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Work-in-Progress Sacrifice and Political Legitimation: The Production of a Gendered Social Order Mary Condren For the last twenty-five years images of political violence in Ireland have been splashed across the world: car-bombs, snipers, civil demonstrations , and political parades have provided graphic reminders of deep social unrest. On several key occasions the foreground image in Ireland has been that of the hunger strikers; men who in the self-sacrificial republican tradition starved to death rather than submit to what they considered to be political ignominy. Ostensibly nonviolent, their deaths gave rise to civil disturbances in which many more civilians were killed, and to political mythologies in which the dead martyrs held a vice-grip over the political actions and decisions of those still living. There have been many studies of the significance of such sacrificial violence in contemporary Irish political life relating such motifs to the Irish republican tradition especially as it was formulated in the Easter Irish Rising of 1916 and the resurgence of such discourse in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of 1966. These articles largely focused on the legitimacy of using sacrificial discourse, given its pagan and pre-Christian origins; the misuse of Christian sacrificial imagery and theology; or its "corruption" by Hellenistic ideas. Although recognizing that the Irish were not alone in using this imagery—the First World War had also been a potent force for the generation of sacrificial discourse—the various authors were particularly concerned about the contemporary Irish Republican Army's use of such symbolism as a means of increasing the "sacred debt" and thus gaining popular support.1 Central, therefore, to the republican use of such sacrificial imagery was the question of political legitimation. In these studies no questions were asked about the gendered nature of such violence. Insofar as feminist issues are raised at all, with few exceptions, they tend to revolve around the competing claims of nationalism and feminism.2 Writers assume that women's situation in Ireland is a result of British imperialism; that the struggle against imperialism should supersede all others, and that the liberation of women will naturally follow in a new united Ireland.3 Yet, the question of gender runs through such revolutionary discourse and is intimately related to questions of political legitimation. Padraic Pearse, for instance, held that "bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying © 1995 Journal of Women's History, Vol 6 No. 4/Vol. 7 No. 1 (Winter/Spring) 1995 WORK-IN-PROGRESS: MARY CONDREN 161 thing, and the nation which regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood (emphasis mine)." 4 Statements such as these (and many more to be found throughout World War I) suggest a conscious or subconscious awareness that issues of sacrifice and gender were intimately connected. It has even been argued that wartime patriarchal discourses were a direct response to the early suffragist movement, the first serious threat that patriarchal social relations had experienced, and that had already resulted in an increased incidence of violence against, and male resentment of women.5 In addition , there was the question of representation or theodicy. As one person wrote following the disillusionment of the post-revolutionary period: "The years of nationalist and Catholic triumphalism that followed left us a craven people; but at least we were craven before our own gods."6 An exploration of the significance of this sacrificial discourse is crucial to a feminist historical analysis, and especially of the role of such historical events in the generation of symbolic capital that then exercises such powerful hegemony over the social world. My argument is not that the Irish are more violent or masochistic than others but that the Irish situation provides a case study for looking at some of the fundamental irrationalities governing the social order. My aim will to be to provide a theoretical framework for understanding such phenomena and the application to the Irish situation will be suggestive rather than extensive. I will review current feminist approaches to sacrifice (in the works of Nancy Jay, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray); argue for the necessity to recuperate the importance of the death drives against the privileging of the pleasure principle that has informed much feminist...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 160-189
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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