Myth, memory and masculinity in Irish men’s narratives of work in the British construction industry

This chapter examines the meanings male migrants attach to their experiences of work within the post-war British construction industry. Setting the analysis within the broader context of change within the post-war British economy and culture, the chapter uses the personal work histories of three migrants to explore the industry as a site for the re/negotiation of migrant masculinities. As well as investigating how the performance of distinct roles, different occupational trajectories and changing conditions within the industry shaped subjects’ experiences in different ways, the chapter foregrounds how migrants’ collective experiences within the sector have generated a range of competing popular representations of the identity of the Irish construction worker. Through analysis of diaries and memoirs, popular novels and folk song, industry publications and newspapers, the chapter shows how these images form part of a ‘communal imaginary’ of the Irish in post-war England, expressive of the collective fantasies of the post-war generation, and how they routinely feed back into the production of personal memory, complicating as well as facilitating subjects’ efforts to ‘compose’ coherent narratives of belonging. Through attention to this process, the chapter traces the different ‘rewritings’ of the migrant self that occur over the life course.

in Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England
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The centrality of graveyards in the Underworld tradition

Chapter 6 connects the Underworld tradition to graveyards through lunar Seventh Month (Ghost Month) ‘salvation rituals’ performed in cemeteries for the souls of ancestors, aborted foetuses and wandering spirits. After outlining the Buddhist origins of Ghost Month and various taboos now associated with it, the ethnography moves to Singapore’s Choa Chu Kang Cemetery. The narrative contains two sections, the first describing two distinct rituals in a cemetery plot set aside for babies and aborted foetuses, and the second following a temple’s Seventh Month rituals, from applying for cemetery permits to the tang-ki centric conclusion of the rituals. Analytically, the presence of Taoist priests in Singapore’s Underworld tradition is assessed with reference to the decennial census, and revisions to the ‘Master Plan’ (1965) concerning cemeteries are explored as societal catalysts both to the popularisation of the Underworld tradition and to 2017’s cemetery rituals in particular. These rituals are analysed in context of Foucault’s ‘heterotopias’ as everyday forms of resistance’ to new and controversial national land policies.

in Voices from the Underworld
Guanxi and the creation of ‘intentional’ communities

Providing further details from the ‘Jade Record’, Chapter 7 ethnography centres on a model reconstruction of the Underworld – illustrating its Ten Courts and a selection of tortures in their sub-hells – which has been built as a ritual space and place of worship. Located in Klang, Selangor State, Malaysia, Di Ya Pek’s three-day birthday celebrations, which attracted approximately 1,000 devotees provides the chapter’s ethnographic setting for the mass channelling of Underworld deities and their subsequent consumption of opium and alcohol, alongside the channelling of multiple Chinese Heaven deities and Malay Datuk Gong. The two features of analytical interest which arise from this are the transfiguration of religious norms and the formation of extensive ethnoreligious communities based on Underworld deity veneration. The transfiguration materialises in two guises, the first being an inversion of authority in the ‘Heaven–human–Underworld’ hierarchy, seen reflected in the interactions between the possessed tang-ki, the second by the mass consumption of intoxicants in temple settings. Both are analysed in broader context of changing moralities and the role of ethnic self-identity in Malaysia’s religious landscape and how, in addressing these issues, the Underworld tradition has become a locus of local community formation.

in Voices from the Underworld
Predictable arrivals

Chapter 4 examines the categories of refugee, migrant and asylum seeker in the context of the post-1981 newly conceptually and geographically configured Britain. People who were previously legally associated with the British polity with rights to enter Britain were now categorised as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. The refugees and asylum seekers of today were the British subjects of yesterday, colonised, alienated and barred from access to wealth stolen from them. I show how courts function within a framework of state sovereignty in which they cannot challenge the legitimacy of Britain’s post-colonial articulation of its borders and their dispossessory effects for colonised populations.

in (B)ordering Britain

Chapter 1 begins by outlining the book’s four primary narratives. First, the pivotal role of Underworld deities as channelled through their tang-ki; second, the history of Chinese post-mortal cosmology; third, city gods and the significance of Anxi City God Temple (Anxi Chenghuangmiao) in China; and fourth, an analysis of societal catalysts triggering religious change to explain the increasing popularity and channelling of Underworld deities in Singapore and Malaysia. Moving on to terminology, the decision to use ‘Chinese vernacular religion’ to describe the religion of the masses over either ‘folk religion’ or ‘popular religion’ is explained. The chapter concludes by explaining the composition and divisible nature of the human soul in Chinese cosmology; the process of deification whereby a human soul can achieve post-mortal deity status; and how a deity can be promoted, demoted, and exist in multiple pantheons.

in Voices from the Underworld
Indigeneity, bioprecarity and the construction of the embodied self – an artist’s view

