The contemporary racialization of the Irish in Britain: an investigation into media representations and the everyday experience of being Irish in Britain

Morgan, Sarah (1997) The contemporary racialization of the Irish in Britain: an investigation into media representations and the everyday experience of being Irish in Britain. Doctoral thesis, University of North London.


The research undertaken for this thesis incorporated two strands of investigation. The first involved an interrogation of the representations of Irish people and Ireland in the mass media. This assumes that the mass media can be viewed as a de facto ideological state apparatus (Hall, 1982) in which racist messages and meanings are embedded (Hall, 198 1). For the second strand of this research, in-depth face-to-face interviewees were undertaken with twenty five first generation Irish people living in Britain, contacted through the snowballing technique. They were asked about their views on representations of Irish people and Ireland in the British media products which they used. Interviewees were also asked about aspects of their everyday lives as Irish people in Britain. The interviews were informed by the assumption that, as audiences and Irish people, interviewees would have special knowledge (pace hooks, 1992) about the meanings and messages associated with 'Irishness' (cf. Cohen, 1988) in British cultural discourses.

An extensive survey of the press and a pilot survey of television programmes were undertaken, using a "deconstruction, interpretation, reconstruction" approach (Ericson et al., 1991: 55). This demonstrated that Irish people were portrayed in newspaper reports and television programmes through trait-laden and symbolic stereotypes (Haddock et al., 1994) and that Irish people were essentialized as an Other to English people: 'Irish' was signified as innately inferior to 'English'. Ireland was a distorted mirror image of England (Eagleton, 1995; Kiberd, 1995) becoming both a rural utopia and an illiberal dystopia. The stereotypes of 'Irishness' and the unproblematic binary (Brah, 1996) of Irish/English in British media discourses demonstrate that the media legitimises and reinforces racialized understandings of Irish people and Ireland.

The knowledge which interviewees displayed regarding media representations, discrimination and prejudice against Irish people demonstrates that they possess "double consciousness" (du Bois, 1986[1953]), which they used to monitor and inform their behaviours. Interviewees were aware of how the mass media racialized Irish people in their representations and believed that this racialization affected their everyday lives, specifically their interactions and relationships with English people. A double silence strategy was employed by interviewees to avoid or reduce the "everyday racism" (Essed, 199 1) which they experienced, or expected to experience as Irish people living in Britain. This involved actual silence, thereby avoiding identification as Irish through accent, and not speaking about Irish issues which was assumed would cause trouble or difficulties. This strategy, of double silence, was not entirely successful as interviewees did experience racism, including anti-Irish jokes and verbal abuse, which they were unlikely to confront.

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