Conflict Studies

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    • 00:01

      [MUSIC PLAYING][Conflict Studies]

    • 00:11

      KRIS BROWN: My name is Kris Brown.[Dr. Kris Brown, Lecturer, University of Ulster]I'm a lecturer in the School of Criminology and Politicsand Social Policy, also attached to the Transitional Justiceinstitute and Ulster University.The research I'll be talking about todayis a case study drawn from researchI've been conducting over the last 10 years

    • 00:31

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: now, examining all forms of commemorationin Northern Ireland, which relates specificallyto the most recent conflict, colloquially knownas "The Troubles."We will be focusing today on one particular casestudy, an interface area in East Belfast knownas Ballymaccarret or Short Strand,

    • 00:54

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: in a working class area.And we'll be looking at forms of commemoration which takeplace in that interface area.What it says about how local communitiesremember the past and local communities dealwith the politics of the past in the present.

    • 01:14

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: There are different interpretationsof what the conflict is and its genesis,but what we can say with some suretyis that it's a political conflict between Protestants,Unionists, and Loyalists on the one side,and Catholics, Nationalists, and Republicans on the other.

    • 01:36

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: The conflict centers around identity, but alsothe distribution of political powerand constitutional structures.Divisions don't simply relate to politics or worship,but they're also underpinned by deep social cleavages whichmutually support that.Cleavages in terms of residence, education, special location.

    • 02:04

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: Even some forms of relatively banal organizations,such as fraternal organizations, cultural organizations,are often inflected with a political or ethnic charge.The aim of this particular case studywas to examine how localized memory inflectedthe politics of the present.

    • 02:25

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: And how localized forms of memory shapednarratives about the wider conflict in society.An assumption of the research wasthat these local forms of memory really matter.Political actors, what have been called "memory entrepreneurs"

    • 02:47

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: in the literature, have spent an enormous amountsof energy and time and resources in creating and conductingthese commemorations.It clearly matters to them.And my assumption was that if we were to properly understandhow the peace process is bearing down in neighborhoodsand localities we should look to see

    • 03:09

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: how these forms of local commemorationdeal with the past or use narratives about the pastto reflect and inflect the politics of the present.[Methodology]I had to put together quite multifaceted methods

    • 03:30

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: of capturing data in order to best pull togetherthe forms of memory that are beingpromulgated at a local level.The first and most important was field researchduring commemorations themselves, in which caseI would turn up at commemorations,

    • 03:50

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: observe what was going on, and record the data in fieldresearch notes, using audio recording,still photography as well.That had to broaden the out, so I alsoexamined documents which had been producedby the local communities themselves, of which there

    • 04:12

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: is a vast and rich number.Many of the local historical pamphletsgo through multiple editions.They produce leaflets, posters, a whole raft of material.I also included interviews with the memory entrepreneurs

    • 04:32

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: themselves, those who are engagedin planning, organizing, and conducting the commemorativeprocesses themselves.The research was also longitudinal.Throughout Northern Ireland, but also in this specific casestudy in East Belfast I had conducted it from 2006 onwards,

    • 04:54

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: and indeed I'm still conducting the research.[Challenges & Advantages]I was effectively conducting a loose formof ethnographic research in my own backyard.This presented particular advantagesbut particular challenges as well.There were clear advantages.I had good networks to draw on and I

    • 05:17

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: was able to draw on those quicklyin terms of gaining access.I had in-depth knowledge as a native of the province that Icould draw on, which also helped meto nuance some of my interpretations,as I could see the importance of certain themes,even words that were being used.

    • 05:40

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: And there was also easier access to material for triangulation.I had very little difficulty, apart from time expended,in undertaking documentary research,going through news reports, even TV reports,over a period of time.This was a clear advantage.

    • 06:00

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: But there were also disadvantages.I could be what ethnographers say is home blind.I could be missing out on things which were familiar to mebut were actually very important in communicating somethingof great interest to those outside of Northern Ireland who

    • 06:23

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: are interested in deeply divided societies.Like all citizens of Northern Ireland,academics included, I bring my own particular baggageto bear as well.Even if I'm trying to compensate for bias,I was also concerned that I might also be overcompensating

    • 06:43

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: for bias as well.And one key thing when you're lookingat the expression of memory which is oftendone in the form of political symbolsand parades and the like, is that I've becomerather desensitized to these.I developed means of compensating

    • 07:04

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: for these disadvantages of bias, home blindness,and desensitization by keeping a research diary,by talking things through with other researchers who werelooking at similar subjects.And also talking to researchers in other deeply dividedsocieties to get a better handle of howto deal with these issues.

