The thesis draws on research carried out in a small village on the west coast of the Scottish
Highlands, anonymised here as Bailemor in the parish of Beulach.
Whilst there have been considerable numbers of community studies carried out in the
Highlands and Islands, the thesis is unusual in its methodological approach, combining a
long fieldwork period of participant observation, taped interviews, and the use of data such
as the Census Small Area Statistics and Register of Sasines. Furthermore, the thesis deals
with issues previously often examined only by means of survey data, principally the process
of migration and especially 'rural renaissance'. It is argued that quantitative data alone does
not examine these processes adequately, often creating a two dimensional 'snapshot in
time'. Instead, the thesis draws upon rich fieldwork data to show how participant
observation can add to understanding, and through fieldnotes and qualitative interviews
presents the complexities and subtleties of migration in and out of the parish.
The thesis consists of a literature review, methodology chapter and descriptive chapter
which form the context for the four main data chapters. The central focus of migration
provides empirical evidence of demographic and historical change, which is used to analyse
the experience of 'rural renaissance' in one small community, leading to the argument that
such communities have a critical 'viability threshold'. Examining migration also gives
scope for theoretical discussion of 'belonging' and social interaction. Migration decisions
over time and social change in the parish are looked at through family history interviews.
Contentious issues of belonging and localness are analysed in depth, linked to the gossip,
humour and conflict of everyday life. One crofting township is examined in detail as a
microcosm of all issues involved.
The thesis makes a significant contribution to the field both in its methodological
discussion, and in the research findings and associated analysis. As an in-depth micro-level
study, it helps to fill an identified gap in the literature. Key findings include that
incomer/local statuses are not a dichotomy, nor even simply the more subtle 'continuum' of
recent writing. Rather, they are mobilised and deployed selectively, in specific contexts.
The thesis also highlights the significance of personal relationships, both in terms of
'belonging' and as the crucial factor underpinning many migration decisions. This aspect of social change and migration has been neglected so far in the literature. Countering the
common-sense perception of Highland in-migration, and earlier research into similar
communities, the thesis finds that Bailemor is relatively open to newcomers, and that
despite the erosion of cross-cutting ties of mutual interdependence, practices such as gossip
and nicknaming have survived in social interaction.
While the thesis is a community study insofar as it is grounded in a substantial period of
fieldwork in one area, it is a study of sociological issues in a community, rather than simply
a study of a particular place. It is argued in the conclusion that the future of community
studies lies in this direction, and there is much potential for further research building on the
work of the current thesis.