CFP : Scottish Studies / Études écossaises n°18, 2018 Issue : “Scottish Kitsch”

“It is easy to sympathise with Fordyce Maxwell [in a Scotsman article from 30 November 2000] in his lament over the amount of kitsch used to promote Scotland and its products. However, whatever we think of it, it is there, as it has been since we can remember, because people furth of Scotland buy it, either as advertising or as kilted dolls to take home as souvenirs. It is likely that other nations dislike the concentration on their perceived icons as promotional material as much as we do. And there remains the question: if not that, what?” R. J. McLEAN, December 2001 (

In the popular imagination, clichés about Scotland abound. One particularly persistent notion is the association of Scotland, the land of ghosts and storm–battered castles and landscapes, with a perceived Gothic character.

But to judge from a not-so-recent preoccupation with the tourism industry and the widespread dissemination of a national imagery and paraphernalia sometimes cut off from their historical or geographical contexts, one could think that if its “perceived aesthetics” are Gothic, Scotland has had, for some time already, a far more evident susceptibility to and affinity with kitsch.

It is all too easy to be dismissive of a purported artificiality of “Scottish Kitsch” when a considerable part of Scotland’s economic prospects, and a good deal of its international image, depend upon it. A reassessment might prove a productive challenge for the specialist.

Of course, inseparable from the imposition of aesthetic categories like the Beautiful, the Sublime, the Picturesque, or kitsch in a modern sense, is the opposition between good taste and bad taste and the attendant, often self-imposed, responsibility of the proponents of such categories to educate the public through the senses. There is a political side to aesthetics, as the sociology of taste demonstrates, and normative tastemakers of all kinds are always exponents of a view of the public good; aesthetic pronouncements are acts of power. Who determines what is kitsch, for what purposes and to what effects? What are the social, political and economic implications of controversies over the nature of Scottish Kitsch, at home or abroad?

“Scottish Kitsch” conditions the perception of Scotland, within and without. Several positions are possible: resisting Scottish kitsch is a political act, as is the tolerance for it, or even the fact of embracing it to reconfigure Scottishness, in a postmodern gesture. As the quotation above exemplifies, Scotland’s negotiation of its self-image through its abrasive relationship to kitsch problematizes both its relation to itself and its integration in the alliance of nations (“if not that, what?”), and has done so for quite some time. In opposition to nationalism’s assured rhetoric of authenticity, this uneasiness and sense of alienation will prove helpful in understanding the problem that is “Scottish Kitsch”, the focus of the upcoming issue of Scottish Studies / Études écossaises, a multidisciplinary journal.

Of course, the issue’s theme lends itself particularly well to developments about the many forms of the tourism industry and “the brand, Scotland”. Cultural policy from official or unofficial agents (the Homecoming project, for example) is also a stimulating topic.

However, more properly aesthetic considerations will be accepted: proposals about Scottish painting, whether modern/contemporary (Vettriano?) or more dated, as well as elements about literary aesthetics (Kailyard/counter-Kailyard…).

Other forms of “gaudiness” might also prove to be fruitful areas of study, especially sports: the Highland Games, Scotland’s place in the Commonwealth games (see for example Ian Jack’s article “The Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony: Just the Right Side of Kitsch” from Friday 25 July 2014)… and their self-conscious displays of a certain Scottishness.

A brief proposal (200-300 words) should be sent by 15 November 2017.

Papers (45,000 signs max., including spaces) may be submitted in French or English, but authors must first obtain the appropriate style-guide. The deadline for finished papers is 10 January 2017.


Contact :

The journal Études écossaises/Scottish Studies contributes to the ongoing research project of the Institut des Langues et Cultures d'Europe, des Amériques, d'Afrique, d'Asie et d'Australie (ILCEA4 — Grenoble Alpes University).

EA 7356, ILCEA 4, Univ. Grenoble Alpes, ILCEA4, 38000 Grenoble, France