Margins and marginalities in France and Ireland

A Socio-cultural Perspective

by Catherine Maignant (Volume editor) Sylvian Tondeur (Volume editor) Déborah Vandewoude (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection XII, 312 Pages


French and Irish societies have been characterised in recent times by major upheavals brought about by the threat of terrorism, the collapse of economic and social structures, mass migration, the diminished role of organised religion, the ghettoization of minorities, increased homelessness and a general distrust of institutions. As a result of all these changes, the margins are now beginning to attract more and more people who find themselves placed in disadvantaged circumstances through political upheaval and/or economic or cultural necessity.In this volume, the sociocultural perspective theory which has emerged in the field of social psychology (as put forward by Catherine Sanderson)is extended to the study of life on the edge in France and Ireland. The effects of sociocultural factors on individual and collective identities are assessed in two societies that share a large number of characteristics as members of the European Union, but still retain specificities resulting from the impact of distinct historically shapedsociocultural forces. Three test research areas appear particularly significant to assess change: human rights, marginalisation and exclusion; food and drink on the margins;the links between diaspora and marginality. These areasare examined from an interdisciplinary perspective in the hope of proposingground-breaking hypotheses that might assist us to understand the world we live in.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Margins and Marginalities in Ireland and France: A Sociocultural Perspective
  • PART I Human Rights, Marginalisation and Exclusion
  • 1 The Meaning of Nothing: Curating Empty Archives of Child Maltreatment from the Margins
  • 2 Transformation and Creativity from the Margins to the Centre: Homelessness and Liminality in Ireland and France
  • 3 La France fracturée: From La marche des Beurs to Les gilets jaunes
  • 4 Female Friendship and Marginalities in the Suburbs of Paris and Dublin in the Films Divines (Houda Benyamina, 2016) et Pyjama Girls (Maya Derrington, 2010)
  • 5 ‘Attending to the Margins’: Lessons for an Ailing Catholic Church in Ireland
  • PART II Food and Drink on the Margins
  • 6 From the Dark Margins to the Spotlight: The Evolution of Gastronomy and Food Studies in Ireland
  • 7 A Nexus of Food, Tourism and Education in Ireland – at the Margins or the Centre? An Autoethnographic Perspective
  • 8 From ‘Beating Heart’ to ‘Beaten Down’: Disruption and the Rural Irish Pub
  • 9 Calling Time on Alcohol Advertising in Ireland
  • PART III Diaspora and Marginality
  • 10 Out of the Margins: Is France Following an Irish Model When Connecting with Its Diaspora?
  • 11 The Role of the Diaspora in Redefining Irish Identity: Brooklyn and Recent Irish Migration
  • 12 Vivianne Crowley, Ecofeminist Activism and Neopaganism: A Franco-Irish Case Study
  • 13 Living in the Margins and on the Edge: How the Irish Conquered the Alps
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


The editors are most appreciative of the support of the French Embassy to Ireland, the Irish Embassy to France, the Centre d’études sur les civilisations et littératures étrangères (CECILLE) of the University of Lille, the Groupement d’intérêt scientifique Etudes irlandaises, réseaux et enjeux (G.I.S.EIRE), the Association of Franco-Irish Studies (AFIS) and the other sponsors who facilitated the running of the conference from which most of the collection emerged, and who funded this publication.



Introduction: Margins and Marginalities in Ireland and France: A Sociocultural Perspective

French and Irish societies have been characterised in recent times by major upheavals wrought by the threat of terrorism, the collapse of economic and social structures, mass migration, the diminished role of organised religion, the ghettoisation of minorities, increased homelessness and a general distrust of institutions. As a result of all these changes, the margins are now beginning to attract more and more people who find themselves placed in disadvantaged circumstances through political upheaval and/or economic or cultural necessity. Living on the edge may be imposed by circumstances; it may be chosen by those who wish to identify with the marginalised; it may finally be chosen by those who reject conventions. In all cases, it is a place teeming with contradictions, where worlds are made and unmade, a place of both opportunities and lack of opportunities. On the margins, stereotypes and norms are challenged, dependence and independence co-exist, as do rejection and mattering (Nancy Schlossberg1). Migration particularly fosters marginality as the clash of identities confines the migrant in a structure of ambivalence (Robert Park and Adam Weisberger2) that leads him or her to become ‘something different’. As a consequence, margins are a crucible for the reinvention of reality, a cradle of innovation and a seed of creativity.

