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A Globalised Vulnerability: Re-Presenting the Labouring Body of Ireland's Newly Industrialised Landscape

Mark Curran

External Examiner: Professor Mark Durdin, University of Wales, Newport
Date Awarded: 2011
Mark Curran SEPR graduated thesis 2011


Situated in the context of globalisation in the Republic of Ireland, this ethnographically informed practice-based thesis addresses the critical relationship between visual arts practice, curatorship, the historical representation of labour, industrialised space and contemporary global labour practices. Drawing on audio and visual ethnographic material generated in my fieldsite - the Hewlett-Packard Manufacturing and Research complex in Leixlip, Ireland, together with the resulting installation and publication titled The Breathing Factory, it further investigates the dissemination of such epistemologies, the term ‘re-representation' being deployed as a reflexive gesture in acknowledgement of such critical re-contextualisations.

The thesis comprises four chapters together with an introduction and conclusion. Chapter one provides a critical overview of relevant and intersecting literature on theories of globalisation, global labour practices and labour, drawing particular attention to a conceptualisation of globalisation in terms of vulnerability, which ascribes a more unstable definition of labour and its conditions, emphatically shaped via the globalising effects of the migration of global capital. Acknowledging the central mediating role of the photograph as a critical tool of representation in this study, the primary focus of the second chapter is the role and function regarding the representation of contemporary and historical labour practices, with particular reference to documentary photography.Chapter three identifies the rationale for the research fieldsite, foregrounding the methodological framework ‘multivocality/montage', adopted from visual ethnography as a representational strategy. It details the related methods employed, further serving to instrumentalise practice as a necessary reflexive undertaking extending to the postproduction of material collated on site. The fourth and final chapter addresses the relationship between the re-narration and re-versioning of the research material and the role of the methodological framework, as defined in chapter three, in underpinning the construction of the resulting multivocal and montaged installation. Within an historicised framing it draws upon a review of audio and visual research practices and formats of dissemination, further informed by a description of the curatorial relationship with primary funding supports for the production of The Breathing Factory. The chapter concludes with a description of the installation in the form of a narrativised walk-through,unpacking and detailing the rationale for its constitution. The intention is to critically reflect upon the dissemination and circulation of the research as a visual art installation, the role of curatorial practice and the cycles of discourse surrounding such practice-led research interventions.