    • 07:26

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: Lastly, drawing on some of the scholarshipon historical memory I developed a sort of checklistwith which I could work out how to best pick apartand unpack meaning to ensure that I

    • 07:46

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: haven't missed or been home blind to particular issues.And the checklist was produced from Lies My Teacher ToldMe, which provides a useful insight into how bestto pick apart and challenge narratives

    • 08:08

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: which are attached to commemorations and memorials.[Forms of Commemoration are Numerous and Pervasive]Forms of commemoration in localitiesare numerous and pervasive.They take multiple forms, involving memorialization,commemoration, creation of spectacle,

    • 08:29

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: production of ephemeral material such as posters,leaflets, the publication of local histories.They're very numerous, and they take placewithin what becomes a very not [INAUDIBLE]but complicated commemorative calendar.

    • 08:51

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: [Finding 2 Memory and Community]Social memory matters in deeply divided societies,not only during conflict but during peace processes as well.Social memory provides a degree of symbolic reparationfor services rendered to the community

    • 09:12

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: or recognition for harms done to members of the community.It also serves as a form of bonding agent,providing a narrative that members of a localitycan tune into and also physically participatein themselves.

    • 09:32

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: Now this may not be a narrative that all membersof the community share, but it's a narrativewhich has some authenticity and purchase within the community.Not only that, but it can also serveas a way of providing a platform for messages

    • 09:52

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: within a community.Memorial processes, commemorationsprovide a platform for messages about contemporary politicsor contemporary peace processing.And the sacral nature of the memoryis often used to underline and underwritethe importance of the memory or the importance of the message

    • 10:17

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: as well.[Finding 3 Memory and Identity]A third point emerging from the researchwas how the research backed up many interpretationsof the power of local memory in underwriting identityand binding communities together.

    • 10:38

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: These interpretations had come from a varietyof fields-- geography, social psychology, sociology,and history.Niall Doherty had written about how local memories are scaledup through commemoration to more fully tune inwith national understandings and national narratives.

    • 11:02

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: As well as that, the geographer Pete Shirlowhad written about the importance of how where deathoccurred affected people's understanding of the conflict.Deaths close to home or within the homewere read by local communities as attacks

    • 11:25

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: on the community itself.Political sociologist Sasa Milosevichas also written about the importanceof local forms of memory, local forms of identity productionas the real forge of wider national identityand nationalisms.

    • 11:46

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: Nationalism is created in little local forcing houses ratherthan being simply a top-down process shaped by elites.[Finding 4 Memory is Subjective]A fourth point emerging from the case studywas that memory, I know this was little surprise,

    • 12:09

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: was largely partisan in the Short Strand BallymccarrettEast Belfast interface.This should be no surprise given the segmentalcleavages within deeply divided societies.Most memory was created by those from a Republican frame

    • 12:30

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: or from a loyalist frame.There were instances of cross-community attemptsto form an understanding of the past,but these were very much in the minority.Now what do these forms of partisan memory,given that they are the majority,what do they actually mean?

    • 12:52

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: Well, some research has pointed to memoryas almost a form of war by other meansin deeply divided societies.It's a way of picking up the pastand brandishing it as a weapon, not irrational purposes,but because it has political value attached to it.

    • 13:15

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: It serves as a means of advancing claims-makingin the present and delegitimizingthe goals of opponents.And there was certainly haven't so that and commemorations.But there's another way of lookingat memory in deeply divided societieswhere a peace process is underway,

    • 13:36

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: and that's memory as an adaptive form.Even partisan memory or partisan memory aimed specificallyout one's own communal group is actuallyused to help weave the group through the difficultiesand compromises of a peace process.

    • 13:56

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: In other words, memory is used to send messages about the needfor compromise, the need to move from a period of violenceto a purely political competition,and it can also be used to adapt the forms of memory to softenmore militant forms into more historical,

    • 14:21

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: rather more m what I've often called "pseudo-militaristform."So memory can have an adaptive purposein keeping a constituency and a local community reassuredthat their interests are being looked out for in the twists

    • 14:42

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: and turns of a peace process.And it can also serve as a means to soften and adjustsome of the narratives.[Narratives in Detail]Short strand, the narrative is one of siege,one of threat and victimhood.No surprise given that this is effectively

    • 15:03

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: a Nationalist enclave within a much larger Unionist EastBelfast constituency.They also valorize forms of communal mobilizationand solidarity.And also militant forms of resistance to the state

    • 15:26

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: and to what are perceived as their Loyalist enemies.But there is also adaptive forms taking place as well.Some of the militant symbolism hasbeen softened into a historical form, presented almostas a historical reenactment or looking at the past as very

    • 15:50

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: much the past.Even if the activity was legitimate then,it need not be now.Some of the speeches attached to the commemorationsalso to point to the need for understanding of differingpolitical perspectives.

