Accepted Paper:

'The biggest ice house in Scotland': siting meaning and agency in the natural world  


Katharine Dow (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Spey Bay ice house is thought to the largest ice house in Scotland. The different interactions of people, plants and animals with this site demonstrate the multiple meanings of nature and the agency of the natural world in people’s construction of an heterotopic idyll.

Paper long abstract:

This paper describes a place, and human interactions with that place, through a series of occurrences. The place is a former ice house at the mouth of the River Spey in northeastern Scotland, now part of a wildlife centre run by a global conservation charity and open to the public as a tourist destination. It is a polysemous location, a site of interaction between animals, plants, people and land as well as a symbol of contemporary economic and ethical transformations. For most of its history, it was a vital resource of the local salmon-fishing industry. Now, it acts as an exhibition space, wildlife-watching vantage point and local landmark. Where once this was a place with abundant natural resources to be exploited for financial gain, it now relies on charitable donations to survive and is used to promote a particular ethical consciousness about caring for the local, and global, environment. The ice house is an heterotopic space in itself, but it is also the stage on which the people who live and work around it act out various aspects of their lives as people who are building good lives. The presence of rare wildlife and 'wild' nature impels people to act in particular ways, inscribing new meanings on an 'untouched' place. This paper considers the agency of the natural world in the lives of people who have appointed themselves as its guardians and explores how particular places produce new meanings and change the people with whom they interact.

Panel P24
British landscape, heterotopia and 'new animism'