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REVIEWS AND COMMENTARY FROM HOLISM TO CONTEXT: RECENT ANTHROPOLOGICAL ANALYSES OF NORTHERN IRELAND MARILYN COHEN Since the early 1980s, anthropologists investigating the north of Ireland have been offering innovative approaches to the analysis of its culture and society with findings relevant to the broad spectrum of Irish Studies. Similar to other social scientists conducting research in violent contexts, some anthropologists openly confront the complex ethical issues inherent in conducting ethnography in such fieldsites. Others are attempting to counter the insularity and marginalization of Irish Studies by emphasizing comparison and interdisciplinarity.1 In this review essay, I discuss these anthropological contributions with the intent of increasing dialogue between anthropologists and other scholars investigating the North. Such dialogue has been stimulated over the past decade by a methodological shift in anthropology away from holism, a functionalist approach that fixes the anthropological gaze on existing connections among interdependent parts of a social system, toward approaches that analyze forces of historical change and particular problems in historically specific contexts. For fifty years anthropologists investigating rural life in Ireland were guided by the structural functionalist paradigm that privileges social stability and the present over conflict and the past.2 This approach served to define the discipline and practice of anthropology while insulating it from other disciplines, particularly history. Although the enduring conflicts RECENT ANTHROPOLOGICAL ANALYSES OF NORTHERN IRELAND 217 1 The author would like to thank Hastings Donnan, Seamas Ó Siochain, and Jane Gray for bibliographic assistance. For discussions of anthropology in Irish Studies, see Marilyn Cohen, “Introduction,” in Marilyn Cohen (ed.), The Warp of Ulster’s Past: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Irish Linen Industry 1700–1920 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996); Marilyn Cohen, “Beyond Boundaries: Toward an Interdisciplinary Irish Studies,” Éire-Ireland 31:1, 2 (1996), 137–62. 2 Thomas M. Wilson, “From County Clare to the Common Market: Perspectives in Irish Ethnography,” Anthropological Quarterly 57:1 (1984), 3. associated with the formation of the Northern Irish State should have exposed the heuristic weaknesses of ahistorical theories, the perseverance of functionalism, according to Hastings Donnan and Graham McFarlane, generated instead a dichotomy between anthropologists working in northern rural areas and urban locales.3 Those working in rural locales during the 1970s and early 1980s retained functionalism emphasizing, in varying degrees, forces promoting stability between Catholics and Protestants.4 Although division between these groups structured rural social life in the forms of religious endogamy (i.e., marriage within a social group), highly visible forms of symbolic opposition, segregated schooling, employment and social spaces, anthropologists argued that peaceful co-existence was maintained by the strength of cultural values and norms associated with “informal social organization” including decency, neighborliness, and cooperation. These norms tended to control, diminish, and denigrate openly confrontational behavior. Anthropology is a discipline defined by its core concepts and themes, and by its signature research method—ethnography. Anthropologists have traditionally stressed the universal significance of kinship in the organization of human social life. Thus, persistent themes in the ethnography of rural Ireland for more than a generation after Conrad Arsenberg and Solin Kimball’s pioneering study of County Clare in the 1930s were the structure and functions of Irish kinship relations. The dominant model of the RECENT ANTHROPOLOGICAL ANALYSES OF NORTHERN IRELAND 218 3 Chris Curtin, Hastings Donnan, and Thomas M. Wilson (eds.), “Anthropology and Urban Settings,” Irish Urban Cultures (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast, 1993), 8–9. 4 Elliot Leyton, “Conscious Models and Dispute Regulation in an Ulster Village,” Man 1:4 (December 1966), 534–42; Elliot Leyton, “Opposition and Integration in Ulster,” Man 9:2 (June 1974), 185–98; Rosemary Harris, Prejudice and Tolerance in Ulster (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1972), 48–58; Anthony D. Buckley, A Gentle People: A Study of a Peaceful Community in Northern Ireland (Cultra: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, 1982); Anthony D. Buckley, “‘You only live in your body’: Peace, Exchange and the Siege Mentality in Ulster,” in Signe Howell and Roy Willis (eds.), Societies at Peace: Anthropological Perspectives (London: Routledge, 1989); Mary S. Bufwack, Village Without Violence (Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Co., 1982); Sidsel S. Larsen, “The Two Sides of the House: Identity and Social Organisation in Kilbroney, Northern Ireland...


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