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Thesis: Edinburgh’s Allotment Movement 1921-2001


“When Plotters Meet’ by Caitlin O’Brian DeSilvey

By Caitlin O’Brian DeSilvey
Masters of Science Geography
University of Edinburgh 2001
113 pages
(Must read. Mike)


During the twentieth century, Edinburgh allotment holders engaged in repeated efforts to defend their gardens against competing land uses. Allotment movement appeals for security of tenure and municipal investment mobilized different strategic representations of allotments’ functional and symbolic value. This thesis traces five interwoven narrative strands, which represent coexisting – but often conflicting – versions of the allotment. These strands of meaning and motive cohere around the following themes: poor-relief and social reform; recreation and leisure; urban ecology and town planning; land rights activism; and, patriotic national self-provisioning. Parliamentary allotment inquiries in 1921 and 2001 bracket my analysis thematically and chronologically.

Edinburgh family in their plot at the Warriston allotments for the unemployed, 1932. National Archives of Scotland.

Methodologically, I combine material collected through archival research, ethnography, oral history, and advocacy efforts. In conclusion, I propose that Edinburgh’s allotment movement has historically defined itself with reference to plural meanings and potentially inconsistent discourses. The ambiguous positioning may explain why allotments have often been conceived as marginal, illegitimate uses of urban land – existing in the gaps between dominant discourse of recreation, leisure and open space. The thesis traces the implications of ambiguity into the contemporary political situation, but closes by moving the frame of analysis from the scale of the committee chamber to the scale of the plot, a shift which suggests a differently inflected conclusion. At the level of the plot, the same municipality which fosters vulnerability in political representations may, paradoxically, give the alootment landscape an adaptive resilience and durability as a cultural form.

Read the complete thesis here.

Also see Community Heritage in Glasgow’s allotments’ PhD. research project here.

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