    • 16:12

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: This attempt to slightly complicatethe political narratives is not the majority expressionof the narratives, but it is neverthelessa significant component of them.Although the Unionist community is by far the most predominant,they point to the Nationalist and Republican area

    • 16:37

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: of the Short Strand enclave as a source of violence.A source of violence in the past and in the presentvia interface tensions and interface civil disturbances.One key commemoration illustrates the differencesbetween the Unionist and the Republican narrative.

    • 17:00

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: What was called the Battle of St. Matthewsin Nationalist Republican areas but also referredto as Murder in Ballymaccarrett by Unionist Loyalists.It was a gun battle in June of 1970 presentas a form of community resistance and defenseby Republicans, but viewed as effectively

    • 17:26

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: an attack on Unionist civilians in the area.This gun battle has become of iconic importanceto Irish Republicans.It has also become of iconic importanceto Loyalists in Belfast more generally because it,

    • 17:48

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: to them, reflects Irish Republican perfidy, if youlike.And also Republicans were not engaging in defense.Rather, they were attacking Unionist civilians.Yet, within the Republican community in Short Strandit's presented as a necessary defenseagainst a potential pogrom by Unionists and Loyalists

    • 18:12

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: in the area.Both point to a sense of victimhoodand their own innocence.Both reflect the sense of being unheard on the wider stage.The Short Strand is a small enclave besieged and threatened

    • 18:33

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: by an external other.In every form of commemoration there is not only justwhat is remembered but what is forgotten.And there are key silences within both the wider Unionistand a Republican Nationalist commemorations.

    • 18:53

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: Republicans don't reflect on the violence they promoted,which actually affected their own communityand caused death in crossfire or through premature explosion.Loyalists also are silent about the intimidation that

    • 19:14

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: was put on to the wider Nationalist population in EastBelfast in the form of workplace expulsions.They also have a mutual silence about the effectof the Troubles on the Nationalist Catholic population

    • 19:34

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: in other areas of east Belfast.East Belfast in the 1960s had a pepperingof Catholics living in the wider East Belfast area, notin the enclave of Short Strand.They, over a period of years, were effectivelyintimidated out of their homes through murder and threat.

    • 19:58

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: But they don't really figure in the Republican commemorationsin Short Strand, and they certainlyaren't referred to in Unionist or Loyalist commemorations.[Conclusions]How can researching these forms of local memory help us?Well, they provide a very useful lens on the hidden discourses,

    • 20:24

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: the hidden transcripts of politics, the infrapoliticsthat occurs in a peace process.Not the political discourses thatcirculate within the political leaderships and in the media,but they give us some clues to howpeace processes are actually bearing down within localities.

    • 20:49

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: This is of particular interest to thosewho are interested in peace buildingor transitional justice means of workingwith the legacy of the past to create a safer,more secure present.We can see through these almost ready-made lenses

    • 21:12

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: of commemoration what narratives are circulating in localities,how identity is changing.Whether it is firming up communal boundariesor whether it is helping to soften the narratives to movethings from a more militant frame to one whichis more engaged in simply political mobilisation.

    • 21:35

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: Or even shifting narratives to a more historical locusor shaping the narratives in a way whichreflect legal claims-making and human rightsdiscourse, rather than one which is simplyabout a clash of national identities.

    • 21:56

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: One final thing, which may be complicatingto those who attempt to reimaginepublic forms of memory, memory in public space,is that the divergent forms of memory exist in this interface

    • 22:16

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: without any sense of discord or dissonance.By that I mean many militant or at least partisan formsof memory often set quite close attemptsto put more cross-community frame on the past.So murals, for example, show the need

    • 22:38

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: to draw a veil over the past or at leastmove away from historical assumptions,the better to create a future for young people.Yet others haven't expressed a senseof the past which is expressly nationally focused,

    • 22:59

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: often lauding violence and often doing so very explicitly.This may lead to some difficult questionsabout how ambiguous memory and localities can be.And it may be that it is impossible to construct

    • 23:20

      KRIS BROWN [continued]: an overarching narrative or indeedto push out fully narratives whichare based on partisan identification in deeplydivided societies.

Conflict Studies

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Abstract

Dr. Kris Brown discusses the ethnographic study he conducted in his home town of Belfast, Northern Ireland. His research was an extensive case study on conflict and public commemorations throughout his community.

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Conflict Studies

Dr. Kris Brown discusses the ethnographic study he conducted in his home town of Belfast, Northern Ireland. His research was an extensive case study on conflict and public commemorations throughout his community.

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