Marching to the neo-liberal tune

Gerard Curran reviews Reinventing Ireland; culture, society and global economy, Peadar Kirby, Luke Gibbons and Michael Cronin (eds), Pluto Press, £15.99 pbk

THE GROWTH of the Irish economy since the late 1980s has earned it the title of the Celtic Tiger.

This success has been interpreted by academic observers as marking a social and cultural transformation -- termed, by some, the ‘reinvention of Ireland’. The writers in this book challenge this over-optimistic interpretation of Ireland’s changing social order and identify the ways in which Irish culture and society have been made subservient to the needs of the market in this new neo-liberal Ireland.

In doing so, they draw on subversive strands in Irish history and offer a broader and more robust understanding of culture as a site of resistance to the dominant social order and as a political means to fashion an alternative future.

Michael Cronin explores what he calls the ‘chrono-politicisation of Ireland, the effect of the new time zones that are shaping society ’ -- essentially, more work for the same wages -- claiming that in consumer societies where mobility has become a supreme virtue, the immobile are the losers. The losers include the poor, travellers, asylum seekers, housewives and those caught in traffic jams.

Joe Dunne addresses the weakening basis of citizenship as we become more involved in a consumerist culture and resigned to merciless logic of economic growth while Luke Gibbons explores the basis for greater multiculturalism in Ireland.

The psychological legacy of colonialism and the ways in which it shows itself in ‘high levels of alcohol and drug consumption, patterns of denial and doublethink, distortions of sexuality and social irresponsibility’ is addressed by Ger Malone.

Lionel Pilkington explains how Catholicism ‘fits in’ with Ireland’s new modernity. In the final section Barra O’Seaghdha provides a critical analysis of the world view of commentators like Cruise O’Brien, Fintan O’Toole and Colm Toibin -- a great relief for those who want to understand these writers without reading them.

This book, which deals with complex issues and is far from being an easy read, should however be compulsory fare for all editors and journalists and all those concerned with serious social issues which cry out for attention in an Ireland largely preoccupied with wealth accumulation for the few.

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