Consequently, the margins and the condition of marginality have sometimes been a source of inspiration for artists, musicians, writers, mystics and even those working with food and drink. At times, distancing oneself ←1 | 2→from what is perceived to be a ‘desirable’ or ‘accepted’ mode of existence can help one to see things more clearly. However, clear thinking can sometimes discommode the ruling classes who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. The tension between the centre and peripheries and the interaction between them fuel the dynamics of change. Margins and Marginalities in Ireland and France: A Sociocultural Perspective will seek to address some of the key issues connected with these questions.

In this volume, the sociocultural perspective theory, which has emerged in the field of social psychology,3 will be extended to the study of life on the edge in France and Ireland. The effects of sociocultural factors on individual and collective identities will be assessed in two societies that share a large number of characteristics as components of the European cultural area, but still retain specificities resulting from the impact of historically shaped sociocultural forces. This is particularly true in the field of human rights, marginalisation and exclusion. However, the prevailing intercultural context in Europe has led to cultural transfers and sociocultural practices traditionally associated with one country being regularly adopted by another. Gastronomy and food tourism, for instance, are now just as much part of life in Ireland as they are in France. In the same way, emigration and diaspora issues have taken root in France. The question of whether or not each country has now become a model for the other will be raised. However contrasted the answer, it will be argued that margins have bred new norms in both cultures and societies. Hybridisation without cultural assimilation is a live issue as a result of the move from the peripheries to the centre. This volume is divided into three parts, corresponding to the previously mentioned test research areas that appear particularly significant to assess changes. The final chapter will show that far from being an entirely new phenomenon, interactions and, to some extent ‘interculturation’,4 between the two countries started long before the twenty-first century.

←2 | 3→

Interdisciplinarity is plainly visible in this collection, which may also be considered as groundbreaking in many ways from a methodological point of view. Food studies in particular is a recently developed research area and formalising methods is the constant preoccupation of the experts who contributed chapters to the book. In the same way, historian Mathew Staunton chose to place the methodological issue at the heart of his chapter on child maltreatment in Ireland (Chapter 1). A firm believer in the merits of oral history, he criticises conventional historians’ obsession with archival material, particularly in a context where the absence of primary sources is the result of deliberate concealment. His research practice has led him to experiment with new methods, which he shares with the reader. Reinventing the writing of history is a challenge that he picks up with both enthusiasm and academic rigor. Even if the following chapters do not specifically focus on methodological considerations, the issue is necessarily implicit given the nature of their contents.

It is particularly true of Chapter 2, where Sarah Fleming concentrates on ‘Transformation and Creativity from the Margins to the Centre’, taking the example of homelessness in Ireland and France. The anthropological concept of liminality is the author’s key methodological tool to make sense of the experience of homelessness in both countries. She argues that whenever it is perceived as a liminal experience, discrimination loses ground and the acceptance of difference becomes the norm, especially as activists’ insights and artists’ creativity transfigure the phenomenon by their emphasis on the need for understanding and humanity.

Christine O’Dowd Smyth takes this point further in Chapter 3, which specifically concerns France and dwells on the numerous political protests, demonstrations and riots which have sadly marred public life from ‘la marche des Beurs’ (1983) to ‘les gilets jaunes’ (2018–2020). Indeed, she focuses both on political activism and on the cultural production emanating from the people that Matthew Moran calls ‘internal outsiders’,5 who live on the margins of French society in disadvantaged suburban areas, or banlieues. She argues that the politics of protest, a reminder of France’s ←3 | 4→revolutionary past, is at the same time a key component of French culture and the sign of a deep division of society. The author then proceeds to compare the situation in France and Ireland, where protest movements have recently emerged but where riots and public protests are not part of the political and cultural tradition, and consequently have not yet found major literary and artistic expression.

An exception to this rule may well be provided by Brigitte Bastiat in Chapter 4. Using the cinema as a gateway to similar issues, she focuses on a comparison between French and Irish urban films that provide heartfelt insights from the inside into marginalised communities that challenge the norms of the centre. In this overall context, she analyses the specific situation of women and female friendships in suburban environments through two films: Pyjama Girls by Maya Derrington (2010) and Divines by Houda Benyamina (2016). Even if those films are very different from an aesthetic point of view, they both deal with the identity-making process of women in deprived areas, in Dublin and Paris, respectively. Both focus on the characters’ strategies to face adversity and find a place of their own beyond the pressure of both the norms of the centre and those of the margins.

