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Fighting without Guns? Political Autobiography in Contemporary Northern Ireland

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posted on 20.07.2016, 11:24 by Stephen Hopkins
If it is the case that ‘memoir has become the genre in the skittish period around the turn of the millennium’,1 then perhaps it is not so surprising that this genre has been well-represented in recent writing about the conflict in Northern Ireland. George Egerton has argued convincingly that political memoir is best understood as a ‘polygenre’, and that the ‘difficulty of classifying memoir in tidy categories […] should not stand as an argument for diminishing its significance or impeding the development of a helpful body of criticism’.2 Drawing on the work of Roy Pascal, Egerton insists that we can distinguish between political autobiography and memoir ‘according to whether the focus is primarily inward, on the development of the self, as in the case of autobiography, or more external, on others, on events or deeds, as with memoir’.3 Given that politicians’ public lives are largely dominated by external events, it might be argued that they typically produce memoirs rather than authentic political autobiographies. Of the works studied in this chapter, some certainly contain sufficient authorial reflection on the development of the self, through the medium of a political career, to be interpreted as genuinely autobiographical, at least in part. And while a debate about definition and classification can be useful in constructing the parameters of this research, there is always the danger of neglecting the substance of autobiographical writing about the ‘Troubles’ by pursuing a semantic and theoretical cul-de-sac. In this essay, therefore, ‘political autobiography’ will be used in the popular sense of writing by protagonists or ex-protagonists of political life in Northern Ireland during the course of the ‘Troubles’, where this writing focuses on both external developments in the political and/or paramilitary world, and (at least, to some extent) the internal ‘world’ of the authorial self. [Opening paragraph]



Hopkins, S, Fighting without Guns? Political Autobiography in Contemporary Northern Ireland, ed. Harte, L, 'Modern Irish Autobiography: Self, Nation and Society', Palgrave Macmillan, 2007

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, ARTS AND HUMANITIES/Department of Politics and International Relations


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This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here:


Harte, L



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