The social construction of crofting livelihoods in the twenty first century
The Crofters Commission is responsible for the regulation of crofting. In recent years it has developed its advocacy work. The Crofters Commission is one of many government and non-governmental agencies operating in the Highlands and Islands. The region has been considered a 'problem' area requiring government intervention for over a century. Today, in keeping with trends across Europe, there has been a shift towards a decentralised territorial policy of integrated sustainable rural development, with increased use of partnerships between the public, private and voluntary sectors. Arguments persist that subsidy should be increasingly directed towards the development of new activities, and away from declining primary sectors. A bottom up approach to rural development has been encouraged, and emphasis has been placed on the added value of locally specific environmental and cultural amenities in support of small and medium sized diversified enterprises. Investment in telecommunications infrastructure, transport, training and education are considered quasi public goods that are essential to enterprise. This research has explored the way in which croft households are mediating and negotiating such changes. The study is based on indepth, open ended qualitative interviews with croft households, rural development managers, and executive and media actors. An inductive eclectic methodology has been used. Particular attention has been paid to the value rationality and context dependence of why people act, its social construction. The research concludes that crofting as a distinctive way of life, typified by a tradition of pluriactivity, varied in detail according to the local context. Many croft households are adapting to meet the challenge of new circumstances, and utilising croft land as the base for diverse business activities. There are generational differences in attitude to crofter forestry, and environmental schemes. Local knowledge of the way of life was recognised by agencies as an essential requirement for their staff in order to progress schemes. The research concludes that the penetration of croft household members into management positions within the main agencies working in the Highland and Islands is creating an interesting dynamic. They spoke of competition amongst agencies, despite the public profile of partnership working. They commented that bottom-up development often had to work to very strict criteria that was top down. The problem of short term funding was articulated repeatedly. A key argument put forward for local empowerment stressed the need to develop capacity building within communities, to create genuine community agents rather than agency agents. A positive media profile was important to all agencies. A need for more lateral thinking was called for.