The empirical turn of Irish Catholic sociology in the 1950s
Peter Murray and Maria Feeney
Catholic sociology in Ireland changed significantly during the 1950s and 1960s. This change had four principal strands. First, the joint action of the Maynooth Professor and Muintir na Tire to secure European and US help in fostering rural sociology. Second, the use made by Archbishop McQuaid of his power within UCD to establish social science teaching in the state’s largest university. Third, the tension between useful and critical social science that emerged as the growing number of Irish Catholic immigrants in an increasingly secular Britain became a focal point for research proposals. Finally, the manner in which Ireland’s initially abundant, but later faltering, supply of religious vocations and the maximization of its clergy’s contribution to worldwide Catholic missionary efforts was studied. All of these strands are tied together by a broad turn away from exclusive preoccupation with ethical principles and towards increasing involvement in empirical social investigations.
Chapter 5 returns the focus to the social sciences. The injection of resources into Ireland’s scientific research infrastructure at the end of the 1950s created two new social science research producers – the Rural Economy Division of An Foras Taluntais and the Economic Research Institute. In the former rural sociology took a recognised place alongside a variety of other agriculture-relevant disciplines. In the latter the distinction between the economic and the social was a blurred and indistinct one. During the first half 1960s the unenclosed field of social research was to be the subject of a series of proposals from actors located within the Catholic social movement to a variety of government departments for the creation of research centres or institutes. This chapter details these proposals and the fate of consistent refusal with which they met. Empirical social research in Ireland was funded and organised in a manner that effectively excluded the participation of any Catholic social movement actor without a university base when the government approved the transformation of the Economic Research Institute into the Economic and Social Research Institute. This approval for a central social research organisation was crucially linked to the project of extending the scope of government programming to encompass social development as well as economic expansion.
Underlying the institutional politics of the Irish university question was the clash between scientific rationalism a papal-championed revival of the scholastic philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. But in social science, as the growth of a Catholic social movement and a succession of Irish-published sociology textbooks illustrate, a natural law perspective long went unchallenged by secular alternatives. It was Catholic clerical academics who first embraced an empirical approach to social science in the Ireland of the 1950s but in the succeeding decade they found themselves marginalised by a new breed of state technocrats who perceived empirical social research as a useful tool for their planning project.
Chapter 6 examines the relationship between the programming state and social research. Initial crisis conditions had enabled increased social spending to be left off the government programmers’ agenda. The changed politics of increasing prosperity, as well as their own expanding ambitions, meant that this could no longer be sustained during the 1960s. Ireland’s social security provision became an object of both political debate and social scientific analysis in this period. The official response to this ferment was a Social Development Programme to which the ESRI was initially seen as a vital provider of inputs. During the 1960s a Save the West movement challenged both programmers and governing politicians. The official response to this challenge involved new structures for rural development with which the social sciences interacted as well as expanded social welfare provision to a class of smallholders whose resilience would later become an object of significant sociological study. As the 1960s proceeded, however, Irish state plans and programmes had to contend with an increasingly difficult external environment with which they ultimately failed to cope.
A key reason why the Irish Catholic social movement failed to realize its project of reconstruction was because a conservative Hierarchy baulked at the radicalism of some of its proposals. Critiques of banking and finance capital formulated within the movement were particularly divisive and on these issues ecclesiastical disciplinary mechanisms were invoked to silence some of its radical voices. During the Second World War/Emergency period communist influence became the movement’s overriding concern and Catholic adult education initiatives were launched to counter this threat. To provide such education a number of new institutions with a social science focus – the Catholic Workers College and the Dublin Institute of Catholic Sociology – were created alongside the colleges of the National University of Ireland.
This chapter broadens out the focus from Irish sociology to examine Irish scientific research. Its central theme is the way in which resources provided or jointly controlled by US actors underpinned the development of a modern scientific research infrastructure within the state in the period after the Second World War. The scientific fields principally affected by these financial injections were applied research related to agriculture, industry and economics. Money flowed into these fields from two major sources: the Grant Counterpart Fund, which was a legacy of Ireland’s participation in the Marshall Plan, and private US foundations. In other fields, such as management and `human sciences’, significant resource transfers took place in kind as much as in cash through productivity and technical assistance programmes. The infrastructure developments that clustered in the late 1950s and the early 1960s interacted with older scientific institutional configurations laid down under the Union with Britain and subjected to emaciating neglect after the advent of political independence.
