Submitted for the Degree of Philosophiae Doctor at the University College of North Wales.
Department of Social Theory and Institutions University College of North Wales
Bangor, Gwynedd, North Wales
CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSION: DISCOURSE AND ETHNOGRAPHY
Footnotes to Chapter 6
Writing Behind the Lines
This thesis uses the concept of discourse to produce an original research statement on Catholic Republican community in the Bogside and Creggan of Derry, Northern Ireland. This concept is employed in order to produce a non-conspiratorial account of ideology and of the complexity of struggle in Derry. The thesis is premised on the assumption that there can be no knowledge outside of discourse and that there can be no discourse outside of language or semiosis. A consequence of these assumptions is that both meaning and truth are decentred. 'Meaning' is understood as the production of determinate discursive formations, that is, it is produced as a consequence of discursive struggle. A further consequence is that the task of social inquiry is seen as the semiotic analysis of discursive formations. Such analysis enables the possibility of producing detailed accounts of the effectivity of specific discursive practices in concrete political struggles. Discourse then, produces what can and what must be spoken from a particular discursive place, within a particular discursive formation. 'Speech' is crucially understood as practice. Discourses as importantly, provide the conditions for that which cannot be said within a specific discursive formation, its silences and blindnesses. Section 1 of this thesis reviews work published on Northern Ireland and discusses the consequences of the approach outlined above for a 'critical ethnography'. Section 2 of this thesis outlines the main characteristics of the discourses of the British State and Irish Republicanism. The third section of the thesis examines the social praxis of resistance to the state in a specific Republican community, the Bogside/Creggan area of Derry. The thesis concludes with a commentary on discourse and ethnography. The significance of this thesis lies in its use of ethnographic methodologies to analyse Northern Ireland and the framing of ethnographic inquiry within post-structuralist discourse theory.
'Don you tel dem trowth dai doyn belif yoo' [PI]O (Gunew, 1985: 142)
Introductions, so I am told, this is my first, are always difficult to write. My task is even more difficult than simply overcoming my inexperience. This thesis attempts to discuss language and its only vehicle is that same language, with all its slippages, ironies and ellipses. It attempts to discuss a situation which some people rightly understand to be complex, yet to which they nevertheless seek a simple solution. It attempts to discuss what sociologists euphemistically call a 'live' situation; it attempts to write a situation where action and experience seem at first sight to be the things of greatest moment. It attempts to pick its way through a minefield of selective amnesia and viewpoint, when it must of necessity be itself selective and 'voiced'. It attempts to re-produce (or at least re-present) a 'reality' it has explicitly theorised as unreproducible, as non-originary. The problem lies in wishing to deny 'experience' as origin yet to premise an account on the fact that ' I was there'. It wishes to speak, to say something, yet is nervous of entering a sea of uncontrollable, unmasterable discourse. It wishes to 'say', and yet is anxious about all which it will 'say' by not saying. It attempts to be lucid and clear to allow its reader(s) to understand, to make sense; yet it wishes to do this in a manner which is constantly self-reflexive.
In short, the thesis wishes to 'account for', yet to do so in a way that foregrounds the not-so-gentle violence of the writer, the writing process and the necessary, monstrous ellipses and aphasia of the process of representation. It wishes to be 'scientific' and 'rigorous' yet is conditioned by passion and its own will to truth. Perhaps my greatest difficulty, apart from the problem of confessing to having difficulties and thus forcing the unspeakable, unwritable dimensions of the research process onto my readers, is that few believe me when I say there is no absolute truth to be had. But, of course, to state as a truth that there is no truth to be had is not only to fall into paradox but to forget politics. The truth is that truth has to be made, not found.
I should first like to thank all the people of Derry who were so kind and generous to me during my stay there. The people of Bogside and the Creggan, more than any, made this work possible; those from the Derry Youth and Community Workshop, both tutors and trainees, deserve a special thank you. The job of ethnographer, 'stumbling from lamplight to lamplight' (Simons, 1980: 100) is never without difficulties. Those mentioned above made, in some many ways on so many different levels, my task much easier and more pleasant than it might have been. Paddy Doherty and Mary Nelis were especially helpful, as were Len Green, Colm Cavanagh, Sile, Jenifer, Stanley, Kieran, Neil McCaul, Eamonn Deane, Liam Nelis and Mitchell McLaughlin.
Thanks are also due to individuals in the Department of Social Theory and Institutions for help and support: John Borland, my supervisor, I thank for his patient and enthusiastic guidance; Glyn Williams was a constant source of encouragement and intellectual stimulation: I thank him for that. Thanks also to Bob Harris and to Pat and Julie. Barbara McGinn deserves extra special thanks for her warm but always critical support. It is commonplace to remark that students always learn more from other students than from those paid to teach them. I was very lucky to have Barbara as a postgraduate colleague for a large part of my post field-work writing blues.
There are many colleagues, students and friends to be thanked at Murdoch University: among those who should be singled out for particular mention are most especially Anna Gibbs and Bill Green.
I am grateful also to Bob Hodge, Noel King, Pierre Achard and especially Jay. To all these, and those I have not mentioned but should have, thank you very much.
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