A Violent Past but a Peaceful Present: The Cultural Psychology of an Irish Recession

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The way in which collective memory is narrated has implications for understanding how people act in the present and orient toward the future. This article examines the role collective memories play in mitigating civil unrest since the 2008 Irish economic recession. I interviewed 20 highly influential people in the public eye in Ireland (i.e., TV and radio presenters, journalists, economists, outspoken academics and members of prominent financial institutions) to comprehend what aspects of the past they draw on to narrate the causes, consequences, and solutions to the economic recession. Current migration from Ireland is seen as a legitimate continuation of a historical response to hardship. My participants distanced contemporary peaceful Irish responses to austerity from previous violence on the island of Ireland. The central moral organizing principle that “you should reap what you sow,” and the endurance of collective suffering as a consequence of this moral foundation, is another factor used to explain the peaceful Irish response to austerity. On a theoretical level, this research suggests ways in which collective memories are used to inhibit violence and offer plausible alternatives about how to act when faced with crises.

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