and in particular at their responses to Gaelic language policies. Few local people had played much direct part in creating those policies, though at the time of my main fieldwork in the mid-1980s Gaelic cultural developments were finding their way into more and more areas of their lives and local people were increasingly drawn in to implementing them. As such, this research could be seen as an anthropological study of the impact of the outside world on local people. However, the case is complicated by the ambiguity of the boundaries (is Scotland the outside world?) and by the fact that the 'Gaelic culture' being projected onto the contemporary Highlands is often assumed to have been there in the first place. This is not then another account of 'acculturation' but a story of a kind of 're-culturation' --the reimagining of Gaelic culture.

My use of the term 'reimagining' in the title of this book is intended to evoke both the sense of 'return' -- of resurrection -- that is contained in ideas of cultural 'renaissance' and 'revival', as well as of the creativity of culture production. the idea of return suffuses much discourse of development in the Highlands, though this is not to say that renaissance developments are only preoccupied with a return to the past; on the contrary, theirs is an attempt to negotiate between the 'new' and the paradoxically 'old again'. It is with these negotiations that I am concerned. I also use the terms 'imagining' and 'reimagining' as part of my own analytical perspective to indicate that identities and culture always entail particular ways of seeing, and that they may be subject to alternative . . .

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