Konflikten i Nordirland: Hvordan forklares aspekterne i den nordirske konflikt ud fra teorierne etnosymbolisme, konstruktivisme og essentialisme?

Christina Hasly & Maria Nielsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Since the foundation of the Northern Irish state on the 3 May 1921 the nation has been greatly influenced by the segregation between the Catholic and the Protestant communities. The segregation has resulted in numerous counts of sectarian violence between the two communities, which escalated during the years 1970–1998, a period also known as The Troubles. Bloody Sunday, the 30 January 1972, was the event that would see The Troubles explode and thousands of people were killed in the years leading up to the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998. The ethno symbolist approach (Anthony D. Smith and John Armstrong), the essentialist approach (Samuel Huntington, Max Weber and Lawrence Harrison) as well as the constructivist approach (Eric Hobsbawm, Ernst Gellner and Claire Mitchell) all have different ways of analysing the development of the conflict. The ethno symbolists focus on the cultural values and the bottom-up approach as the foundation of the development of and the ethnics within the nation. As opposed to the ethno symbolists, the constructivists believe that nations are constructed and created by the elite, using a top-down approach. This approach does not acknowledge that the cultural values, on which a society is build, have developed over time. The essentialist approach is somewhat similar to the ethno symbolist approach as it also focuses mainly on the cultural aspects of a nation’s development. The cultural values such as history, customs, traditions and religious beliefs all have a great impact on the social and economic segregation of the Catholics and the Protestants. According to Weber, this segregation has to do with the protestant work ethic and has lasted since Henry the 8th broke with the Catholic Church and is the reason for the conflict in Northern Ireland. The segregation is not isolated to a few areas in the community; it has consumed all aspects of public life. The Northern Irish communities are divided in catholic and protestant areas by large walls, the so called walls of peace, schools are divided into catholic and protestant schools and interreligious marriages are the exception and rarely accepted by the families. Catholics are discriminated against with regard to jobs, which has been one of the main reasons for the poor economic position among the Catholics. The segregation between the two groups has created what Huntington calls the ‘us and them’ attitude where they mirror themselves in the other group and create a hostile attitude towards the others build on extensive mistrust. In order to improve the general ‘us and them’ attitude that is such an integrated part of society, integrated schools have been founded in the hopes of bringing future generations together to eliminate prejudices and improve mutual understanding. Despite the fact that many initiatives aimed at the educational institutions have been made, it does not seem to have an overwhelming effect, and the vast majority of parents still choose to send their children to segregated schools. Even though many projects have been launched to end the segregation and thereby also the conflict, the Northern Irish society is still experiencing sectarian violence. As late as early April 2011 a young catholic policeman was killed by a bomb presumably planted by the IRA. According to Støvring the problem is that the nation lacks a shared identity. Northern Ireland is not one nation with one identity, but a divided nation containing two different ethnics with their own traditions, religion and customs. A crucial aspect of the conflict is the two religions, Catholicism and Protestantism. The religions are historically deeply imbedded within the two communities and can explain the economic differences, the social structure of society and even the political adherences. Because of religion the Catholics have been discriminated against and along with their poorer educational level this has been the main reason for the economic inequality between the two groups. The economic differences have changed the social structure of society and created a powerful protestant elite and an inferior catholic community. Religion also impacts on the political life in the sense that one’s national identity, whether you are a catholic or a protestant, is also an indication of one’s political identity. Protestants vote for protestant parties such as Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Catholics vote for catholic parties such as Sinn Féin or Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). Furthermore, the churches are extremely powerful as they are consulted when crucial questions are being discussed. They will of course try to influence their communities, and because their main function is to advice and guide their congregation the churches have a great effect on the forming of the identity and the opinion of the individual. On that background it can be concluded that religion is the most influential aspect of the Northern Irish conflict. After having analysed the conflict in the light of the three theories constituting the theoretical framework of the dissertation, the authors of this dissertation conclude that the conflict can best be explained by using the ethno symbolist approach. The analysis shows that the conflict is a historic and cultural conflict which builds on the aspects crucial for the ethno symbolists such as traditions, customs, symbols, history and religion. The nation has neither been constructed using a top-down approach as the constructivists claim, nor solely using the bottom-up approach as concluded by the essentialists, but by using a mix between the top-down approach and the bottom-up approach. This means that the nation is the result of the elite’s influence on the general public and the general public’s influence on the elite – a mutual influence. However, it must be emphasised that it is not possible to include every dimension of the conflict by only using the ethno symbolist approach. Therefore, it is necessary to include both the constructivist and essentialist approach in order to include other important aspects, such as the economic and social differences. To conclude, the three theories together describe the aspects making up the conflict as a web of entangled elements that makes the conflict almost impossible to solve.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages95