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Justin Carville 'Racializing Insurgency: Photography, Colonial Governmentality and Ireland'

Venue: Online

How can we think of photography and race as what Patrick Wolfe describes as ‘traces of histories’? Wolfe’s question is explored in this paper through a discussion of the intersection of the racialization of the global Irish, and the mobilization of photography in colonial governmentality of Irish insurgency.


In 1866, British authorities legislated for suspension of habeas corpus in response to what they identified as the Fenian threat to the ideals of the modern liberal state. In the decade before colonial administrators had experimented with the first modern penal convict system in the British empire, and introduced the first systematic process of incorporating photography into the administrative merging of the penal and police agencies to document, record and monitor those convicted or suspected of Fenian activities. Mobilised for the identification and surveillance of Fenian’s traversing across the Atlantic and the Irish Sea, photography was used to arrest the likenesses of individuals whose mobility threatened the security of the state and its colonies, and equally the photograph’s mass reproducibility and mobility as a material image-object was pressed into action to identify suspected insurgents. Throughout this period racial science and popular cultural forms increasingly racialised the Irish as non-white in the colonial imaginary. Drawing on the entwined histories of what this paper terms the racialization of photography, and the Fenian Irish, the paper discusses how photography simultaneously contributed to and undermined colonial governmentality and the racialization of the Irish from the mid-nineteenth century.

Justin Carville, Dublin

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