The New Interculturalism: Race, Gender and Immigration in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland
"There are wonders that I want to perform" says the name of Ireland's first African-Irish theatre company, Arambe Productions, which derives from the Nigerian saying ara m be ti mo fe da. The company performs stories of the African-Irish community, yet their dramatizations ponder a larger reality of an Ireland that has gone from a country of emigrants to a nation re-shaped by inward-migration. The sudden shifts brought on by the mid-1990s Celtic Tiger economic boom and unprecedented immigration have plunged the Irish population at large into a state of wondering. What does it mean that the non-Irish born population residing in the Republic grew from less than 5% to more than 12% in a little over a decade? How will Ireland model a vision of interculturalism that avoids the failures of multiculturalism in Western Europe and the U.S.? How have race and gender created a hierarchy amongst migrant communities and subjects? Through performance, Arambe Productions transforms such wondering into a process of "working together," signaling a second meaning of the company's name: harambee in Swahili means "work together." The company's collective labors aim to create a post-Celtic Tiger intercultural vision of Irish identity and belonging. But can this vision be performed into existence?
My dissertation project, "Performing the `New Irish': Race, Gender, and Interculturalism in the Post-Celtic Tiger Nation," argues that performance is at the center of conceptualizing interculturalism as social policy, philosophy and aspiration in contemporary Ireland. While some might see interculturalism as referring to two cultures meeting in the moment of performance, I argue, rather, that in Ireland today, the term refers to the process of inventing a new pluralistic Irish identity, one that accommodates Irish-born as well as migrant communities. Irish interculturalism connotes practical policy measures regarding integration, access to social benefits and services, and public eduction about racism, but it also translates into cultural initiatives that stress the arts as a zone of contact between diverse populations.
My research examines theatres, public festivals and arts/social organizations that make use of performance to theorize interculturalism as embodied practice. Theatre companies like Arambe, Camino de Orula Productions, Calypso Productions, and NGOs like Spirasi, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, and the Forum on Migration and Communication bid for cultural recognition of minority groups through performance, arts, and media activism. These efforts are endorsed by diverse governmental and non-governmental bodies, which range from the Office of the Minister of Integration, the now-defunct National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, to the Irish government Task Force on Active Citizenship. The diverse sponsors and forums for these projects, however, generate tension between state-managed visions for interculturalism and the goals of community-based or non-governmental groups advocating for an interculturalism from below which remains critical of the Irish state's treatment of minority groups and management of inward-migration more generally.
My investigation of the interplay between social and aesthetic theories of interculturalism exposes the embodied challenges of analyzing relationships between the Irish state, minority communities and the nation at large. Using ethnographic methods, I position performance as the crucible in which Irish theories of interculturalism are tested and reimagined through the work of bodies who must bear the labor of social change. I trace the struggles to craft an analytical language around race and ethnicity in Ireland frames these projects, and how the intersection of gender with these former categories complicates this task. My sites range from the Abbey Theatre stage to the Migrant Rights Center's photography exhibit by domestic workers and the Dublin St. Patrick's Festival Parade in order to capture the diversity of venues in which performing bodies are called upon to embody post-Celtic Tiger social change. My case studies interrogate whether these projects have the power to push against material limits of social access, paths to citizenship and racism/discrimination and reveal that these performances frequently reinscribe relationships of power between minority and Irish-born communities by falling back on top-down models of interculturalism. Perhaps it is through the reiterative power of performance that the wonders of an egalitarian Irish interculturalism can come into being, but these moving bodies must first be situated in broader matrixes of power which index the role of race and gender in shaping the future of post-Celtic Tiger Irish identities.