Integral Freedom and Post-Enlightenment Scotland

Integral Freedom and Post-Enlightenment Scotland

Paul Gilfillan 

Since 1999, at least, Scotland has seen the re-territorialisation or re-nationalisation of freedom, and, in the light of the on-going decline of unionism, it is time to ask what other inherited arrangements require rethinking. I propose that aligned with the re-nationalisation of politics since 1999, what is also on-going is the re-nationalisation of our understanding of the question of being modern. Within the Scottish context, this is the end of the depoliticised nation which the Scottish Enlightenment figures advocated, and the idea that repressing (Scottish) history would be functional to ‘becoming modern.’

Scottish nationalism, I suggest, is at the forefront of a new idea of modernity characterised by the rejection of the Scottish Enlightenment’s view of modernity. The only legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment that has survived the ‘fiery brook’ of post-affluent modernity is the free market economy and the Scottish Enlightenment’s rejection of rationalism. The seminal mistake of ‘scarcity thinking’ was its imagining that modernity and affluence could only come to Scotland if it surrendered its sovereignty and its language, culture and parliament, and all such scarcity thinking posing as theorising modernity has come to an end within the new Scottish sociological imagination.

I propose that Scotland is entering into a third modernity which “takes modernity back to its Scotist roots” (Pickstock 2003: 14) and that this return to Duns Scotus (1265-1308) for ballast involves rejecting the ‘scarcity modernity’ of unionism to recover a more holistic ontology that rejects a secularist outlook in favour of a new modernity. This would be characterised by an ontology that seeks to paint Scottish human being and the project of a Scottish modernity with a full palette of colours.  In arguing for an integral sociology that is superior to the twin scarcity-era errors of supernaturalism and secularism, my aim is to make a contribution to debates about the purpose of sociology, and propose that sociology in an era of affluence cannot allow itself to be imprisoned within ‘scarcity era’ thinking as to do so will condemn sociology to painting human beings with some primary colours missing from its palette.

In my ethnographic understanding of nationalism in Scotland (in A  Sociological  Phenomenology  of  Christian  Redemption, 2014), I propose that it is, in part, a consequence of destroying all-British strongholds among the Scottish working class, such as all-British industries and all-British trade unions.  The ‘post-national’ neoliberal globalisation of the economy pursued in the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties deconstructed the geo-political relationships which have characterised Scotland’s modernity insofar as it also inadvertently destroyed the mundane bases for the symbolic reproduction of Britain among the post-industrial working class.

This is evident in the 2014 Independence Referendum where an older generation of Scots who throughout the years of ‘democratic deficit’ (i.e. 1979-1997) did not seriously question Scotland’s political union with England are set not to be reproduced in the future: and why opting for political unionism at the ballot box among a younger working-class generation was a minority option in the 2014 independence referendum and remained so in the general election in May 2015.

Immediately after the local elections 1999 I began interviewing people in a village in Fife about their views on politics and a range of issues. I organised my data according to two ‘ideal types’ and classified interviewees into what I call the 1945 Generation and the 1979 Generation. Members of the 1945 Generation included those born before nineteen-fifty, while those born from nineteen-sixty onwards I classified as belonging to the 1979 Generation. I intended this distinction as a shorthand device to indicate whether a particular interviewee tended to identify with the industrial past or the post-industrial present of the village. As fieldwork progressed, these two categories came to indicate a range of related opinions so that I began to use this distinction as a heuristic device to frame social change via the lived experience of these two generations and as a way of generationalising the major ruptures and continuities across the divide between the industrial and post-industrial eras.

I characterise the primary socialisation of the 1945 Generation as having been dominated by the era of the “dictatorship of scarcity” (Beck 1992, p. 20) and a comparatively stable cultural and social sphere along with a stable, though far from uneventful, experience of locality. The 1945 Generation, then, is characterised by the experience of ‘thick’ locality and thick inter-subjectivity along with the ‘heavy’ presence of society and a non-privatised experience of society, morality, belief and conventions. In contrast, the younger 1979 Generation’s primary socialisation is dominated by the advent of affluence and the post-industrialisation that occurred during the nineteen-eighties along with the decline in the ability to remember, far less reproduce, a substantive local public realm in comparison to the 1945 generation which is able to look back with nostalgia at ‘something lost,’ while members of the 1979 Generation are hard-pressed to identify their experience of locality as ‘something’ at all. For my informants, then, the existence and reality of working-class culture is easier to discern when looking back to the era of coal and the years of economic and political struggle and the heyday of locality, and as an ethnographer of this post-industrialised locality I often felt faced with an obvious yet intangible ‘nothingness,’ with fieldwork often feeling like being on a treadmill chasing a passed ‘something.’

