No Woman Is An Island – Ailie Rutherford and Heather McLean on Eigg

    Five days in Sweeney’s Bothy, Isle of Eigg Residency

    Reading, cycling, walking, paddling, thinking, talking, drawing, sharing food and ideas, and a fair bit o’ footering

    And, importantly, some time to reflect and practice feminist notions of self-care.

    “Caring for oneself is also about caring for others, that important work, often painful, that practical and domestic work, of maintaining the conditions for each other’s existence…feminism can help us to reimagine the division between work and rest is the profound emphasis many feminist have given to the ordinary, not on transcendence, being above and beyond, but being immersed in ordinary life. The work of care is that.” (Sarah Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life)

    Heather reading on the rocks

    the problems with work


    Our residency is in part a conversation between an artist and an urban geographer, exploring our overlapping interests: feminist arts activism that pushes back at norms, creates alternative economies, visualises alternative futures, and challenges the status quo.

    We are here on the Isle of Eigg to explore the potentialities and pitfalls of creating and sustaining community economies through a workshop and interviews with local residents. We are particularly interested in ideas of community currency in relation to wider national/global economies; trades and exchanges that take place on the island, between islands, with the mainland, and further afield; and both monetary and non-monetary activities taking place on the island (exchanges, pooling and sharing of resources etc) How does a small island community use these practices to foster alternatives + less hierarchical ways of being? What do these everyday practice look like? What can we learn from them? And how does this compare to our work in the more urban contexts of Glasgow and Toronto?

    Inspired by feminist labour activists and researchers, we also took some time to read and discuss writing about what counts and doesn’t count as work and how we can envision and enact more socially and environmentally just concepts of making a living.

    “Rather than seek out that ever-elusive “balance” between work and family by trying to corral our desires for a full time life into the confines of two specific institutions, I think we should dedicate ourselves to developing more forceful critiques of their considerable failings as inclusive and sustainable social forms”  (Kathi Weeks,  The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics)

    a wee sketch

    Mapping an Island Economy – Below and above the waterline

    Half way through our short residency we meet a group of island residents to run a workshop, stamping out mapped illustrations of the trade, exchange and labour on the Isle of Eigg:

    We arrive with a set of questions:

    What does community ownership mean to people?

    How does a community think as a collective?

    How does the island trade + exchange with mainland, other islands, rest of the world?

    Is energy generation + consumption key to this?

    Is there such a thing as “hidden labour” in a small community?

    Who does the domestic work?

    What is the role of arts and culture –dances, music, singing in all of this?

    Mapping the Economy on the Isle of Eigg





    The workshop happens during dinner at Lucy’s house on Eigg. This feels very much like the beginnings of a conversation with a small group that might grow and evolve over time…

    Someone comments that we’re really just scratching at the surface here… Some common themes emerge when we talk about the gender divide, division of labour, different approaches and reasons for living “off the grid”

    Heather stayed for another few days to drink coffee, chat and engage in informal interviews with some of the Islanders. Some themes that emerged in the frank and often hilarious conversations over coffee, beers and snacks (especially the Pay-what-you-can cake at the Rest and Be Thankful coffee, cake and craft shop overlooking Laig Bay:

    • The residents of the Isle of Eigg work multiple jobs to get by and this mix of employment fosters a collective sense of community. Echoing feminist scholars, the personal is political as peoples’ everyday lives and work interconnect to support island life
    • Ceilidhs, music and hanging out with beers at the pier are a part of how people stay connected (socializing in its many form is key)
    • There is a strong commitment to living sustainably with the natural environment
    • The women of Eigg have played a central role in buying back the Island from corporate interests and promoting a vibrant activists and volunteer culture/local economies
    • Islanders understandably feel, ‘research fatigue’: every day researchers (like Heather) keep wandering off the ferry looking to study life on the Isle of Eigg. This prompted her to ask: how can we engage in some useful or helpful exchange activities with islanders? How can I not reproduce extractive research practices that consume peoples’ livelihoods and render them into ‘product’s in academic journals.

    Could we set something in motion, a trade alliance between community economies, create trade networks between urban and rural contexts. What can different communities offer each other to allow us to meet our needs to reduce our reliance on commercial routes?

    What are the things we need to collectively re-think across different communities?

    – Buying and selling goods

    – delivery of goods

    – extended social and familial networks

    – sharing and swapping of music, clothes….

    – culture sharing

    – Delivery and transport of goods from one community to another (via ethical means)

    And also…

    – savings banks, peer-to-peer lending

    – health care and education

    Overall, our time on Eigg was an opportunity to step back, learn from islanders, and reflect on ways to practice commoning, or living alternative economic practices that support social and environmental sustainability. We look forward to engaging in future exchanges and dialogue as we learn more from our work in Glasgow and from the projects taking place on Eigg.   As feminist artists and researchers, this back and forth process is how we can learn about ways of building anti-capitalist worlds and learning from communities that embrace cooperative values.

    As Sylvia Federici states: “We cannot build an alternative society and a strong self-reproducing movement unless we redefine our reproduction in a more cooperative way and put an end to the separation of the personal and the political, and between political activism and the reproduction of everyday life”. A site of convivial and collectivist practice, Eigg is an inspiring community where residents work to put their politics into practice.