Commemoration: Contexts & Concepts

This project deals with the theme of rituals of commemoration and memory. Examined from our present position at the ‘end of history’, this period of centenaries offers an opportunity to reflect on how our society has been shaped by the past, and how our means of commemorating the past shapes our society.

This project is led by Dr John O’Brien (WIT) and Dr Lorcan Byrne (UCC).

Rituals and practices of commemoration are important as they are a source of ethics, shape collective identity and foster solidarity, create traditions, give meaning through providing a sense of where we have come from and where we are going, they articulate the material interests of group members and facilitate collective action, they represent a way of processing traumatic events of the past, and are potentially a means of defusing conflict through dealing with shame and anger over past actions. Such rituals and practices are particularly important in the context of our current age of permanent presentness and permanent change (Bauman 1999), based on an anomic, post-traditional culture, driven by the expansion of mediated experiences and rapid change, in which ethical memory has become clouded.

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The Social Pathologies of Contemporary Civilization

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This project explores the nature of contemporary malaises, diseases, illnesses and syndromes in their relation to cultural pathologies of the social body and disorders of the collective esprit de corps of contemporary society.

Anders Petersen (Aalborg University, DK), Bert van den Berg (Erasmus University, NL) and Kieran Keohane (UCC) lead this project.

The central research hypothesis is that contemporary epidemics, such as depression, are to be understood in the light of individual and collective experiences of profound social changes and cultural shifts in our civilization and of the social hegemonization of the biomedical – psychiatric diagnostic culture. Multi-disciplinary in approach the project addresses questions of how these conditions are manifest at the level of individual bodies and minds, as well as the ‘bodies politic’. A central focus is on the emergence of a new kind subject.

We live in so-called ‘neo-liberal’ times in which we experience an intense, marketed pressure to ‘be oneself’, as well as an extreme difficulty to ‘be a self’; a ‘liberated’ ‘self-forming’ subject: hyper-individuated, ahistorical, acritical, amoral, and amnesiac; but also a vulnerable, suffering subject in need of care.

Ethnographic & Human Centred Research

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“…as flies in a jar of honey, trapped in a single paradigm of thought from which we are finding it difficult to escape.  We perceive the need for new thinking that will source new policies that address the human challenges of social inclusion, poverty elimination, gender equality, public health, and security in its widest sense…”                        

– President Michael D. Higgins, New York University address 28/9/2015

Dr. James Cuffe and Dr. Jill O’Mahony set up the EHCR to provide research and training for industry under the rubric of the moral economy. The Ethnographic & Human Centred Research Group works on developing and aiding ethical relationships between consumers and business. This type of applied anthropology articulates concerns that economic forces can override moral behaviour which is conducive, indeed necessary, to establishing a thriving, flourishing society. Moral economies are sustained by central anthropological concepts such as sacrifice (R. Girard) and reciprocity (M. Mauss). Projects undertaken by this research group explicate the anthropological foundations of a moral economy in commercial settings. To date our projects have included providing CPD training for the insurance sector, investigating the relationship between the agricultural community and the Irish state, investigating marine communities and economic flexibility, and, funding PhD research through scholarships.

Ethnography for business

Ethnography places the human at the Centre of its research and placing the human at the Centre means socially informed policies and culturally relevant products for consumers.  Anthropologists and ethnographers are employed by large multinational corporations as consultants and researchers for this reason, they are tasked with establishing relationships between ‘big data’ and lived experience. Going behind quantitative data industries that value the customer experience (User Experience – UX design & research) seek trained specialists to go to the ‘field’ (‘deep-diving’ in American marketing parlance) to provide interpretative insights based on human behaviours. These specialists, trained in qualitative research methods, seek out the social dimension and cultural contexts of human behaviour in relation to a given subject or product or behaviour.

Ethics for business

Economics is a driving force for both government policy and market research, numbers carry weight, however the failure to account for the reception of final products and policies can result in spectacular failures. The mishandling of the introduction of water charges in Ireland is a good example. Economically – goes the argument  – the introduction of these charges is necessary. The social argument was never adequately made and therefore the social dimensions not well understood by the wider public. This led to a loss of the trust and good-will resulting in clear political consequences. By bringing the need to integrate social science perspectives into sharp relief, this research group will solicit and market itself as a consultancy to conduct social and culturally important  research. This will include an engagement with both state and commercial sectors, but will also incorporate the running of training courses for industry and academics alike, in best practice ethnographic research. The research group will further support members in continuous up-skilling where appropriate by attending training courses and sharing expertise in seminars.

This research group within the Centre is led by Dr. James Cuffe and Dr. Jill O’Mahony.