The circulation of popular culture between Ireland and the USA (18th-21st centuries)


Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne (CIRLEP-EA 4299)
June 16-17-18,  2016

CONVENORS:  Dr Yann Philippe,  Pr Sylvie Mikowski

SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE:  Yannick Bellenger-Morvan (CIRLEP) Timothy Heron (CIRLEP), Tony Tanner (National University Galway, Paula Gilligan (Institute of Arts Design and Technology, Dublin).

CONFIRMED PLENARY SPEAKERS: Professor Diane Negra (University College Dublin), Dr Gerry Smyth (Liverpool John Moores University).

In the system of globalized culture which characterizes the contemporary world, we suggest to draw attention to the following case study: the circulation between Ireland and the United States of popular culture in its various forms (cinema, TV, music, literature, comic books, graphic novels, celebrity culture, video games, fashion, etc.).

The most obvious cause of this circulation has been the long, intense and uninterrupted flow of exchanges between the two nations, which largely precedes the hyper-contemporary process of the globalization of culture: it can at least be traced back to the great migrations of the mid-19th century, but also to the 18th century wave of mostly Protestant migrations.

The long-lasting singularity of exchanges between the US and Ireland puts the current movements of exchange into perspective and calls for them to be questioned. The notion of circulation is an invitation to overlook national borders and to take into consideration exchanges on both sides of the Atlantic, as suggested by current trends in the history of migrations and cultural history. However such a study should not be confined to bi-national exchanges as if they were isolated from the rest of the world but should rather question both the specificity and the universality of the phenomenon. To what extent can these exchanges be assimilated to an early process of “globalization” going back at least to 1870, or even 1750? Did the Irish diaspora, if only because of its size, bring in new forms of transnational culture, which were to spread around the world in the second half of the 20th century? Does migration contribute to a blurring of the boundaries between high and low culture?

Two different types of circulation can be studied in parallel: that of individuals and that of cultural artefacts. Does the chronology of cultural exchanges between Ireland and the USA match the pattern of migratory waves (dwindling numbers in the 1920s and 1930s, a sharp rise in the 1980s followed by a new drop in numbers), or is it independent from them? Does migration, a time-bound phenomenon, induce more permanent cultural exchanges, through such modes of communication as for instance letter-writing, as well as an early impregnation of American culture by Irish culture?

What role does the transatlantic trade play in the circulation between the two countries?

How can the direction of the flow of cultural exchanges be defined? Does it follow the direction of migrations or does it also run the opposite way, considering the fact that from the 19th century onwards, the United States have been exporting their mass popular culture to Ireland? How can the contiguous phenomena of the Americanization of Irish popular culture and of the influence of Ireland over American popular culture be situated? Does Irishness occupy a specific place in American popular culture and if so how can that place be defined? After the interest aroused by such cultural historians as Noel Ignatiev or Diane Negra for Irishness considered from the perspective of race and ethnicity, are any new perspectives opening up regarding the definition of that identity?

If the role of culture in the creation of national imagined national communities has been widely explored on both sides of the Atlantic, it is also necessary to take into account the international dimension of cultural nation-building, so as to understand how the circulation of goods and people reached a momentum at the same time as states were engaging in the process of nation-building,  in  the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries .

What are the various aspects of the ”cultural Atlantic” in the fields of literature and the arts, cinema and music ? What kind of connection does this notion of  cultural Atlantic entertain with the economic and political one? It would be a mistake however to overestimate the capacity of migratory cultural circulations to dissolve national boundaries and identities, or to overlook the flaws and failures of circulatory movements. Any form of cultural transfer induces a process of selection, transformation, adaptation, rewriting, rephrasing, reshaping. In brief, the goal is to avoid the symmetrical perils of self-centered, exceptionalist narratives on one side – which tend to naturalize the boundaries of nationally bounded entities – , and of the in-built circulatory bias of many transnational studies that tend to posit a linear transfer of fixed products in evenly apprehended space on the other side.

Beyond the individuals involved in migration, what kind of agents engineer the cultural exchanges between Ireland and the US? Is it possible to identify an organized system of exchanges between Ireland and the USA, relying for example upon the Catholic Church, migrants’ associations, political institutions, publishing houses, or media companies?

What are the content, forms, genres, tropes, cultural artefacts- of those exchanges? Has there been an evolution of the traditional themes, tropes and stereotypes involving both nations? Have for example the traditional ethnic stereotypes of Paddy, Bridget, Mick or Colleen survived in 20th-21st century popular culture? When do stereotypes become acceptable for the Irish either at home or in America, and when do they feel comfortable enough with them to start laughing at them?

Conversely, what fantasized versions of America circulate in Irish popular culture? How was a postcard image of Ireland peddled across America by Irish migrants through the different waves of migration? When did Ireland on the contrary become fashionable, and Irishness a marker of modernity sold as a trendy commodity? At a time when TV series have become sophisticated innovative cultural products, how do Irish people react to the persistence of representations of them as gangsters (Boardwalk Empire), alcoholic police detectives (The Wire), or even better, gangsters with a history of child abuse at the hands of members of the Catholic clergy (Ray Donovan)? Have stereotypes related to the Irish changed more or less than those involving other minorities in the US?

One may also wonder whether the globalization of the Irish economy, mostly due to such US companies such as Microsoft, Google, Dell, Apple, etc, establishing their European headquarters in Ireland, has not accelerated the Americanization of Irish popular culture and of consumers’ habits. To what extent can a connection be established between this process of Americanization and Ireland’s leap into postmodernity? Was this process undermined by the 2008 economic bust and in what ways was the circulation of popular cultures between Ireland and the USA affected by it?

Proposals, no longer than 350 words, should be sent by FEB. 13, 2016  to

Yann Philippe :
And Sylvie Mikowski :


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