Body as Text




This website is primarily concerned with analyzing the way body modification functions as a political and cultural indicator in Ireland following the Easter 1916 Rising. The human body is frequently reshaped and reformed through body modification to promote a particular kind political propaganda, turning the body into an marks of culture and identity politics. Often, these markers (ranging from commemorative tattoos to IRA torture tactics during the Troubles) use the human body as a tool to connote someone’s Irish ethnic sub group(s).

Although markers of body modification are constant, their association is fluid, and the significance of a particular marker changes depending on who is looking at the marker. The image of a Northern Irishwoman mutilated by the IRA through tar-and-feathering, for instance, means something very different to members of the IRA than it does to concerned and fearful citizens in Dublin. Such instances of body modification label Irish men and women as belonging to particular in-groups and out-groups, a cycle of connotation that becomes complicated by Ireland’s long history of identity conflict in politics, language, religion, regional divides and connection to Great Britain.  You can read more about identity conflict in connection to the Rising and the Troubles here.

Our project focuses on three specific techniques that turn the human body into a political tool: Irish tattoos, hunger strikes, and police distrust and the resulting political punishment during the Troubles. An important distinction here is whether these actions unto the human body are done voluntarily (body modification) or through force (body mortification).

Although they serve different purposes, the common link between these three techniques is that their marker is particularly important to the context of the Irish Troubles. During the Troubles, cultural tattoos, hunger striking and IRA political torture each branded men and women as belonging to a particular side on the issue of Northern Ireland identity. Whether through force or their own volition, the bodies of these people then become permanently marked as belonging to various in-groups and out-groups during the Troubles. You can read more about the relationship between in-groups and out-groups in the context of body modification here.

This interpretation covers the physical effects of two main theoretical ideas: body mortification vs. modification and bodily stigmata as a marker of identity. These ideas are then applied as lenses through which we can view several recurring historical trends.

Irish Tattoos

Hunger Strikes

Kneecapping and Tar-and-Feathering

Works Cited