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Macpherson Country: genealogical identities, spatial histories and the Scottish diasporic clanscape

[journal article]

Basu, Paul

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Abstract This paper explores the intertwining of personal or autobiographical narratives with broader cultural and historical narratives associated with particular regions, nations and diasporas. More particularly, it is concerned with the intertwining of surnames, place names and ‘place-stories’, and with notions of clanship, clanlore and clanlands, as resources used in the negotiation of self-identity among members of the transnational Scottish heritage community. Using the spatial histories and mnemonic practices of the Clan Macpherson as examples, it demonstrates how the ‘romantic ideology’ of Highland clanship serves to re-root members of an ‘unsettled’ settler society in what is perceived as their ancestral homeland. This (re-)establishment of kinship ties to a particular territory is effected through various enunciative acts: for instance, becoming acquainted with the clan’s origin myths, slogans, stories and symbols; visiting the clanlands and those collective ‘sites of memory’ associated with events in clan history; participating in clan marches and ceremonials; and tracing the family tree. Whilst this ‘sedentary poetics’ of Highland clanship entails a re-essentialization of identity that has become morally untenable in the contemporary West, it is argued that, in the context of Scottish diasporic roots-tourism, the assertion of a close bond between blood and soil is more benign. For those who, by virtue of a particular surname, or through the labours of their genealogical research, have identified themselves as members of a Scottish Highland diaspora, the ideal of Highland clanship provides a powerful ‘answering image’ to that represented by the indigenous peoples and cultures of the countries in which their migrant ancestors settled. Sensing their own (vicarious) complicity in the violences of colonization and thus questioning the legitimacy of their right to belong in lands historically appropriated from indigenous populations, the clan provides its diasporic members with the possibility of recovering their own indigenous identity.
Document language English
Publication Year 2005
Page/Pages p. 123-150
Journal Cultural Geographies, 12 (2005) 2
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)