Prof. Felix Ó Murchadha



No society can exist without values, yet with the accelerating technological and societal transformations in the era of globalization, it is increasingly difficult to determine how values are to be understood and to be negotiated when in conflict. How do values define human identity and the different forms of activity through which this identity finds expression?

The proposed cluster would face this problem head on. Drawing on synergies of expertise across disciplinary lines, the cluster would address the problem by investigating the character of specific forms of value and, in particular, how they interact with one another and with broader societal contexts to form more complex identities. It would seek methodological distinctiveness in contemporary terms through the sustained integration of theory and conceptual issues with modes of historical and empirical research in values and identities. The cluster would bring together scholars from different disciplines who have similar research interests, some of whom have collaborated together in the past, more of whom have not. We seek to build a cluster whose synergies enable a clear value-identity focus in terms of the two passages highlighted above. Our research will be orientated around the following areas, and the many overlaps and intersections between them:

  • The investigation of value in human identity as such. Are some values intrinsically worthwhile? What is the relation between value and feeling? (These questions impact on all the other areas of value that the cluster will address.)
  • Aesthetic and artistic values based on what is distinctive to visual art, literature, and film. Key issues include why these arts are valuable to us, questions of canonicity, and whether the distinction between ‘high’ and mass culture can be maintained in an era of radical technological transformations. A related investigation is whether art (in the most general sense) has reached an ‘end’. What implications would this have for new forms of visual, literary and filmic practice, and our understanding of older ones?
  • Moral values. The cluster would investigate these in their own right, and by paying special attention to the moral problems raised by contemporary transformations in science, technology, and medicine. In this, the cluster would be building upon the important work in bioethics done by COBRA and would examine such issues as the ethics of stem cell research, the exploration of ethical limitations of research; ethical concerns regarding the structure and delivery of health care services, and the question of disability, normality and enhancement. The status of human life in relation to the specific Irish controversies regarding abortion, assisted reproduction and end of life decisionmaking is another area of interest. The influence of these issues on historical and literary phenomena would also be highly relevant.
  • Religious values. The cluster would consider the value and grounds of religious belief and rituals, and could also attend to their expression in the arts, and in politics and regional cultural differences. Key connections between religious prohibitions and applied ethics problems such as those just described above might be considered. Historical perspectives on religious institutions and conflicts should also figure.
  • Economic values – based on principles of ownership and exchange, and the social identities and conflicts arising from these. These values can be considered theoretically, and under the contrasting historical and cultural circumstances of their expression. This can involve areas as diverse as topics in the arts, political theory, the histories of collecting and travel, and questions of prioritization in health policies.
  • Socio-political values concerning the governance of societies and the power-relations that these embody. Questions of colonialism, or of gender politics and identity might form a special focus. And again, there is considerable crossover between disciplines, e.g. in the very notion of ‘cultural politics’, and contemporary and historical tensions between moral fairness and political expediency. Issues of politics and national, cultural, and regional identities could also be considered.

The proposed cluster aims to build collective projects involving individual staff, postgraduate students and postdocs, to develop new and exciting research in these areas. It would also complement the proposed Priority Research Area on ‘Space, Place, and Identity’. In fact, the very broad thematic of ‘identities’ might even be able to link all the clusters offered by the Moore Institute and the College.