Book review: Human Incumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine
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Morrissey, John. (2012). Book review: Human Incumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine. Progress in Human Geography, 36(6), 831-833. doi: 10.1177/0309132511432088
In 1860, the Irish nationalist writer John Mitchell avowed that ‘The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine’ (from The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)). The aphorism quickly became an important discursive register in the Irish struggle for independence from Britain through the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Seeking to amend Mitchell’s memorable maxim 50 years later, however, the Irish socialist republican and revolutionary leader James Connolly wrote that ‘England made the famine by a rigid application of the economic principles that lie at the base of capitalist society’ (from Labour in Irish History). For Connolly, the colonial administration in Ireland ‘stood for the rights of property and free competition, and philosophically accepted their consequences upon Ireland’. In Human Incumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine, David Nally goes beyond Connolly’s analysis, and presents a brilliant and sophisticated argument outlining how ultimately ‘the ‘rights of the poor’ and the ‘rights of property’ were not accorded the same value’. He lays bare what he calls the ‘transformative forces of colonialism, capitalism and biopolitics’, and offers a compelling reading of how the ‘virtues of the market’ and a hegemonic scripting of the native Irish as ‘racially degenerate’ were used to initiate disciplinary, regulatory and corrective mechanisms to recast and regenerate contemporary Irish society and sustain a commitment to a colonial economy of improvement.
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