My argument goes on to come to grips with manual labour and worked subjectivity as a preliminary step to being able to understand the subsequent politicisation of this worked subjectivity. There is a representational deficit insofar as the labouring body is conceptually non-existent in much social science literature and I argue the ethnographer without a grasp of the structuring relevance of manual labour for subjectivity is likewise more or less in a perpetual crisis of understanding vis-à-vis working-class reality, whether aware of it or not. I explore the strong resistance to nationalism among an older generation of Scots and argue for the existence of a clear generational divide on the constitutional crisis on Scotland – something confirmed by the Scottish Referendum Study which found that a majority of men (53%) voted for independence while 56% of women voted against independence, and 53% of young people (under 30 years old) voted in favour of independence while 69% of those aged 70 and more voted against independence.(1)

The first part of my study constitutes a more or less standard ethnography, but the latter part is far from standard having as its basis a performative verification of the project of self-appropriation. I trace the development of an initial set of data and give an account of self-appropriation in which the manual worker becomes a worker-inquirer and proceeds to the further development of himself as a worker-inquirer-knower. I privilege the specifically intellectual nature of liberation and argue that a turning to cognitional theory is necessary in the light of texts purporting to deal with liberation but which suffer from more or less completely undeveloped theories of cognition and as a direct result fail to give an account of intellectual liberation that is in any way rigorous or convincing. I make the counter-argument (writing in the shadow of Marx) that liberation for human beings is above all a mental act.

In the final section of the book I make an argument not only upon the basis of field data but as a result of my own self development going back to undergraduate research and the intellectual and spiritual breakthroughs which influenced my doctoral fieldwork to the extent that to pass over these developments in silence would have been dishonest. I share with other sociologists a deep interest in the relationship between sociology and self-realisation and understand sociology as having an indispensable role in articulating the purely natural ‘beatitude’ or self-realisation of the fully-contextual human being. More generally, in the light of the recognition among Scottish figures such as MacIntyre, Muir, MacColla and McDiarmid that “the failure of Scottish culture to be whole” (Craig 1999, p. 22) is the central problematic, the concluding section gives the existential grounding of an integral dasein, the reconciliation between Christian tradition and the Scottish ‘present’ as history.

Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.
Craig, C. 1999. The Modern Scottish Novel: Narrative and the National Imagination. Edinburgh University Press.
Gilfillan, P. 2014. A Sociological Phenomenology of Christian Redemption. Grosvenor House Publishing.
Pickstock, C. 2003. ‘Modernity & Scholasticism: a Critique of Recent Invocations of Univocity.’ Antonianum, 78(1):3-46.


Paul Gilfillan is a senior lecturer in sociology at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. He is the author of A Sociological Phenomenology of Christian Redemption. Grosvenor House Publishing, (2014).  He teaches on a degree programme in Public Sociology.

2 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    November 04, 2015

    Very interesting. We old Yessers just have to outlive the No voters and Scotland is free and clear of the yoke of the U.K.?


  2. Avatar
    November 10, 2015

    This article succinctly sums up the author’s more expansive work (A Sociological Phenomenology of Christian Redemption) and further develops an interesting perspective as to what the impact of the Independence Referendum has been. For readers interested in Scottish nationalism, though the book will also be of interest to readers of literature on nationalism in general, Gilfillan’s book is sui generis insofar as there is no other volume that conceptualises and considers the sociological imagination of working class people in Scotland and the shift that has occurred as a result of the developments in the political landscape in the last two decades.
    Perhaps, if we consider the Independence Referendum as an awakening process rather than an event, in spite of the ‘No’ vote the Yes campaign can claim a victory of sorts in that how working class Scots, in particular the younger generation, view Scotland and it’s place in the world, their political efficacy and the legitimacy of their expectations have all been transformed and their self concepts have been liberated as a result.

    I would recommend A Sociological Phenomenology of Christian Redemption to any sociology student undergraduate or postgraduate, domestic or international that wants to know more about Scottish nationalism or nationalism in general.