The potentials for agroecology and food sovereignty in the Scottish uplands

  • Elise Wach

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Agroecology and food sovereignty movements have identified the urgent need to transform current capitalist and industrialist food systems in order to address their ecological and social dysfunctions. While these movements entail some counter-capitalist aspects, they encapsulate a variety of interpretations of the political factors preventing the transformation of these food systems. This thesis contributes greater clarity about the political dynamics underpinning the unsustainability and inequalities of current and former food systems in the Scottish uplands, in order to contribute to the development of more effective strategies to counteract these dynamics.

    Through a political ecology analysis of the agrarian history of the Scottish uplands from before the advent of capitalism in the 18th century and through to the current land reform movement, this thesis demonstrates that the transition to capitalist social property relations precipitated a departure from diverse and sustainable food systems in the region. Additionally, through the application of Gramscian informed Regulation Theory, this thesis argues that the current framing of the uplands as a ‘marginal’ agricultural area and a ‘cultural landscape’ legitimates the utilisation of agricultural land in the lowlands in Scotland and abroad as zones of ‘productivist’ agriculture. The ‘marginal’ status of the uplands also prevents the (re)emergence of diverse ecological food systems in what is a substantive area of agricultural land. This has significant implications beyond Scotland, as most of the agricultural land in Europe is also considered ‘marginal,’ via classification as ‘Less Favoured Areas,’ or ‘Areas of Natural Constraint.' This thesis argues that the status of the UK (and Europe) as a ‘core’ part of the global capitalist system, with an ability to import food from the ‘periphery,’ has led to and sustained this binary view of marginal versus productive land.

    This thesis identifies the political factors which constrain alternative imaginaries of the uplands and the reasons why its land reform movement, while partly counter-hegemonic, has not led to a greater realisation of agroecological food systems. These findings imply that in order to succeed in facilitating the realisation of agroecology and food sovereignty principles, food movements must go beyond ecological production and localism to engage in counter-capitalist approaches. Specifically, they must simultaneously address the commodification of land and food while realigning trade policies with principles of ecological sustainability and social equity. Such an integration of food-specific counter-capitalist approaches could help ensure that a departure from capitalist social property relations—as in the case of the Scottish land reform movement—does not serve as a mere regulation of capitalist hegemony but instead leads to a widespread transformation of food systems.
    Date of AwardJul 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJames Bennett (Supervisor), Mark Tilzey (Supervisor) & Iain MacKinnon (Supervisor)

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