Compare and contrast: understanding Irish migration to Britain in a wider context

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This article explores the potential for comparative research across different migrant groups. Research on migration is often weakened by the marked tendency to use a single ethnic/national group as the unit of analysis. Analysing migration from the experiences of a particular ethnic group may exaggerate ethnic exceptionalism and understate the extent to which experiences are shared across different migrant groups. My recent experiences on a range of research projects with diverse migrants to London made me think about similarities with the Irish, but each in different ways. However, there is a dearth of comparative analysis in relation to the Irish experience in Britain. On the one hand, there are many studies of Irish migrants, but these tend to focus solely on the Irish or else examine the relationship between Irish migrants and the ‘native’ British population. There has been little work on how the Irish relate to other migrant groups within British society. On the other hand, studies of other migrant communities rarely refer to the Irish as a comparative group. The article explores the reasons for the dearth of comparative work involving Irish migrants in Britain. In so doing, it considers some of the benefits and challenges of going beyond the ‘ethnic lens’. What would be gained but also lost by viewing Irish migration to Britain through a more comparative perspective? I explore how such comparative analysis might contribute, firstly, to a wider understanding of migration processes, experiences and inter-migrant relations, and, secondly, to a fuller appreciation of varied dimensions of migratory experiences in Britain. These issues are considered through a comparison of Polish and Irish migration to Britain.

Source: Irish Studies Review Volume 21, Issue 1, 2013 – Special Issue: New Perspectives on Women and the Irish Diaspora

DOI: 10.1080/09670882.2012.759710

Author(s):Louise Ryan
Publisher:Taylor & Francis Online
Publication Date:18 Mar 2013
Geographic Focus:Ireland, United Kingdom
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