Against the Grain: The transformative qualities of small-scale farming communities in Scotland in the context of the crises of capitalism.

  • Steven Speed

Student thesis: Phd


Small-scale farming communities in Scotland engaged in a combination of food sovereignty, agroecology, or land sovereignty have not only made themselves more resilient to the crises of capitalism but have done so by reducing their dependency upon it. What is more, during the recent crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit they were not only more able to sustain themselves when long food supply chains collapsed but were also able to increase their autonomy and sustainability through an increased demand for local food networks. Also, in certain areas, these strategies have transformed social relations and, at times, revealed alternative economic practices. The research for this thesis was conducted over a 15 month period and primarily consisted of seasonal interviews with 14 small-scale food producers in Scotland. It has examined the transformative qualities of these communities through an adaptation of Erik Olin Wright’s theory of transformation (Wright 2010) by drawing on David Harvey and John Holloway’s analyses of capitalism and of strategies for social transformation. Through this framework the research has examined the unintended trajectories of change that emerge from the crisis of capitalism, the gaps and contradictions these crises have revealed, the relationships these strategies have with these crises as they reveal alternative economic practices, and the sustainability of these practices in the face of capitalism’s ability to reproduce itself. The research found that the transformative qualities of small-scale farming communities in Scotland are the ways in which these communities resist and, at times, reverse the reproduction of capitalism through their demand for autonomy and self-subsistence, particularly during crises. Ultimately, these are moments of withdrawal from, and non-participation in, capitalist social relations that are made possible, in the first instance, by access to land. In their entirety they should be thought of as being transformative towards an alternative rather than as an alternative themselves, but they do offer a glimpse of how an alternative might be achieved.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSimin Fadaee (Supervisor) & Kevin Gillan (Supervisor)


  • transformative strategies
  • subsistence agriculture
  • social transformation
  • Small-scale farming
  • Scotland
  • sustainability
  • land sovereignty
  • COVID-19
  • crises of capitalism
  • crofting
  • Brexit
  • autonomy
  • alternative economic practices
  • agroecology
  • food sovereignty

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