Scotland's islands and cultural work: the 'specialness' of place

Kathryn A. Burnett*, Lynda Harling Stalker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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This chapter discusses island places as literal and symbolic sites of cultural work and examines the textual nature of narratives and accounts that are suggestive of island cultural work as ‘special’. Our discussion is informed by a growing research focus on the emotional, embodied and material aspects of making contemporary creative forms, from across the arts - including literature, visual culture, music and dance - and of craft-making and design, as both an aesthetic but also notably a commercial activity, in and on Scotland’s islands (Lu 2015; Harling Stalker and Burnett 2016; Burnett and Harling Stalker 2018; McHattie et al 2018). The wider context of Scotland’s islands as sites of successful creative and cultural industry (Highlands and Islands Enterprise 2014) is well documented but not without debate. We note the complex interface between arts and crafts with other creative and cultural work activities and sites of cultural production and consumption, namely media, museums and galleries, and heritage and tourism but also education, and other sectoral policies, for example around food and drink, land and landscape and the expansion of ‘island technologies’ (Bevan and McLean 2013). We are mindful of the complexity surrounding research attempts to capture the material and everyday lived experience of island places and environments (Butler 2012; Vannini and Taggart 2012; Stratford 2017; Boon et al 2018; Bates et al 2019).

Our own experiences of living and working in small island communities in Scotland and in Canada, as well as our good fortune to exchange and share in the expertise, research and knowledge of colleagues across both island studies networks and cultural work exchanges, has unquestionably informed our ‘take’ on examining cultural work within Scotland’s island context. Cultural work is typified by a capacity to create and circulate symbolic, aesthetic or creative goods and services (Banks 2007; Banks et al 2013) and in considering how we explore island cultural work we recognise that attempting to explain cultural work experience is a shifting and contingent process, not least in reference to Scotland’s various and layered island localisms. Why we are interested in examining Scotland’s islands as sites and spaces of cultural work is more prosaic. Creative and cultural industries are championed across Scotland. Scotland’s island authorities and enterprise bodies target and support culture and creativity as key drivers for economic growth, promotional confidence and socio-cultural well-being (Burnett and Danson 2017). Our contribution to this collection of essays presents an opportunity to scan the horizon of cultural work theorisation generally and use our bearings to comment on Scotland’s islands’ contexts more particularly.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationScotland and Islandness
Subtitle of host publicationExplorations in Community, Economy and Culture
EditorsKathryn A. Burnett, Ray Burnett, Michael Danson
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherPeter Lang
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781789974126, 9781789974133
ISBN (Print)9781789973778
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2021

Publication series

NameStudies in the History and Culture of Scotland
PublisherPeter Lang


  • cultural work
  • islands
  • rural
  • creative industries
  • cultural economy
  • enchantment
  • place
  • cultural representation
  • community
  • consumption
  • island products
  • narrative
  • sociology of work
  • sociology of place
  • sociology of Scotland
  • sociology of emotions
  • rural sociology
  • heritage
  • textiles
  • island studies


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