Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Sociology, 5.8 MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS, Radio and Television

Publication Details

Paper presented at the annual conference of the Sociological Association of Ireland, Dublin, 10 May 2014


Cathode Ray Memories: Television as memory and social practice

The history of television in Ireland is, predominantly, an institutional history. Indeed, rather than studying television in Ireland most commentary addresses Irish television as embodied by Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ). There are plentiful accounts of RTÉ, its programmes, personalities and the circuits of institutional power surrounding it. This is a history populated by political and clerical elites, and written by their cultural counterparts. Institutional crises surrounding RTÉ have been used as a proxy for the experiences of Irish people. With few alternatives, this perspective has underpinned common sense understandings of how television has helped to shape Irish society.

Ironically, in attempts to explain the effect of the medium in Ireland the medium itself is overlooked. There is little comment on the changes in pace and scale that television technology has introduced. There has been no investigation of the medium’s effect on the use of time, daily habits, family routines and so on. Such ubiquitous changes, lying outside the fields of parliamentary and cultural politics, have been overlooked. They are hidden in plain sight.

To understand the effect of television in Ireland, as opposed to Irish television, this paper moves beyond the narratives that have predominated heretofore. Methodologically, it takes a necessary step beyond the limitations of a dependence on broadcast archives, newspaper records and official archives. It asks people, rather than tells them, how television has shaped their lives. Following the life story methods of Jerome Bourdon, it presents a pilot analysis of Irish memories of television. It tries to identify, and make explicit, common themes in the collective memory of television. Mindful of the medium, its affordances and the everyday rituals that are built around it, the paper traces and analyses memories of how television has re-shaped social practice.