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New Vocabularies, Old Ideas

Culture, Irishness and the Advertising Industry


Neil O'Boyle

Advertisements are often viewed as indices of cultural change, just as the advertising industry is often imagined as innovative and transformative. Advancing from an alternative position, which borrows much from practice-based research, this book instead highlights the routinisation of practices and representations in advertising. Drawing extensively from his own study, the author uses Irishness to investigate the relationship between cultural symbolism in advertising and the cultural vocabularies of advertising practitioners. While globalisation and immigration to Ireland have putatively unhinged taken-for-granted understandings of Irish identity, the author argues that representations of Ireland and Irishness in the global context continue to draw from a stock of particularisms and that advertising practitioners continue to operate with largely essentialist understandings of culture and identity. As the first of its kind in Ireland, this book makes a case for renewed attention to advertising by academic scholars and promotes the benefits of interdisciplinary research.


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Preface ix


Preface Continuity should not be understood as stability or sameness over time, but as the contingent relations between successive social formations.1 This book is the product of a number of years spent researching the adver- tising industry in the Republic of Ireland (hereafter Ireland) as both a prac- titioner and an academic. Advertising interests me for a variety of reasons but above all perhaps because of its perceived role as a shaper of identities and as a mediator of meanings. In particular, I am interested in the notion that “culture matters” in advertising; that advertisements carry culturally- specific meanings and messages which often “travel” poorly. Culture in this context means Culture with a capital C (communal beliefs, symbols, customs etc.) as opposed to celebrity culture, organic culture or any other variety. In this book I attempt to tackle a very broad subject in a deliberately narrow way. The focus on Irishness is used as a means of analytically linking advertising, as a commercial activity, and advertisements, as socio-symbolic texts (though it goes without saying that the cultural and the commercial are inextricably entangled in advertising). Irishness is both an input and an output of the advertising production process; it is both produced and consumed in advertising. Yet it is important to state from the outset that I am primarily interested in advertising production rather than consumption and therefore while I consider some of the ways in which Irishness has been represented in advertising texts, especially in the context of an...

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