Gramsci in Mayo: a Marxist perspective on social movements in Ireland
Cox, Laurence (2011) Gramsci in Mayo: a Marxist perspective on social movements in Ireland. In: New Agendas in Social Movement Studies Conference, September, 2011, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This paper draws on Antonio Gramsci, and Marxist social movement studies more generally, to understand some of the complexities and peculiarities involved in theorising movements in the Republic of Ireland. The paper is primarily theoretical, but is grounded in the real intellectual and political problem of giving an adequate account and explanation of the specificities of Irish social movements, with which I have grappled for several years. The question is a huge one, and this draft paper is hardly more than an initial sketch - but one whose justification may be found in the relative absence of other attempts at tackling the problem. If this attempt provokes better answers from other quarters, that is in itself a useful contribution. The question “what kind of movement context is Ireland?” is rarely considered seriously but should be an absolutely basic starting point for research and theory in this area. The most common response in mainstream academic writing is simply not to think about the question, whether out of provincialism or the equally naïve assumption that Ireland is not fundamentally different from the contexts in which most social movement research and theory is produced. A second approach, which hardly represents an improvement, is to see Ireland as simply deficient vis-à-vis Britain, North America or Western Europe. As I have noted elsewhere (Cox 2010), such analyses ignore the fact that the island of Ireland is one of very few states anywhere in the world where peasant struggles succeeded in producing a land reform which transformed rural class relationships and land ownership structures; it is one of only a handful of west European situations where irredentist movements were even partially successful in achieving independence; Northern Ireland has been massively structured by social movement conflicts for the past forty years; while the Republic is one of very few states where popular movements successfully defeated nuclear power, and the impact of women’s, GLBTQ and survivor movements on religious power is equally rare on a global scale. Even today, the struggle in Erris over Shell’s pipeline stands out for its long trajectory and the number of defeats it has managed to inflict on one of the world’s largest companies, far beyond the norm for such conflicts.
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