ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field

Belonging to the land

How farmers negotiate and conceptualise change and the outside world on the Scottish island of Islay

Andrew Whitehouse, University of St Andrews

In this paper I consider some of the relationships that farmers and crofters on the Scottish island of Islay are involved in. These include relationships with their land, with government, the outside world and other farmers. These relationships are considered in the light of the considerable economic problems that Islay farmers have faced over the last 10 years, such as the closure of the island creamery and the BSE crisis. Broader perceptions of change in farming are also discussed. By examining these relationships three sets of interconnected ideas emerge:

  1. The morality of the productive relationship that farmers have with their land.
  2. Farmers perceptions of the influence of the outside world in Islay.
  3. The ideas that farming people have about the past, the present and the future and the processes of continuity and change that inhabit these.

The paper thus considers perceptions of continuity and change and how these perceptions come to be situated. For example, continuity can be expressed by the farmer through the productive labour that is evinced in his land whilst change tends to originate from outside and only gradually becomes normalised. Uncertain economic circumstances are also encouraging farming people in Islay to renegotiate their relationship with the outside world as they strive to diversify and to find new markets.

Blowing in the wind? Identity, materiality and the destinations of human ashes

Jenny Hockey (University of Sheffield), Leonie Kellaher (London Metropolitan University) & David Prendergast (University of Sheffield)

This paper takes an example of multi-sited ethnography as its focus: an ESRC funded project on the destinations of the human ashes in the UK. Within this field it examines the ways in which relationships with the dead come to be materialised or localised via the disposal of ashes and asks where questions of closure, continuity or indeed reunification might feature within the disposal strategies of bereaved people. Thus its data relate to disembodied persons whose identities may be recreated and sustained via plant pots in the back garden; or whose essences may be released into the wind, on cliff tops and moorlands, or into the flow of water, in rivers and at sea.

Since the 1970s the volume of human ashes removed from crematoria has grown from approximately 12 % to 50%, with an overall cremation rate of about 70% of all disposals. In addition, the mobility of this residue of the corpse has made issues of dispersal and dissemination, as well as containment and integrity, central to the ways in which an embodied, spatially grounded living population relate to relatives and friends who have taken on a mobile, fluid materiality. The project asks about the extent to which this mobility represents a resource, or a source of danger?

Fieldwork is being undertaken in four sites in the UK and involves interviewing and observation among professional members of what is called the death care community; and among bereaved families who have recently disposed of the ashes of one of their members. The paper therefore engages with some of the contradictions of this particular project. First, methodological issues associated with a traditionally localised ethnography which for practical reasons is being undertaken via a relatively structured set of interviews, involves more than one site, and is set within the anthropologists home context. And second, theoretical questions about the complex, often ambiguous nature of social identity as constituted through the material resource of an apparently sanitised residue of the corpse.

Debating the right to belong: a rhetorical critical examination of place consciousness in Northern Ireland

Karen D. Lysaght, Dublin Institute of Technology

In Northern Ireland the issue of place consciousness, or belonging in, and to place, is a theme which is one of the deepest sources of conflict which divides the two dominant ethnic groups in Northern Ireland. In this paper I wish to explore something of the connection of the working-class Protestant community to a sense of belonging-to-place. One of the recurring themes in the literature on Northern Ireland is the analysis which finds that the Protestant community have failed to create a secure sense of place-consciousness on the island of Ireland or within the polity of Northern Ireland. This situation results, in the opinion of many commentators, from the fact that to locate themselves in the landscape would possibly undermine their British identification. On examination of working-class Protestant districts, it is indeed easy to point to oppositional and contrastive identity markers – where place is seen as our territory, as opposed to theirs, where street battles can be fought by fourteen year olds with stones and where “traditional” marching routes – and the associated right to march can be the justification for a violent street politics, where loss of streets to Catholic housing or the arrival of Catholics into Protestant districts is viewed by members of this community as part of a deliberate Catholic strategy to “ethnically cleanse” the city of Protestants, and one which sees British Government complicity in the process. There is, however, another sense of the local to be found here, a sense of the local which is strong and not merely oppositional. Instead a strong identification is held to what can best be described as their genealogical connection to the built, or fabricated environment. This connection is seen most clearly in the connection to the industrial heritage of the city – and in particular to the shipyards of Haarland and Woolfe, to the linen mills and the heavy engineering factories of Mackies and Sirrocco, to the occupational communities of tied housing with their local characters, their public bars and their two-up-two-down housing. In this paper I shall argue that the place consciousness that we find exhibited by the working-class Protestant community in Belfast is both a continuation of earlier forms of political rhetoric associated with their settler origins and also a reaction to the rhetorical strategies of 19th and 20t century Irish Nationalism.