Chapter 5 deals with possible attempts at solutions to be offered to the problems encountered in those poor districts. Taking examples from France and Ireland, but mostly concentrating on the latter, Tony Kiely suggests that ‘attending to the margins’ has potential for regenerating a wounded and increasingly marginalised Catholic Church. He argues that far from the arrogance of the judgmental oppressive institution which abused its power for so long in Ireland, a form of redemption may come from service to the poor, the vulnerable and the excluded. This concludes the first part of the volume and its considerations about human rights, marginalisation and exclusion, no doubt a privileged prism through which observers may examine issues related to margins, though certainly not the only one.

The second part thus broaches a totally different and perhaps more original question, namely food and drink on the margins, an illustration of both the interdisciplinary and innovating approach chosen by the editors. In Chapter 6, Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire analyses the evolution of gastronomy and food studies in Ireland from what he calls ‘the dark margins’ to the spotlight. A follower of French historians of the Annales School but also ←4 | 5→of later sociologists and anthropologists, he considers gastronomy as a cultural field that may legitimately be investigated as an academic discipline. In Ireland, food studies developed from the late 1990s to become a vibrant research area. From the emergence of culinary education to the development of Master’s and Doctoral programmes this question has attracted more and more young researchers and the discipline is now fully established, as is made obvious by the high-profile annual Dublin Gastronomy Symposium and the exciting new peer-reviewed European Journal of Food, Drink and Society.

In the following chapter, former tourism professional and public servant John Mulcahy confirms this evolution from the point of view of the overall economic development strategies of the Republic of Ireland. Using an autoethnographic methodology, John Mulcahy, a key contributor to the Irish food, tourism and education sectors for twenty years and the architect of food tourism development in Ireland, also highlights the complexity of the concept of marginality as exemplified in the dynamics of the State ecosystem he observed throughout his career. Indeed, marginality and integration may be two faces of the same coin depending on the situation. Recalling his personal experience, the author argues that one can operate at the margins and yet be ‘perceived as being at the centre’. What is clear, however, is that food, tourism and education have now taken a considerable importance in Ireland and that they have moved from the periphery to the heart of State economic strategies.

In Chapter 8, Brian Murphy concentrates his attention on one of the key tourist attractions in Ireland and certainly an essential element of culture: the pub, and more particularly, the rural pub. The pub is such an important part of Irish heritage that academics do not hesitate to see it as an interesting illustration of Oldenburg’s Third Place concept. Yet this emblematic symbol of community life is threatened by ambivalent public attitudes towards the drinks industry and state health policies resulting from societal ills and costs related to excessive alcohol consumption. Brian Murphy argues that the ongoing Disneyification of rural life also puts the traditional pub under strain. As a consequence, the pub is now progressively being removed to the margins of community life and many have already disappeared.

←5 | 6→

In Chapter 9 Patricia Medcalf similarly notes the risk to such emblematic brands as Guinness under the test of the marginalisation of alcohol advertising resulting from the Public Health (Alcohol) Act, 2018. She suggests that Ireland might be tempted to follow the circumvention strategy devised by French brands threatened by the Evin Law, 1991, which made it illegal for them to advertise on television and sponsor cultural or sporting events. Yet the country might lose part of its cultural soul if popular ads for alcoholic drinks were pushed from the centre of the stage to the periphery of national consciousness.

As the second part on food and drink reaches its conclusion, the notion that France and Ireland might model their attitudes on the choices of the other country is taken up by Julien Guillaumond, whose chapter opens the section on diaspora and marginality. But this time he raises the question of whether or not France is following the Irish model when connecting with its diaspora. Emigration is a new phenomenon in France while Ireland has had a long experience of maintaining links with its diaspora throughout the world. The author examines France’s attitudes towards its citizens abroad in the light of Ireland’s reinforced sense of community with the 70 million people descended from Irish emigrants since Mary Robinson’s presidency in the 1990s. While the size of its community abroad remains modest with 3.4 million, it is time France developed a clear strategy to deal with its members that might then get out of the margins and reach the spotlight as assets for the nation. However, it does not seem that the country has as yet understood the promotional potential that the Irish model holds in store, and there is no evidence it is tempted to follow it.

