Kinship and belonging in the ʻland of strangersʼ : an ethnography of Caithness, North Scotland
This thesis is concerned with the heart of Caithness, the northernmost region of mainland Scotland. Based on 18 months participant observation in the coastal village of Lybster and the surrounding area, it explores concepts of kinship and belonging. The thesis examines characters, places, and events in both everyday and ritual settings. I trace the creation and maintainence of community, and the construction and blurring of the boundaries of belonging as well as paths of social transformation. I examine how Caithnessians perceive themselves as 'strangers' in their own nation, thus creating increasingly localized ties that bind. Significant in all of this, in a locality where migration has historically been important, is an analysis of how 'others' and their identities play a constitutive role in the self-identification processes of Caithnessians. I consider ascribed and achieved ways of belonging - the genealogical and performative journeys that are involved in fitting into this locality. I examine the contradictions, nuances, and negotiations that are evident in definitions of selves and others and the constitutive relationship between them. All of this is part of a wider investigation into how people conceptualise themselves and others. I argue that what I have called ‘island-mindedness’ characterises the identities of this mainland population and leads to a side-stepping of national identity. In the context of current research on the nation, such ethnographic illumination of the complexity of notions of identity in specific regions is essential for a rounded anthropological understanding of Scotland. By offering a close exploration of a community based on kinship, this thesis aims to illuminate new ways of approaching the nuances of everyday life. I suggest that it is in the encounters of everyday life - more than in claims and categories - that identity work and kinship are most complex and most meaningful.