From British rule the independent Irish state inherited an effectively denominational system of university education and a complementary set of science and arts institutions. Under independent rule denominational influence increased and resource starvation prevailed until the end of the 1950s. Then, as the formation of human capital, education began to be treated as an input into economic growth and American initiatives stimulated new research activity. These changes played a vital role in the rebalancing of power between the Catholic Church and the state. Social science, where the Catholic Church had been a monopoly provider, supplies a dramatic case study of the interlinking of this power shift with the process of knowledge generation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chapter 7 concludes the study by first noting how ambivalently clerical sociologists responded to the changes wrought by state planning practice in the 1960s. Demands from champions of such planning that the discipline should begin to play a different societal role are next examined. During the 1970s the Hierarchy combined failure to plan for a continuation of a significant clerical presence among practitioners of sociology with the casting of itself as the conscience of Irish society. The warding off of abortion, contraception and divorce was thereby entrusted to a highly selective but this-worldly `sociological’ empiricism rather than to theological dogmatism. Initially successful, this strategy has become progressively less effective as popular confidence in church leaders has declined dramatically. Detached from the institution the framed the working lives of their disciplinary predecessors, today’s sociologists debate the respective contributions that factors such as higher education levels, economic marginalisation of the poorly educated and the uncovering of hidden histories of the abuse of clerical power have made to this decline.