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In 1986 a national opinion poll indicated that over half of Irish voters favored an upcoming referendum to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. Yet, after nine weeks of vigorous debate during which forces on both sides of the issue presented their cases to the public, the amendment was defeated.
In Debating Divorce, Michele Dillon uses the divorce referendum debate in Ireland as a base from which to explore the long-standing sociological preoccupation with how societies decide questions of values. Focusing on culture and moral conflict, she examines the stances adopted by the major players in the debate: the government and the political parties, the Catholic church, women, the print and broadcast media, and activists,on both sides.
Although the issues of moral conflict that Dillon discusses have special relevance in demarcating Irish cultural values, they also apply to how people in general reason about morals and values. The author highlights the nature of moral discourse, the use of contradictory arguments in moral reasoning, the difficulty of trying to shift moral paradigms during non-revolutionary times, and the impossibility of keeping facts and values distinct as people grapple with conflicting moral claims.
Examining the divorce question within historical themes of economic insecurity and Catholic identity, Dillon argues that the discourses articulated during the debate illustrate a universal tension between the forces of tradition and those of modernity. She dissects Irish opposition to divorce in terms of current challenges to rationality and its association with progress and goodness.
Debating Divorce will appeal to sociologists and scholars of Irish studies, communication, culture, and religion, as well as to general readers with an interest in Ireland or moral discourse.
Michele Dillon, an Irish citizen, is assistant professor of communication at Rutgers University.
"Michele Dillon places divorce reform in the context of national identity. She looks at how people argued about values and how key cultural aspirations shaped debate in the 1986 referendum on divorce in Ireland. Dillon clearly demonstrates that religion, not empirical evidence about the effects of divorce on society, was at the core of opposition to divorce."—Gender and History
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Ireland, Divorce, History of divorce, Irish history, Irish referendums, Catholic Church
Dillon, Michele, "Debating Divorce: Moral Conflict in Ireland" (1993). European History. 29.