The Clash, the dawn of neoliberalism and the political promise of punk
Editor: Colin Coulter

There are few bands that have enjoyed as much adoration or endured as much criticism as The Clash. Emerging originally as a principal voice in the burgeoning mid-1970s London punk scene, The Clash would soon cast off the fetters that restricted many of their peers, their musical tastes becoming ever more eclectic and their political field of vision ever more global. In the process, the band would widen the cultural and political horizons of their audience and would for many come to exemplify the power of popular music to change minds. While The Clash would attract a great deal of critical acclaim, this would always be less than universal. In the eyes of their many detractors, the radical political stance of the band was little more than self-mythologising posture, neatly serving the culture industries in their perennial goal of ‘turning rebellion into money’. In this collection, scholars working out of very different contexts and academic traditions set out to examine this most complex and controversial of bands. Across a dozen original essays, the authors provide fresh insights into the music and politics of The Clash in ways that are by turns both critical and celebratory. While the book seeks to locate the band in their own time and place, it also underlines their enduring and indeed very contemporary significance. A common thread running though the essays here is that the songs The Clash wrote four decades ago to document a previous, pivotal moment of geopolitical transformation have a remarkable resonance in our own current moment of prolonged global turbulence. Written in a style that is both scholarly and accessible, Working for the clampdown offers compelling and original takes on one of the most influential and incendiary acts ever to grace a stage.

An introduction to the book

This chapter presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book illuminates numerous dubious assumptions that inform the hitherto hegemonic readings of the nature of contemporary southern Irish society. It develops the social partnership which represents a ruse that acts to conceal and advance the interests of the most privileged sections of southern Irish society. The book argues that the institutions and agents of the state seem unable to conceive of those seeking asylum in the Irish Republic as being other than a burden. It represents an endeavour to see whether it is possible to have a fruitful critical dialogue between Marxism and postmodernism. The book illustrates the lives of people who reside in the twenty-six counties which exhibit all the pressures and dislocations that are the hallmark of the modern world.

in The end of Irish history?
An introduction to the book

The 'fireside chat' that dominated the media coverage of the high-tech conference offers certain indelible insights into the version of Irish society that has been forged out of the experience of crisis and austerity. The imposition of the austerity agenda has necessarily posed serious ideological difficulties for the Irish state. While the austerity agenda is invariably depicted as serving the interests of all, in reality it has served the interests of only a few. The measures introduced by the Irish government have ensured that the neoliberal crisis would have neoliberal solutions. In their important critique of the Celtic Tiger period, Peadar Kirby notes that the ideas that have dominated public life in Ireland since the 1960s have chimed with the tenets of 'modernisation theory'.

in Ireland under austerity
The Smiths, the death of pop and the not so hidden injuries of class

The songs that The Smiths committed to vinyl underscore not only the essential virtue of being working class but also its abiding and essential indignities. Indeed, this distinct sense of ambivalence often appears in the same lyric. This is arguably the case in the track 'I Want The One I Can't Have', which features the remarkable lines: 'A double bed and a stalwart lover for sure / These are the riches of the poor'. The sense of personal humiliation and ontological damage that pervade Morrissey's singular lyrics clearly chime with the concerns that appear in the writings of the sociologist Richard Sennett. The words that Morrissey added to the incandescent music of Johnny Marr deal with the themes of disease, decay and despair. In the songbook of The Smiths, the abiding psychological scars that are the often concealed and unspoken wounds of bourgeois society begin to flail into public view.

in Why pamper life's complexities?
An introduction

The introduction sets out in part to locate The Clash in their own very specific historical context. It is argued that the band offer one of the most compelling cultural documents of that moment when the crisis of social democracy paved the way for what would in time be termed the ‘neoliberal revolution’. While The Clash may well have chronicled the political defeats of the past, the body of work that they bequeathed to us represents perhaps one of the resources that might facilitate a rather more progressive political future. There has been no time since the band parted company when their songbook has seemed more relevant. It is acknowledged that there are certain dangers in seeking to take radical artists like The Clash out of their own place and time. Not the least of these is the possibility that we might mimic the culture industries in canonising the band in ways that airbrush out their critical political perspective. The chapter concludes, however, that there are theoretical resources that allow us to avoid this pitfall and to embrace The Clash as though they were a contemporary band, documenting our own current period of global economic and political crisis.

in Working for the clampdown
The Clash, left melancholia and the politics of redemption

The appeal of The Clash often seems to hinge upon the band’s passionate denunciations of a world ever more animated by the impulses of profit and war. While the band are well known for their sense of passion, this chapter suggests they should also be remembered for their profound, but often overlooked, sense of pathos. This thread of melancholy is traced to twin principal sources: the autobiographical detail of the peripatetic and abandoned figure of Joe Strummer, and the ever more despondent geopolitical context in which the charismatic front man crafted his indelible lyrics. While the songs that The Clash committed to vinyl might well be heard as documents of political defeat, it is perhaps that particular feel of pathos that lends them their abiding, maybe even contemporary, political power. Drawing on the work of cultural theorist Walter Benjamin, it is argued that the vein of ‘left melancholia’ that courses through the band’s back catalogue identifies them as resources for political struggle in the here and now, requiring us to act as ‘ragpickers’ gathering the cultural tributes from our dismal past that map a path towards a more progressive future.

