Image, Identity and Activism: A Study of the Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution in Order to Secure Abortion Rights for Women in Ireland

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Christina Quinlan, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK


    This paper explores identity in the visual. It does so in relation to the role of the visual in the winning in Ireland in 2018 of the referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the constitution. The Eighth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution following a 1983 abortion referendum. In the 2018 referendum, voters were asked to vote on repealing the eighth amendment; voter turnout was 64.13%, with 66% voting in favour of repeal and 34% against (The Irish Times, May 27, 2018). Subsequently, the Eighth Amendment was repealed, and this paved the way in Ireland for legislation allowing abortion; this legislation was signed into law in December 2018. Prior to and in the run-up to the referendum, a number of different political movements developed and coalesced around the movement to repeal. The focus of this paper is on the use of the visual within those movements to create, project, and develop a cohesive identity around the repeal movement. The movement was visualised in diverse ways and in a range of images, from fashion, tee shirts, badges and emblems worn or carried by activists, to billboards, and film and still images including cartoons and memes. The use of social media was significant. This paper provides a semiotic analysis of a range of images used in the campaign. The paper considers the meaning of the images, in the campaign and in Irish society and culture. The paper considers the politicisation of the images used. The analysis examines the effectiveness both of the images used in the campaign and the effective use of images in the campaign. The paper sheds light on the use of the visual in the development of a cohesive collective identity for the campaign. Finally, the paper considers the utility of the campaign and the lessons learned in the campaign while proposing the campaign as a model or case study for similar campaigns globally.