Wha’s Like Us? Highland Games and the creation of Scots-American Diasporic Identity

Daniel Turner, Jenny Flinn

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


This paper examines the relationship between events and community identity. It is widely acknowledged that events and festivals can offer opportunities for communities to come together to construct and communicate a shared cultural identity and meaning to the world (For example, see Jepson & Clarke, 2013; Andrews & Leopold, 2013). As such, events can provide a focal point for communities to reaffirm and strengthen their shared bonds and articulate their position to wider society. This can be particularly true for diasporic communities who often find their identity to be inherently problematized due to the fact that they wish to maintain the identity of their home country but similarly wish to create an identity that will be accepted by the host nation. In order to exemplify this, the paper will focus specifically upon the articulation of Scottish cultural identity by the North American Scots diaspora and their use of traditional events such as Highland Games as part of this process. Through developing an understanding of the history, firstly of the diaspora, and the secondly, the Highland Games movement the paper will highlight the complexity of lived identities in contemporary society. Drawing upon a case study of the Long Island Highland Games in New York we will argue that the Games serve a threefold purpose. Firstly, and most obviously, the Games serve as a rallying point for the diaspora to celebrate their Scottish history and to find an ‘ontological anchor’ rooting them collectively to their past. We will argue that the identity constructed around the Games represents a highly romanticized interpretation of Scottish culture which although may diverge markedly from reality, serve an important role in enabling the diasporic community to bong around a common purpose and meaning. Secondly, and more interestingly, we will suggest that as well as providing the diaspora a chance to bond with one another, events such as the Games allow them affirm and display their difference to the home identity. Here, their diasporic identity becomes a badge of pride, something which separates them from the home identity and indeed, from other ethnic groups within the host community. Finally, we will suggest that the Games offer the diaspora the opportunity to position themselves within the home community by enabling them to portray themselves as central to modern North American cultural identity. Throughout the paper we will demonstrate that the relationship between diasporic identity and events is a complex one, with events such as the Highland Games offering a multitude of opportunities to create identities of both difference and acceptance simultaneously.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2014
EventAssociation for Events Management 2014 Forum - Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield
Duration: 1 Jul 2014 → …


ConferenceAssociation for Events Management 2014 Forum
Abbreviated titleAEME2014
Period1/07/14 → …


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