in Working for the clampdown
Critical reflections on the Celtic Tiger

Sexual images and innuendo have become commonplace in contemporary advertising; they often fail to register in any meaningful way with the audience. This book examines the essentially racist stereotypes through which Irish people have conventionally been regarded have been increasingly challenged and even displaced perhaps by a sequence of rather more complimentary perspectives. The various developments that are signified within the figure of the Celtic Tiger might be considered to have radically altered the field of political possibility in Ireland. The enormous cuts in public expenditure that marked this period are held to have established a desirable, stable macroeconomic environment. The Celtic Tiger shows that one can use the rhetoric about 'social solidarity' while actually implementing policies which increase class polarisation. The book discusses the current hegemonic construction of Ireland as an open, cosmopolitan, multicultural, tourist-friendly society. The two central pieces of legislation which currently shape Irish immigration policy are the 1996 Refugee Act and the Immigration Bill of 1999. The book offers a critical examination of the realities of the Celtic Tiger for Irish women. Processes of nation state formation invariably invoke homogeneous narratives of ethnicity and national identity. To invoke a collective subject of contemporary Ireland rhetorically is to make such a strategic utopian political assumption. For the last few hundred years, the Gaeltacht has exemplified the crisis of Irish modernity. Culture becomes capital, and vice versa, while political action increasingly consists of the struggle to maintain democratic autonomy in the face of global market forces.

Neoliberal crisis, neoliberal solutions

Once held up as a 'poster child' for untrammeled capitalist globalisation, the Irish Republic has more recently come to represent a cautionary tale for those tempted to tread the same neoliberal path. The crash in the world economy had especially grave repercussions for Ireland, and a series of austerity measures has seen the country endure the most substantial 'adjustment' ever experienced in a developed society during peacetime. This book delineates the reactionary course that Ireland has followed since the ignominious demise of the Celtic Tiger. It argues that the forces of neoliberalism have employed the economic crisis they caused to advance policies that are in their own narrow interests, and that the host of regressive measures imposed since the onset of global recession has fundamentally restructured Irish society. The book discusses the mechanisms by which finance in Ireland sustains and reproduces itself, in particular how it was able to protect itself during the 2008 crisis. Property was at the centre of the second phase of the Celtic Tiger boom after US investment in manufacturing began to decline, leading to the Irish economic crash. The years since the onset of the recession in Ireland in 2008 have been characterised not by passivity and quietism but by extreme violence. In December 2009 as part of the first wave of austerity, the Community Development Project was informed that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs proposed not to continue funding the project beyond the end of 2009.

A society in transition

In the last generation, Northern Ireland has undergone a tortuous yet remarkable process of social and political change. This book explores what Northern Ireland was like during violent conflict, and whether the situation is any different 'after the troubles'. It examines the political developments and divisions essential to a critical understanding of the nature of Northern Irish society. The book focuses a number of elements of popular cultural practice that are often overlooked when social scientists address Northern Ireland. Sport plays an important though often dispiriting role that in Northern Irish society. It looks at some of the problems and ways forward for transitional justice and memory work in Northern Ireland. The book reviews the history of strategic spatial policy in post-partition Northern Ireland. It draws on feminist scholarship to expose how explanations of the ethnic conflict that ignore gender are always partial. The book illustrates how feminist and gender politics are part of the political culture of Northern Ireland and offers conceptual resources to academics engaged in investigating the conflict. It further provides a brief outline of critical race theory (CRT) and the critique of whiteness therein before using it as a basis from which to examine the research literature on racism in Northern Ireland. The course that popular music has taken in Northern Ireland during 1990s of the peace process, is also considered and the most crucial issues of the peace process, police reform, are examined.

Essays on The Smiths

This book seeks to offer a rather wider frame of analysis than is typically adopted in accounts of the nature and significance of The Smiths. It focuses on the Catholic and broader religious dimensions of The Smiths. The book explores the theme of suicide in the songs of The Smiths. It also seeks to examine how the kitchen-sink dramas of the early 1960s influenced Morrissey's writing. The book proposes that beyond the literal references in his lyrics there lies a sensibility at the heart of these films akin to the one found in his poetic impulse. The book expands the argument with some concluding thoughts on how cinema has 'returned the favour' by employing The Smiths' songs in various ways. It examines the particular forms of national identity that are imagined in the work of The Smiths. The book ranges from class, sexuality, Catholicism, and Thatcherism to musical poetics and fandom. It then focuses on lyrics, interviews, the city of Manchester, cultural iconography, and the cult of Morrissey. The distinctive sense of Englishness that pervades the lyrics, interviews, and cover art of the band is located within a specific tradition of popular culture from which they have drawn and to which they have contributed a great deal. The book breaches the standard confines of music history, rock biography, and pop culture studies to give a sustained critical analysis of the band that is timely and illuminating.