Women in crofting in Shetland from the 1930s to the present day: a reciprocal relationship

Jack, Claire Anne Hamilton (2004). Women in crofting in Shetland from the 1930s to the present day: a reciprocal relationship. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e81e


In this thesis, I explore the role of women in Shetland in crofting from the 1930s to the present day. I analyse the changing nature of women's participation in crofting in Shetland during this period, and the changing impact that crofting has had in structuring the identity of Shetland women. Explored against a backdrop of profound communication and technological developments, it is evident that whilst crofting continues to exert a significant influence on women's lives at the start of the new millennium, the meanings that women attach to 'crofting have shifted since the 1930s. At a conceptual level, it is evident that crofting is actively involved in the structuring of social relations. It is characterised by a high degree of fluidity, which allows women to define it in a variety of ways in relation to other aspects of their lives. However, the connotations associated with crofting are not limitless, and 'being a crofter' requires a appropriation of a particular set of values associated with 'tradition', 'family' and a 'crofting way of life'.

I explore in detail the nature of Shetland women's croft work, and the ways in which they contextualize crofting in relation to other aspects of their lives. The ways in which gender relations are structured in relation to crofting constitutes a major theme. This analysis challenges several popular 'myths' about Shetland women and crofting, such as the fact that Shetland society 'of the past' is perceived to be more 'egalitarian' than mainland Scottish society. I also explore the role of 'myths' in influencing the ways in which individual women think, and talk, about their lives in crofting and show that, in many cases, popularised 'communal stories' of crofting are accorded a higher value by women in comparison to their own personal experiences of crofting which may fail to live up to the 'ideal'.

Crofting in Shetland is explored in the context of shifting policy developments since the 1930s, with a particular emphasis on recent policy directives. This thesis has an applied value as it provides an exploration of the ways in which younger women in Shetland respond to recent, and proposed future, policies. With specific reference to recent developments in crofting, including a focus on more inclusive rural development policies and a focus on diversificiation and environmentally friendly agriculture, I suggest that women in Shetland will potentially identify themselves more clearly as 'crofters', as the definition of 'crofter' changes, than they have done for much of the twentieth century.

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