The next two chapters are devoted to migration experiences. In Chapter 11, Timothy J. White and Josette Smith examine ‘The Role of the Diaspora in Redefining Irish Identity’ by analysing the precise example provided by the novel and film Brooklyn, which echoes new perceptions of emigrants from the 1950s, while at the same time illustrating much of Julien Guillaumond’s analysis. Whereas emigration used to be seen in a negative light as a sign of failure and marginalisation linked to a sense of loss, it is now perceived as an opportunity both for emigrants, their country of origin and receiving countries. As a result, the Irish diaspora is ←6 | 7→now part of an inclusive definition of Irishness, enriched by international experiences and cultural encounters.

Chapter 12 is also concerned with a positive example of migration which has less to do with permanent exile than with life choices. As the fictitious heroin of Brooklyn, the real-life Irish-born Vivianne Crowley has chosen the place where she wanted to live, Brittany, but she shares her time between England and France. She has also chosen to be on the edge in more ways than one, as a foreigner in her country of adoption, but also as a Wiccan high priestess in a deeply Catholic region, and a marginal ecofeminist in the Greta Thunberg era. Investigating the case of Vivianne Crowley, Catherine Maignant’s chapter also provides insights in the connection between neopaganism, environmental activism and feminism, while highlighting French specificities as concerns the way these movements are perceived.

The last chapter of this volume focuses on the little-known but fascinating contribution of Irish adventure seekers to France’s and the neighbouring countries’ knowledge of their own mountains. Indeed, in the decade that elapsed between 1854 and 1865 these Irish natives distinguished themselves by climbing some of the highest peaks of the Alps and drawing maps of the most remote areas. From the pioneer of the Eiger to the cartographer of Mont Blanc, from ‘the man who married a mountain’ to the first Irish woman alpinist, among several other examples, Declan O’Keeffe carefully sketches a portrait of Irish mountain explorers, whose impact on the Alpine region was considerable. They were citizens of Europe rather than just Irish mountaineers, in a similar way to how modern members of the diaspora are citizens of the world rather than exiles. As is the case with the majority of chapters in this collection, the final chapter shows how enthusiasm from the margins may illuminate the centre and how peripheries open the everyday mainstream world to an unanticipated landscape of possibilities.

1 Nancy K. Schlossberg, ‘Marginality and Mattering: Key Issues in Building Community’, New Directions for Student Service N° 48 (1989), 5–15.

2 Robert Park, ‘Human Migration and the Marginal Man’, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 33, N° 6 (May 1928); Adam Weisberger, ‘Marginality and Its Directions’, Sociological Forum, vol. 7, N° 3 (1992), 425–446.

3 Catherine A. Sanderson, ‘Sociocultural Perspective: A Perspective Describing People’s Behavior and Mental Process as Shaped in Part by Their Social and/Cultural Contact, Including Race, Gender, and Nationality’, Social Psychology (New York: Wiley Publishing, 2010), 8.


XII, 312
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (April)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XII, 312 pp., 7 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Catherine Maignant (Volume editor) Sylvian Tondeur (Volume editor) Déborah Vandewoude (Volume editor)

Catherine Maignant is Professor of Irish studies at the university of Lille (France). She was President of the French Association of Irish studies (SOFEIR) and of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS) for a number of years. After writing a PhD on early medieval Irish Christianity, she now specializes in contemporary Irish religious history. Her research interests include the New Religious Movement, the response of the Catholic Church to secularization, interreligious dialogue, Celtic Christianity and the religious aspects of globalization. She has published widely in all these areas. Sylvain Tondeur is a full-time English teacher at the University of Lille. He is currently registered on a PhD, a «co-tutelle» established between the Université de Lille and the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies (TU Dublin – Tallaght Campus). His research focuses on the contemporary revival of Irish distilleries and on the influence of alcohol on Ireland’s cultural identity. His research interests also include the phenomenon of illicit distillations in the 18th and 19th centuries in Ireland, and the history of the Irish drinks industry. DéborahVandewoude is a senior lecturer in English at the Université du Littoral Côte d’Opale where she lectures in British History, Irish Studies and Education. She holds a PhD on the Roman Catholic Church in contemporary Ireland. Her research interests include Roman Catholicism, popular religion, new religious movements, religious education. She is the author of L’Eglise catholique face aux défis contemporains en République d’Irlande(Peter Lang – 2012). She also published a series of articles on the Catholic Church’s response to secularization and on the communication strategies designed by the Institution in Ireland.


Title: Margins and marginalities in France and Ireland
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