Foreign bodies in the river of sound : seeking identity and Irish traditional music

O'Shea, Helen F. (2005) Foreign bodies in the river of sound : seeking identity and Irish traditional music. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis investigates how musicians who play Irish traditional music, but do not identify themselves as Irish, understand their relationship to Irishness. The research was designed to interrogate frameworks for theorizing the articulation of music, identity and nation, emphasizing the need to understand both music and identity as socially constitutive processes. Writing from the viewpoint that knowledge is embedded in discourse, it argues that certain repertories and styles have been regards as symbolically representing and expressing essentially Irish characteristics mythologized within colonial discourse and inverted within nationalist discourse. These understandings have been extended into the present and reinforced through the commodification of Irish culture. Analyses of participant-observation data in Melbourne, Australia, indicate that young Australian musicians understand Irishness as a citational ethnicity, depoliticized and commodified, while older Australians value more highly the embodied musical performance of musicians from Ireland. Australian musicians who had made 'pilgrimage' to Ireland were relatively confined within a world of summer schools and pub sessions linked to the tourism industry's mythologizing of an 'Ireland of the Welcomes'. Extended fieldwork among Australians and other foreign musicians who had re-located to Ireland found current theorizations of musical community inadequate to account for difference and disharmony in group performances. Foreign musicians' failure to assimilate musically ans socially was attributed to their status as strangers, their tactics and their perception by Irish musicians. While there is no material barrier to foreigners playing Irish traditional music, an exploration of the relationship between music and place in the construction of Irish traditional music concluded that, even where musicians attempt to draw outsiders into this bounded area of Irish culture, the authenticating discourses that define it as essentially Irish impede their success.

Additional Information

This thesis has been deposited in the libraries at Victoria University, Melbourne; University of Limerick; Trinity College, Dublin; University College, Cork; and the Irish Traditional Music Archive. The accompanying CD can be accessed at these libraries.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 220000 Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts-General
Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Historical > FOR Classification > 2002 Cultural Studies
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords Irish music, identity, style, gender, place, nation, culture
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