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Brewing Identities

Globalisation, Guinness and the Production of Irishness


Brenda Murphy

While Guinness is a global product, it still contains references to Ireland and it occupies a particular place in imaginings of Irishness. Brewing Identities is unique in that, while it focuses on the (re)production of a specific kind of ethno-national identity– Irishness – it is simultaneously transnational in scope, as the author maps the trails of products, people and symbolic constructs through a globalised world. In pubs from Dublin to London to New York, the reader is taken on a multi-sited ethnography, where stories unfold through observation, interview, and conversation with fellow patrons and pub personnel, while drawing from an ample sampling of discursive and interactional sources from which the author derives her own interpretations and conclusions. Additionally, the book follows the trail of the political economy of Guinness. Brewing Identities produces an engaging and well-grounded mode of inquiry informed not only by multiple sources but by the interdisciplinary field of cultural studies, one that is particularly sensitive and responsive to both the convergences and discontinuities of diverse conditioning factors at work in the generally nebulous and complex sphere of identity production.
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Chapter 4. Reading Guinness: A Sign of Irishness


Over the years Guinness advertising in Ireland has moved from being a series of texts that speaks of versions of Irishness (albeit essentialist versions) to a new style of advert that says ‘global, urban, cross-culture’. What does that mean to Guinness and to Irish audiences, and how does it reflect on current understandings of the function of globalisation and identity?

Figure 4A. Circuit of Culture: Spotlight on Text. ← 67 | 68 →

Stepping onto Johnson’s circuit at the next station (texts) and having ‘a little wander about’ in that space facilitates some reflections about Guinness as a sign. I have argued that Guinness and Irishness are inextricably linked in the popular imagination (Murphy 2003a) through the origins and manufacture of the product in Dublin, through subsequent marketing strategies and advertising content and through the Irish diaspora, whose consumption of the product serves to strengthen associations for others. And I argue that Guinness is an iconic product, which, in Barthesian terms ‘connotes’ Ireland, Irishness and Irish identity. This is why Guinness drinkers and non-Guinness drinkers in Ireland and abroad talk about Guinness, Ireland and Irishness as being synonymous (Murphy 2003a).

In this chapter the focus is on the changing semiotics of Guinness advertising and its relation to Irish identity. In the popular imagination, Guinness and Irishness each acts as a signifier of the other, and the marketing and advertising of the product play a key role in this collective construction of meaning. I contend that...

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