Short Abstract

Sociological common sense had it that, as societies become more integrated--e.g. through membership in the European Community--, local particularities evaporate. Beyond the evidence for the resurgence of various neo-nationalisms, evidence also points at the continued efforts by people at the relative core of traditionally defined groups (e.g. the "middle" classes) to differentiate themselves from closely linked classes, sub-groups, neighbors. I intend to look at such processes in the everyday lives of residents of suburban Ireland to highlight the work that they perform and, through this work, the constraints and resources that are consequential for them. Little work has been conducted among such groups in Ireland, indeed Europe. What has been done suggests that their activity is much less stereotyped than it is known to be. The project should illuminate transformative, cultural, processes in class societies. I would spend one year to explore what shapes the landscape--through interviews with politicians, architects, contractors; to talk with people about they do with their houses-- decoration and improvements, car and appliances, schools, etc.; to sketch semi- formal activities (neighborhood defense associations, golf clubs, prayer groups), and participate in as many as possible.

Long Abstract

The Irish literary critic Declan Kiberd once asked rhetorically: "Do the families of suburban Dublin wake up sweating under the burden of Irish tradition? Do their children feel ravaged by crises of national identity as they reach for the multinational snap-crackle-and-pop?" (1984: 12). The answer, he was sure, is "clearly no." The question I ask is a related one: What do the families and children of Dublin do with Irish tradition and multinational cereals? I take the stance that we do not know, that finding out would help us understand the people of Ireland and also the conditions of many others in the suburbs of Europe and America, and, finally, that the question is best investigated through a period of residence in Dublin.

For a long time, sociological common sense had it that, as societies become more thoroughly integrated, local particularities evaporate. Thus, the middle classes of suburban Ireland would become less and less distinguishable from those of England, or even France or Italy, as the countries were more closely integrated as joint members of the European Community. This working consensus has all but evaporated under the weight of empirical observation and theoretical evolution. Far from fading away, local particularities flourish, and those who affirm them become ever more successful on the political scene. In Ireland, any discussion of further tightening in the economic and political, integration of the European Community is accompanied by the affirmation of the distinctiveness of the country. Conversely, the signs of modernity are everywhere and referendums supporting integration are easily approved.

Beyond the evidence for the resurgence of various types of neo-nationalisms, much evidence also points at the continued efforts by people at the relative core of traditionally defined national groups to differentiate themselves from closely linked classes, sub-groups, or indeed neighbors. In the process, differences that might not otherwise be noticeable get emphasized and may gain institutional recognition. The work on "resistance" associated with the Manchester school of cultural studies, might be mentioned in this respect, along with the work of Bourdieu on "distinction." Seen in a broad perspective--which also incorporates Bakhtin's discussion of centripetal and centrifugal forces in human action, or LÚvi-Strauss's discussion of bricolage--, such concerns give new life to classical questions about the historical origins of cultural difference. There is much evidence, particularly through the work of ethnomethodologists and conversation analysts, that the construction of difference is a continual one grounded in the routine practice of everyday life activities. Cultural evolution is driven by the work that ordinary people in ordinary circumstances continually perform to survive in their environment.

In various ways, Ireland is extremely modern--it produces world class managers, capitalists, and rock bands, not to mention prized administrators and engineers. Indeed, through its great literary figures it directly contributed in shaping our understandings, and critiques, of modernity. It is also quite distinct in its resistance to certain aspects of this modernity--on such issues as abortion or divorce for example--; parts of the country have been used as exemplars of traditionality. While one might interpret this pattern as simply indicating a certain time lag in the modernization of Ireland, it is more helpful to look at the actual daily life of people in Dublin in terms of a continued attempt to make something distinctive, if not different, with what is given to them--including both a strong nationalistic discourse and an ambiguous "modernity."

The transformations that followed Ireland's entry into the European Community are inescapable. All classes of people, small and larger farmers, factory workers, petty bureaucrats, professionals, etc., found themselves in a different world that opened new possibilities and closed others. The lines that constrained what could be done were redrawn, and this placed people in a situation where a simple reproduction of their parents' solutions could not work. New constraints appeared, and they could be experienced rather violently--as happened to workers when automobile assembly plants were closed. Others were suddenly able to achieve a kind of suburban comfort that was unvailable to their parents. In any case, the locus of control for these realignments of politico-economic constraints, moved the center at the periphery of which Ireland may be said to lie further away from Dublin to a place sometimes said to be "Brussels" but which is in fact not quite a specific geographical entity. "Europe" for the purpose of the European Community is without a center, and this has the possibly unintended effect of making the smaller states' dependency a rather abstract matter. The European Community appears almost like an act of God. Its development is something that is completely outside the control of any locality in Ireland, while at the same time inescapable, and often overwhelming.

This tension between quasi-transcendental constraints, and fully immanent culturation constitute the theoretical focus of this research. The symbols of nationalism, and the rules of the European Community are given to (imposed upon) local groups, but this gift is not simply to be returned (reproduced). It is transformed (resisted), or "cultured."

The point of the research is, first, to discover what is actually consequential in the lives of the people. It is also to highlight the constitutive activities of the people as they resist, and partially transform, the consequential patterns. More specifically, and as an example, I ask the question: to what extent are the symbols of nationalism a constraint or resource for the people? I am not asking the very different question: "Are the people nationalistic?" From my point of view, it is only to the extent that one can see the people actually handle nationalism that one can talk about nationalism at all. The same can of course be said of the European Community as a short hand for a complex of matters that someone who lives in the suburbs of Dublin cannot escape dealing with. The set of such consequentialities constitute the world the people inhabit. When they are made uncomfortable by people from the continent buying land and houses in the West of Ireland, and talk about "strangers" "invading" "our land," they perform the work that demonstrate the continued reality of national ideologies. This constitutive activity itself always involve a reconstructive (rather than reproductive) process that produce a local and temporary secondary world that may itself become a constraint and a resource for further action. Most people in the Republic, for example, deliberately, and more or less ashamedly, refuse to become involved in any manner in activities that might lead to the unification of the island. The music they choose for parties, rites of passage, etc., is more typically 1950s rock-n-roll than it is "Irish" music. Their children choose to listen to, and contribute to the development of the kind of international rock-n-roll that made the band U2 famous. Together, such performances constitute a cultured world which itself becomes resource and constraint on the more detailed work performed by people in their households, they families and extended kins, their neighbors and their workplaces.

3/22/96