Spaces of assertion: informal land occupations in the Scottish Highlands after 1914

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The historiography of British land occupations has, in the main, concentrated on anti-enclosure protests. In part this is because the Hobsbawmian land invasion has been largely confined to the north-west Highlands and Islands of Scotland, an area that has not always occupied a central place in our studies of rural resistance. And even when the region has come to occupy centre stage the interpretation of these events has often remained mired in older and now much-challenged paradigms. This paper thus begins by returning to the classic land invasion in the context of an exploration of events of protest in the Scottish Highlands but does not dwell long on the much-discussed formal seizure. Instead, the paper will use these and the question ‘when is an occupation not an occupation?’ as point of departure. At times landowners simply ignored the occupation and continued their own utilisation alongside the occupiers. Whilst small in number when compared to the mass of other protests these non-contested occupations tell us much about general processes of resistance evident in the post-1918 Highlands and of the essential fluidity and contingency of such events. Drawing strength from an older ideology and set of tenurial relations, and acting out a very particular set of protest performances that emerge from individual and localised micro-political contexts, the informal occupation of land alters both our understanding of Highland protest and the history of land invasions more generally. In their adaption of the form of the land occupation, crofters and cottars in the north west Highlands and Islands remind us that even the most privatised of shared spaces offer opportunities for subversion and resistance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-53
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2016


  • Scottish Highlands
  • Land occupations
  • Social protest
  • Everyday resistance
  • Militant particularities


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