Title page for ETD etd-01082010-110943

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Sullivan, Thomas James
Author's Email Address tsulli4@lsu.edu, sullyman142003@yahoo.com
URN etd-01082010-110943
Title Designing Irishness: Ethnicity, Heritage, and Imagined Connection to Place Through Language
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Geography & Anthropology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
DeLyser, Dydia Committee Chair
Bowman, Michael Committee Member
Colten, Craig Committee Member
Flanagan, James Committee Member
Richardson, Miles Committee Member
Catano, James Dean's Representative
  • optional ethnicity
  • diaspora
  • performativity
  • autoethnography
Date of Defense 2009-12-07
Availability unrestricted
In North America, those who are descended from "old world" immigrant groups—for example Germans, Greeks, Italians, Poles, and Irish—are thought to be assimilated or acculturated into the mainstream American culture. Since the late 1970s, however, sociologists have observed how a number of white ethnics, particularly those descended from third- and fourth-generation (and beyond) immigrants, continue to maintain a link to an ethnic group. This phenomenon—labeled symbolic or optional ethnicity—is now seen as a latter-stage development in the larger process of assimilation and ethnic-group identification. In this dissertation I show how the meaning of Irish identity has evolved in North America from a group of immigrants, to an ethnic community, and finally, a contemporary symbolic ethnicity which is positively influenced by commercialized forms of Irish culture, and is constructed from personal narratives and imagined geographies of Ireland. To study this phenomenon in more detail, this dissertation employs a multisited and autoethnographic qualitative study to focus on Irish-language enthusiasts at fifteen intensive Irish-language instructional events that took place at scattered sites in the U.S. and Canada. In this work I demonstrate how attendees at these events design, construct, and perform Irish identities for themselves by establishing parameters of what they perceive of as traditional and authentic Irishness, parameters that include ancestry, musical practice, dance, and most importantly language learning. Finally, I argue that the constructedness of their identities is part of the contemporary idea of diaspora—a concept developed by cultural theorists—that emphasizes how culture, identity, and place is a dynamic rather than static phenomenon.
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