Dealing with nationalism in view of a human need to belong : the feasibility of narrative transformation in Northern Ireland
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This thesis seeks to delineate what change in divided societies such as Northern Ireland is possible. Two steps are necessary to answer this question: first, to explain the potency of nationalism. I contend that taking the evolutionary history of humans and a human need to belong into account is essential for an understanding of A.D. Smith’s ethno-symbolist approach to nationalism. We need to acknowledge that human beings emerged from small-scale settings and are therefore conservative beings who seek those patterns of familiarity that make up the ordinary ‘everyday’. They are also prejudiced beings, as prejudice helps to break down a complex world into digestible pieces. The ethnic state excluding an ethnic ‘other’ is an answer to these calls for simplicity. By establishing an apparent terra firma, a habitus, symbols of an ethnic past and national present speak of nationalist narratives that provide a sense of ontological security. In (Northern) Ireland, ethno-national communities based on prejudiced understandings of history have long been established. In this second step I maintain that change that violates the core potent national narratives cannot be achieved. The Provisional IRA’s change from insurrection to parliament became feasible because a radical break with republican dogmas was avoided. Sinn Féin, despite a rhetorical move towards ‘reconciliation’, still seek to outmanoeuvre the unionist ‘other’. The history of Irish socialism, on the other hand, has been a failure, as it embodied a radical attempt to banish the ‘other’ from the national narrative. Regarding ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland, I argue for a peacebuilding approach that leaves the confinements of hostile identity politics, as these mass guarantors of ontological security possess only limited potential for relationship transformation. We need to appreciate those almost invisible acts of empathy and peace that could be found even in Northern Ireland’s darkest hours.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2020-10-18
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Electronic copy restricted until 31st October 2020
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