Constructing the Irish of Britain : ethnic recognition and the 2001 UK censuses

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Title: Constructing the Irish of Britain : ethnic recognition and the 2001 UK censuses
Authors: Howard, Kevin
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Date: 2004
Abstract: Systems of ethnic monitoring are of fundamental importance in the context of policy commitments to improving the life-chances of minority ethnic groups. In effect, without a system of ethnic monitoring the targeting, implementation and gauging the outcomes of multicultural policies would be impossible. Primary amongst these systems of ethnic monitoring is the national census. The ethnic data generated comprise the informational foundation of multicultural policy. Moreover, these data are presented as a meaningful representation of ethnic plurality but, despite the validity ascribed to statistical representations of ethnic pluralism, on closer analysis they are shown to be of limited value. On the one hand, the institutionalisation of a particular pattern of ethnic designations has the effect of reifying this pattern, while at the same time it renders conceptually and statistically invisible those minority ethnic groups not included in the original patterning. On the other hand, the implementation of multicultural policies acts as an opportunity incentive for ethnic mobilisation for ethnic activists to lobby to secure the inclusion of the community they purport to represent in the multicultural framework. The consequence of this is that the list of ethnic designations (named groups) used on systems of ethnic monitoring can be subject to radical discontinuities: changes that reflect the outcomes of political struggles by ethnic entrepreneurs rather than deeper changes in the ethnic structure. The manner in which an “Irish” option came to be included on the ethnic group questions of the 2001 censuses of Great Britain is an example of the politics of ethnic monitoring. This paper presents an account of this activism, its successes and its consequences, and argues that despite the validity accorded to ethnic statistics in the context of multiculturalism they tell us little about sociological reality.
Funding Details: Not applicable
Type of material: Working Paper
Publisher: University College Dublin. Institute for British-Irish Studies
Series/Report no.: IBIS Working Papers; 37
Copyright (published version): The author, 2004
Keywords: MobilisationEthnic groupsInstitutionalisationCensusIrishBritainMulticulturalism
Subject LCSH: Ethnology--Great Britain
Irish--Great Britain
Great Britain--Census
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Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Institute for British-Irish Studies (IBIS) Working Papers and Policy Papers

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