Am I a crofter now? Are you?

Hugh (gapingvoid) Mcleod suggests the term ‘crofting’ for the way many of us work these days. I’ve just got used to using ‘portfolio career’ to explain my bits and bobs means of earning a crust so I wonder if crofting is a better term. Hugh says:

gapingvoid: “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards”: “crofting” as a metaphor for the new world of work?
as the BigCorp job-for-life also becomes more and more a thing of the past, expect to see more “Crofters” out there, even if like me, its no longer sheep and potatoes we’re selling. I think its a sweet little term that conveys a lot, especially to those of us who seem to have a built-in aversion to salaried positions in other peoples companies. You?

Well, in its favour is my Scots heritage – there’s a dogged streak of self reliance, an inbuilt distrust of any boss, a desire for self-determination, a belief in the power of self education and improvement, a dislike of over-commercialisation and consumerism. These are not just the qualities of the traditional crofter. They are actually many of the classic Scot of any flavour’s pet obsessions.

My lot were never crofters. It’s a Highland term and it has a very specific meaning. It’s an intriguing way of life and one that I was quite drawn to at one time. Still my ancestors were Lowlanders mostly, an accountant, a test driver for the Ford motor company before the First War (that’s a whole other story), a rector (head teacher), a writer of cookery books, a dominee, a poet, a seed merchant, tenant farmers, gamekeepers, a coachman, more teachers, farm labourers, mill workers, hand-loom weavers. I could go on but there are no crofters there. (That’s how I learned to use the internet, doing family research. I’m over it now, mostly!)

So, can I embrace the term crofter to describe what I do now? I think I’d have to learn to love Kale first! I’m semi-serious here. The physical, hard work of tending a patch of, often infertile, land is so intrinsic to the idea of crofting that I don’t think we can just hijack the word and change its meaning so utterly. (Even if Hugh’s uncles do farm manilla envelopes these days!)

I work. I think I sometimes work quite hard but I do not physically wrench my living from the land and the sea like a genuine crofter. I agree we need to find a better term for this mixed way of working but for me crofting isn’t it!


4 thoughts on “Am I a crofter now? Are you?

  1. Crofting is quite a neat analogy to describe what those of us that have abandoned full time employment for a more precarious existence as an “ICT consultant” (delete and add whatever you call yourself). However there are a few problems with it – I think many crofters worked in a pretty isolated existence, quite different to the global community that we now communicate with, even if we don’t actually meet physically very often. I just hope for the sake of all of us “crofters” out there that, in view of the current climate, another potato famine is not on its way.

  2. Hi John
    Good point about the global nature of our community. The crofters were quite isolated yet they had global ties too. Many of their sons and daughters dispersed all over the world and letters came that made New York and Montreal more real to some of them than London.
    Just to nit pick the potato famine didn’t hit the Scots really. Most of them didn’t grow spuds, too high up 🙂 I do agree about the precarious nature of our position but I’m sort of inclined to believe it is simply that our insecurity is more visible. I hope we are more adaptable and flexible so we can survive better than those who still believe in the myth of the secure job.

  3. My knowledge of scottish history didn’t quite stretch far enough, I’m afraid. I’m not sure what the term is for an Irish smallholder, but I’m sure the scottish crofters would recognise them as being of their kin.

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