Emma Penney

Supervisor: Dr. Lucy Collins

School: English, Drama and Film

Class Acts: Working-Class Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Ireland

This thesis sets out to challenge established ideas of literary value by looking at the history of  writing and publishing by women in working-class communities. A series of in-depth interviews with one significant community writer and activist, Cathleen O’Neill, clarified the unique formal  and aesthetic aspects of working-class writing in one community writing group. A working-class  writing archive was established through a collaborative and consultative archival methodology which involved developing meaningful friendships with working-class women involved in  community writing groups in the 1980s. Interviews created new articulations of community  practices and illuminated previously unknown connections with Black feminist writers such as  Audre Lorde. The thesis introduces the term ‘transperipheral feminisms’ to explore this, as well as other various kinds of connections between peripheralised feminist movements.

The autoethnographic element of the research contributed to the cultivation of a class-conscious  collaborative practice-led methodology which could articulate submerged knowledge traditions.  My openness allowed the interviewees and I to share embodied knowledge and to make and validate knowledge claims based on these experiences. In this way autoethnography became a core element in co-creating radical futures and undermining Western research cultures. This core  element then shaped the discourse analysis of academic feminism and of institutional funding frameworks - using the interviews I had conducted with working-class women as an interpretive  tool and new archival text. The final act of the research is the interpretation of a literary archive
using analytical tools developed in consultation with working-class women themselves. This extends the novel approach of collaborative archival production which includes record creators in the process of locating and appraising the archive. Ultimately, the thesis gathers together a number of different methodological and theoretical elements in order to make legible the practices of othering of elite institutions and the mobilisation of working-class women’s feminist (WCW/F) praxis in these contexts.

Future Projects:

Dr. Emma Penney  is a GOIPD scholar in the School of English at UCC where she is completing her monograph Social-Class and the Women's Movement in Ireland: A Second look at the Second Wave. She is also a Research Fellow at the UCD School of English, Drama, Film and Creative Writing where she is carrying out an IRC New Foundations project which aims to build a working-class studies field in Ireland. Her work has been published in the Journal of Working-Class Studies, the Journal of International Women's Studies and the Irish University Review. She enjoys listening to other working-class students and academics about their own experiences in higher education and is working to highlight issues affecting working-class students and staff in her own college. She is an elected memeber of the Working-Class Studies Association of America's Steering Committee.