This chapter begins by asking how sociology can respond to the abnormal and tragic transnational politics of Palestine-Israel. I discuss how my ethnographic approach challenges the violent abstractions of dominant political theories and offers a distinctive contribution to the field of the ‘anthropology of ethics’. I then address a series of questions arising from my research into campus struggles around Palestine-Israel. First, what social conditions enable ethical modes of relationality to develop between student activists? Second, how can a sense of ethical relations as responsive to the singularity and uncertainty of ‘the other’ come into tension with the political expression of moral commitment and coherent action? And how can more complex, localised ethico-political responses be scaled up to the level of more broadly mediated communications, in which reductionist, symbolic representations flourish? Grounding my responses to these questions in an ethnographic vignette, I show how an easily overlooked interpersonal encounter carries the potential to transfigure the seemingly intractable tensions between ‘free speech’, ‘good relations’ and ‘political activism’ within universities. In this way, this book concludes with an - at once - philosophical and ethnographic response to the continued presence of the Palestine-Israel conflict within British campuses.
This chapter provides a brief history of the campus politics of Palestine-Israel in Britain alongside a genealogical account of how the stakes, boundaries and grammars of these struggles have been represented in the media, policy interventions and research. Taking up Nancy Fraser’s emphasis on the injustices produced by framings of justice, I show how these public representations have made liberal, secular and nationalist assumptions so that they have been unable to account for the limits of consensus or attend to students’ complex investments in the Palestine-Israel conflict. In the process, I situate these campus struggles in relation to historically evolving relations within British society, the emergent geo-politics of the ‘War on Terror’, and the legacies of the Holocaust and British imperialism. Finally, I consider how public constructions of this as an ‘imported’, ‘ethno-religious’ conflict have failed to address the role played by the British university in shaping these dynamics. I discuss how, in a post-imperial, globalising world, universities in Britain have become conflicted in their public role, creating different challenges for institutions operating in a fragmented higher education field. I conclude by explaining my multi-sited approach in this study, describing my selection of case study institutions and introducing these field-sites.
This chapter explores ethnography as an ethical process. I begin with the relationship between ethics, epistemology and social theory in approaching questions of justice. Through a detailed account of the development of my fieldwork, I explore the ethical limitations of binary theoretical languages for communicating about the Palestine-Israel conflict and begin to imagine and inhabit alternative vocabularies, which I learnt in my relationships with students. By attending to themes of proximity and distance in fieldwork, I explore how, as ethnographers, we never fully know ourselves but rather engage in a process of learning. This insight is shaped and exemplified through an account of my own ambivalences, exclusions and transformations in the research process; I go through a process of renaming myself as I learn to engage with my research subjects differently. This becomes part of a questioning of moral traditions, embedded in the university itself, that call on people to abstract themselves from everyday relationships so that they can exist as rational, ‘objective’ moral selves. As I introduce alternative resources for approaching questions of ethics and justice, I also build on Judith Butler’s appeal towards post-secular diasporic traditions as offering important ethico-political resources for responding to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
This chapter begins with an ethnographic account of the high profile student conflicts around free speech and racism which unfolded across UK campuses in 2008-9 in response to ‘Operation Cast Lead’. The discussion focuses on the unsettling quality of these events in order to introduce a number of key elements in the framing of this study. First, the chapter highlights how campus struggles around Palestine-Israel are not only constituted through competing discourses in the abstract but are also the locus of intense feelings, contradictory desires and visceral interpersonal encounters. Second, is argued that these raging campus conflicts over Palestine-Israel involve the destabilisation of established spatial boundaries under conditions of globalisation and so can be helpfully connected to Nancy Fraser’s theory of ‘abnormal justice’. Third, by highlighting how this case is also the focus of disputed historical claims, the chapter introduces helpful resonances with aesthetic notions of the tragic. The chapter concludes by introducing some key interlocutors - Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell and Veena Das - who will help with a key task of this book: to develop an ethnographic imagination attentive to movements between the discursive / embodied and public / personal dimensions of democratic life.