Negotiating sustainability across scales: Community organizing in the Outer Hebrides

Singh, Jaspal and Bartlett, Tom (2018). Negotiating sustainability across scales: Community organizing in the Outer Hebrides. AILA Review, 30 pp. 50–71.



This paper represents voices of community organizers on Barra, a small island in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Although, arguably Barra is geographically and socio-politically located in the peripheries of Scotland, Britain and Europe, the island has been a center of North Atlantic maritime trade networks for centuries. In the current phase of Europeanization and devolution of powers within the United Kingdom, the community finds itself in the position of having to attend to multiple scales: the European Union, the United Kingdom, Scotland and the island itself with its various interest groups. We draw on ethnographic interviews with community organizers that were elicited for the research project Sustainability on the Edge to illustrate some political challenges and possibilities of such scalar realities. We show that community organizers construct a voice that emphasizes a historical quality of what it means to live on Barra while inflecting this quality with worldly knowledge that enables access to resources from outside the island. Our findings remind us that centers and peripheries are neither fixed categories that could simply be mapped on geographical visualizations nor notions independent of discursive practice.

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