Capturing Mixture and Convergence in Comparative Analysis of the Irish Diaspora and Contemporary Urban Multicultures

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:30
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Mary HICKMAN, St Mary's University, United Kingdom
Lisa Lowe (2005) has raised problems with the comparative method seeing the origins of a focus on ‘difference’ as lying in Weberian sociology, she argues that mixtures and convergences are often lost in this kind of normative frame. Lowe advocated a genealogical study that retrieved the fragments of mixture and convergence ‘lost through modern comparative procedures’ (p. 412). My study of the Irish diaspora in two national settings, the USA and Britain, and of the role of ‘the Irish’ as socially constructed and as a form of self-agency in shaping their respective urban multicultures, takes inspiration from Lowe’s critique. The study focuses on the significance of specific historical events and encounters in creating formatory moments or processes in the configuration of ‘being Irish American’ or ‘being Irish in Britain’. 

This paper deals with one part of the research, an examination of life narrative interviews with various generations of Irish identified people in London and New York City (NYC). The interviews in London are from research projects I have been involved in, and those in NYC from the Ireland House Oral History Collection, New York University. Oral sources reveal ‘not only the history of what happened but the history of what it meant’ (Portelli 1996, p.399). They are evidence of how popular historical consciousness is constructed. The paper will address: How can analysis of the life-narrative interviews help realize Lowe’s call to capture fragments of mixture and convergence within comparison? How can those mixtures and convergences be identified? How can methodological issues arising from using data collected by oneself and by others in separate research projects in different countries be resolved? What does the analysis of ‘being Irish American’ and ‘being Irish in Britain’ add to our understanding of the durability and elasticity of ethnic identifications and future of urban multicultures?