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Title: Moving beyond 'common sense' discourses of nature-culture in the Scottish Highlands: a critical ethnography of Wester Ross UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Author(s): Russell, Zoe
Supervisor(s): Punch, Samantha
Jones, Siân
Keywords: biosphere reserve
cultural heritage
nature conservation
critical theory
Scottish Highlands
Wester Ross
land ownership
politics of scale
participatory governance
Issue Date: 30-Jun-2022
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis is an interdisciplinary study of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Wester Ross. It concerns nature-culture relations in a rural region of north-west Scotland which received biosphere designation in 2016. Biospheres are part of a global network of sites which exist to model sustainable development and conserve natural and cultural heritage. Drawing on heritage studies, environmental politics and sociology, this study examines the biosphere model in discourse and practice through critical ethnographic methods used in-person and online. It focuses on how the Wester Ross model, which is community-led, works to connect people with nature and move beyond the ‘common sense’ of the nature-culture dichotomy and neoliberal ideologies. The biosphere is introduced as a designation, organisation and lens for place-making, illustrating how the model translates from concept to reality, and has been interpreted locally in practice. Assemblage theory is used as a way to conceptualise the community-led nature of biosphere as a rhizome. A range of contexts are drawn upon to show how actors in this assemblage negotiate and contest nature-culture relations relevant to communities, heritage and sustainability. Specific attention is given to regional conditions of unsustainability and practices of heritage-making which are perceived as important in Wester Ross. This includes crofting – an agricultural practice and form of land tenure – as well as the Gaelic language both of which are endangered. The thesis points to the complexity of working with change and challenges for future-making, situating the negotiation of nature-culture relations within a broader multi-scalar context. This includes drawing attention to the influence of scale, landownership and governance and using critical theories of place and power to unpack the ‘common sense’ neoliberal ideologies. Finally, the thesis suggests how alternative approaches to nature-culture relations, including biocultural heritage, could support the development of more just and sustainable futures.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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