Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Politics and Contemporary Performance in Northern Ireland
John P Harrington & Elizabeth J Mitchell eds.,

(Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999)
234pp. Index. Hb.: £45.00; ISBN 1-55849-196-1. Pb.: £15.00; ISBN 1-55849-197-X.. Distributed by Eurospan.

This collection, emerging from the American Conference for Irish Studies, offers nine essays covering what in the broadest sense might be taken to be the 'performance' of political identity in Northern Ireland. Four of the authors (Marilynn Richtarik, Helen Lojek, Maureen S. G. Hawkings and Jennifer C. Cornell) are concerned with tackling this from the point of view of dramatic companies and plays, whether they be featured in theatre or on television. Bill Rolston discusses the inter-play between loyalist songs and loyalist political identity. Four more pieces focus on the power-play currently unfolding, whether it be gauged in terms of 'new' loyalism (James White McAuley), policing (Roger MacGinty), the dynamics of forgiveness (Mícheál D. Roe, William Pegg, Kim Hodges, and Rebecca A. Trimm) or local government (William A. Hazleton).

For students of Irish studies anxious to keep abreast of the issues of cultural production and political change in Northern Ireland, this book will provide considerable comfort. The range of material covered in this volume suggests a multitude of ways in which the threads of interdisciplinary thought may be tied together. However, that process would depend on an imaginative reader alert to the possibilities presented in this volume. For while the editors John P. Harrington and Elizabeth J. Mitchell offer 'performance' as a binding concept available to both the literary and political analyst, the writers - particularly the political analysts - are less forthcoming.

Writers keen to elucidate the politics of literary production, particularly drama, have long been alert to the significance of contextualizing the material they study. Marilynn Richtarik's typically informative study of Stewart Parker, the first essay in the collection, is a case in point (indeed Richtarik's work pervades all the writing on theatre here). Bill Rolston, likewise, produces a sometimes shocking insight into the loyalist song lyric, which draws on techniques of literary criticism and political analysis. If rather under-theorized, Rolston's is an essay that offers clues as to the direction of such interdisciplinary work.

The same cannot be said of the more purely political contributions. Although one might expect the writers here to expand on such issues as the use of media or rhetoric, or to explore 'display' as a trope in public debate, they largely refrain. What Mac Ginty calls the 'conscious politicisation of the parades issue' for example, though ripe for such treatment, remains unelaborated.

What emerges, then, are two unconnected collections bound together, where one more interesting and integrated collection might be imagined. Unless political commentary is prepared to meet literary criticism or media studies half way, one feels, the common ground of 'performance' is likely to remain only a play on words.

Ben Levitas
Queens University, Belfast

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page