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Fall 2015, 45.4, pages 346-368

Lost in TransNation: The Limits to Constitutive Nationalism in the Fenian Movement

Abstract: Applying a constitutive rhetorical framework to public speeches and letters circulated transnationally from 1859–1866 by the leadership of the revolutionary Irish nationalist Fenian movement, this essay argues that constitutive rhetorical theory’s assumed ideological effects must be modified to account for the transnational rhetorical practices of movements like the Fenians. The essay first traces how Fenian identification practices seek to fix the entire diaspora as the “Irish people” and Ireland as the true homeland. It then examines how the movement transcodes its constitutive rhetoric to better fit the separate national constraints operating in the United States and Ireland, and how these strategies hamper the organization’s ability to sustain the unity required for success. While the constituted Irish Revolutionary remained in each national context, their strategies for fulfilling the constitutive narrative had splintered, helping to doom the cause. The Fenian case demonstrates the need to render constitutive rhetorical theory in more dialogic terms, especially for transnational audiences.

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