Mark Shucksmith will help communities 'imagine their futures' as he leads a group examining Highland life
As a rural sociologist, Mark Shucksmith is perhaps uniquely suited for his new role as chair of the Scottish Executive's Committee of Inquiry on the future of crofting in the remote Scottish Highlands.
Professor Shucksmith, professor of planning at Newcastle University, has vast experience in development and planning across Europe and taught for more than 20 years at Aberdeen University.
The committee, due to report to the Scottish Executive by the end of 2007, will look at the role of crofting in the social and economic life of Scotland today. It forms part of the broader land reforms being considered in the wake of devolution in 1999.
The land tenures of crofters, which are protected under 1886 legislation, provide a unique model for rural life. "It is time to look again at how best to ensure that future arrangements for crofting help to sustain the population of rural Scotland, improve economic vitality, safeguard our landscape and biodiversity and promote cultural diversity," Professor Shucksmith said.
His main research interest lies in the question of how rural communities can "collectively imagine their futures" - this includes dealing with issues such as social exclusion within these communities.
His extensive work in Europe made him an outspoken critic of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.
In Britain, he serves as a board member of the Commission for Rural Communities in England, and as an adviser to the Environment and Rural Development Committee of the Scottish Parliament.
He hopes the inquiry will build a consensus to resolve whether crofting offers "a model for how people will continue to live in rural areas" or is no more than a "fossilised structure" of rural society.