Since Michael D Higgins, one of the seven presidential candidates in Ireland studied sociology, Julia Kennelly, who has commenced her study on Cultural Anthropology has been researching his previous work. She came across one of his poems which is moving and which she feels students will appreciate in their study of ageing. Following the poem submitted by Julia is a speech made by Michael D Higgins at the Sociological Association of Ireland�۪s Annual Conference in 2008 in which he calls for sociological imagination and critical insight. He criticises what he calls ���dubious shibbolets from management journals from abroad� in which he cites such tips as ���walking around with an air of importance� and warns of the limitations of this superficiality which is replacing intellectual work and inhibiting the development of a creative society .
His collections are The Betrayal (Galway, Salmon Publishing, 1990); The Season of Fire (Tralee, Co. Kerry, Brandon, 1993); and An Arid Season(Dublin, New Island Books, 2004).
A poem for my father
By Michael D Higgins
This man is seriously ill,
The doctor had said a week before,
Calling for a wheelchair.
After they rang me
To come down and persuade you
To go in
Condemned to remember your eyes
As they met mine in that moment
Before they wheeled you away.
It was one of my final tasks,
To persuade you to go in,
A Judas chosen not by Apostles
But by others more broken;
And I was in part,
Relieved when they wheeled you from me,
Down the corridor, confused,
Without a backwards glance
And when I had done it,
I cried, out onto the road,
Hitching a lift to Galway and away
From the trouble of your
Cantankerous old age
And rage too,
At all that had in recent years
All week I waited to visit you
But when I called, you had been moved
To where those dying too slowly
A poorhouse no longer known by that name,
But in the liberated era of Lemass,
Given a saint as a name, St. Joseph�۪s
Was he Christ�۪s father,
Patron saint of the Worker,
The mad choice of some pietistic politician?
You never cared.
Nor did you speak too much.
You had broken an attendant�۪s glasses,
The holy nurse told me,
When you were admitted.
Your father is a very difficult man,
As you must know. And Social Welfare is slow
And if you would pay for the glasses,
I would appreciate it.
It was 1964, just after optical benefit
Was rejected by D eValera for poorer classes
In his Republic, who could not afford,
As he did,
To travel to Zurich
For their regular tests and their
It was decades earlier
You had brought me to see him
Pass through Newmarket-on-Fergus
As the brass and reed band struck up,
Cheeks red and distended to the point
Where a child�۪s wonder was as to whether
They would burst as they blew
The Sacred Heart Procession and De Valera,
You told me, were the only occasions
When their instruments were taken
From the rusting, galvanized shed
Where they stored them in anticipation
Of the requirements of Church and State.
Long before that, you had slept,
In ditches and dug outs,
Prayed in terror at ambushes
With others who later debated
Whether De Valera was lucky or brilliant
In getting the British to remember
That he was an American,
And that debate had not lasted long
In concentration camps in Newbridge
And the Curragh, Where mattresses were burned,
As the gombeens decided that the new State
Was a good thing,
Even for business.
In the dining room of St. Joeseph�۪s
The potatoes were left in the middle of the table
In a dish, towards which
You and many other Republicans
Stretched feeble hands that shook.
Your eyes were bent as you peeled
With the long thumb-nail I had often watched
Scrape a pattern on the leather you had
Toughened for our shoes,
Your eyes when you looked at me
Were a thousand miles away,
Now totally broken,
Unlike those times even
Of rejection, when you went at sixty
For jobs you never got,
Too frail to load vans, or manage
The demands of selling.
And I remember
When you came back to me,
Your regular companion of such occasions,
And they said, They think that I�۪m too old
For the job. I said I was fifty-eight
But they knew I was past sixty.
A body ready for transportation,
Fit only for a coffin, that made you
For death at home.
The shame of a coffin exit
Through a window sent you here,
Where my mother told me you asked
Only for her to place her cool hand
Under your neck.
And I was there when they asked
Would they give you a Republican Funeral,
In that month when you died,
Between the end of the First Programme for
And the Second.
I look at your photo now,
Taken in the beginning of bad days,
With your surviving mates
Your face haunts me as do these memories;
And all these things have been scraped
In my heart,
And I can never hope to forget
What was, after all,
Michael D Higgins speaking at the Sociological Association of Ireland�۪s Annual Conference in 2008
HIGH PRICE PAID FOR NEGLECT OF SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY SAYS MICHAEL D HIGGINS, A PRESEDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN IRELAND
Absence of political will our greatest challenge
Speaking at the Sociological Association of Ireland�۪s Annual Conference, at which he was made an honorary life member, the third since the founding of the Association in 1973, Michael D Higgins made a strong appeal for sociologists to reclaim the intellectual space that had been forfeited to a form of economic commentary that lacked intellectual content, rigour or depth.
Describing much of what was printed in this regard as ���populist effusions�۪ rather than theoretically grounded or research informed opinion, he suggested that the prevalence of such, at a time when scholarship itself had been put under immense strain in the universities in the name of being complaint to short term needs, represented the single greatest handicap placed in our way in moving towards a better and more democratic version of the future.
The creative society represents not just another option in present circumstances; it constitutes an exciting set of possibilities. Within the creative society many different forms of innovation within the economy are possible. The creative society, however, is not a residue of economic growth. Rather it is capable of making possible new and different forms of sustainable growth in human and environmental terms. Comparing different periods in intellectual history, he suggested that the absence of the sociological imagination in policy formation had meant that legitimate areas of research such as the sociology of work had been replaced by dubious shibboleths from management journals from abroad. He gave the example of ���ten tips�۪ from the April 2003 edition of People Management which included such suggestions as ���smiling with more than your eyes�۪, ���making a great entrance�۪, and ���walking around with an air of importance�۪. Elsewhere the suggestion was made that one should ���see relationships turn into potentially successful business deals�۪. The danger of such and related populist effusions including ���breakfast roll man�۪ being accepted as alternatives for intellectual work is that it condemns a future generation to a vulgar misery on the one hand, and obscures the real possibilities of moving past the innovative economy as currently conceived to the creative society rich in possibilities, on the other.
Referring to previous periods in which social change was analysed, he suggested that the response of Max Weber in his time was one that drew on a rational heritage but also on intuition and indeed religious sentiment. A great prize has been paid, he suggested, for the non-emergence of a strong theoretical sociology in Ireland. A similar situation had arisen in India, which had lost the opportunity of building on a millennium of aesthetics for its sociology and had chosen instead to capitulate to a narrow western model derived from the Chicago Consensus. The most exciting task in the applied area would arise in relation to classical concerns of balancing the life world in terms of time and space. To date the delivery of science and technology into the workplace had been such as to allow the private and personal world to be colonised by the factory or the office, turning employees into mobile, machine-like extensions of the world of work. It is perhaps not excessive to say that the consequences were such as to leave so many in a neurotic society consumed in their consumption.
Speaking of the rich yields of an economics of creativity, he referred to the possibilities of human creativity in the area of film, music, fashion, design, and the arts in general. There was no evidence however since the abolition of the Department of which he was Minister- Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht- that there was much government support for such a view. Changing the personnel in government at a time when a failed model was inflicting misery not just in Ireland and Europe but throughout the world will achieve little when what is required is a change of political vision that can take account of change and direct it. In the immediate short term sociologists should treat with irony the vapid reductionisms of those who claimed an expertise on areas for which they had neither intellectual training or practical expertise. The major challenge however was the lodging of the sociological imagination, the critical insight, and the discourse of an open and vigorous sociological theory and practice at the centre of decision making and government bodies including social partnership.