This chapter explores bioprecarity and racifying science in the context of eugenicist practices in Sweden in the early to mid-twentieth century related to the indigenous Sámis’ treatment by Swedish race biologists. It does so through a dialogue between an academic and a Sámi artist and her body-centred artwork, in this case photographs. Sámis, like many indigenous people or people who at different points in history and across diverse countries/cultures, have been deemed inferior and subjected to racist scientific research, such as the measuring of their bodies for eugenicist purposes and the taking of naked pictures of even small school children. Here the body becomes an object of the colonizing gaze. That gaze produces bioprecarity through not only refusing the bodily integrity, autonomy and agency of those who are thus objectified, but also through gesturing towards the notion that some bodies occupy different orders from others. The artist’s work was concerned with reappropriating the body of those rendered precarious by eugenicist biopolitics.

in Bodily interventions and intimate labour
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The public meanings of emigration and the shaping of emigrant selves in post- war Ireland, 1945– 1969

This chapter reconstructs the discourse of national crisis generated around mass departure in post-war Ireland and explores how it shaped the production of emigrant subjectivities. Based on a close reading of five oral narratives of leaving, contextualised through discursive analysis of local and national newspaper reportage, parliamentary debates and contemporary novels and travel literature, the chapter examines how subjects interact with a set of popular constructions of the emigrant as they attempt to narrate the particular circumstances and considerations that conditioned their own experiences of leaving for England. As well as showing how understandings of migrant agency were mediated through this ‘politics of exit’, the chapter underscores the emotional dynamics of family life as a key context shaping the personal meanings of departure, providing insight into the complex role played by leaving stories as sites of psychic conflict and integration within migrants’ overall migration narratives. Triggered by the act of recalling their decision to leave, these emotional processes point to the difficulties of leaving in the past, but also to the present self’s ongoing imaginative dialogue with the people and places left behind, and to how this conditions the reconstruction of past experience.

in Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England

Chapter 5 contains two ethnographies emphasising the dialogic approach. The first revolves around a conversation with Tua Ya Pek discussing a new Underworld God of Wealth, and the internal logic underlying the creation of new deities in the expanding Underworld pantheon. The second details a ritual performed by Tua Ya Pek to speed the journey of an aborted ‘foetus spirit’ (taishen) through the Underworld and serves as a comparison to the manipulation of malicious foetus ghosts (ying ling) in Malaysia in Chapter 8. Following the foetus ritual, Tua Ya Pek’s self-perceptions and physiological sensations while possessing his spirit medium, tang-ki, are then discussed, providing first-person insights into altered states of perception during trance possession. Analytically, the chapter weighs up the effects of urban redevelopment and governmental promotion of religious harmony as catalysts to unique forms of temple networking and to Tua Di Ya Pek’s far-reaching reinvention to explain why, in Singapore’s contemporary religious landscape, Hell’s enforcers are perceived as the most appropriate deities to approach to assist both the living and the souls of the recently deceased.

in Voices from the Underworld
Otherness, belonging and the processes of migrant memory

Focusing on the memory of a single racially charged event, namely the 1996 Manchester bomb, this chapter analyses how three migrants negotiate problems of self-positioning and belonging dramatised by the effects of the Troubles in England. The event of the bomb, it is argued, serves as a lens through which to illuminate the wider workings of Irish communal memory of the conflict, including its dynamic relation to English societal narratives on the Troubles and the processes of personal memory production. Attending to the articulation of these dynamics, the chapter explores how the ambivalence of English discourse was mirrored in the internal divisions of Irish communal memory, and how individuals’ personal histories of adaption over the life course conditioned how these divisions were interpreted and incorporated into the self. Personal memories of the bomb were thus not unmediated recollections of the event or its aftermath, but embodied attempts to negotiate this complex discursive landscape in order to manage or resolve the contradictions of identification which the Troubles dramatised. As such, they shine a light upon the Troubles as a significant identity problem for the Irish in post-war England, revealing of the complex, variegated and mutating nature of Irish belongings during the period.

in Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England
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The earliest recollections of Tua Di Ya Pek embodied

Owing to the implausibility of Anxi Chenghuangmiao providing the tradition’s genesis, Chapter 11 returns to Malaysia to trace the modern Underworld tradition’s origins. Following an historic trail of oral accounts, the ethnography turns to 1950s George Town, Penang, and to legends surrounding Malaysia’s eldest City God temple. In the absence of textual records, the oral narratives reproduced represent the earliest recollections regarding not only where but also how the modern Underworld tradition most likely began. Substantiated by a Tua Di Ya Pek mythology from George Town’s eldest Underworld temple, local history and folklore converge, suggesting George Town as the modern Underworld tradition’s most likely point of origin.

in Voices from the Underworld