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British Critical Theorists: The Production of the Conceptual Invisibility of the Irish Diaspora

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There is a long historical narrative of the relations between Britain and Ireland in which images of the Irish have been mobilised as major changing representational resources for the making of the British nation, identity and culture. Presently, the Irish diaspora in Britain is a major racialised ethnic group. However, it is absent from contemporary British theorists' representations of race and ethnicity. The paper critically explores the dominant racial regime of representation and this accompanying conceptual absence, as illustrated in anti-racist and new cultural theory texts. There is a need to rethink the histories and geographies of social closure and cultural exclusion as defining elements of the politics of race and nation. The paper argues the need to move beyond the Americanisation of British race-relations - the colour paradigm - to a critical engagement with European explanations, focusing on questions of nation, nationalism and migration. This is not an argument for the inclusion of the Irish in the current model of British race relations, but rather seeks to investigate the denial of difference with reference to Irish ethnic minority status and the specificity of anti-Irish racism. I conclude by looking at the question of self-representation in relation to Irish cultural formation and subjectivity, suggesting that in terms of a traditional racial dichotomy of domination/dominated, the Irish are not either/or but both/and.
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Document Type: Regular Paper

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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