A Register of Economic and Social Research on Northern Ireland, 1980-83, with an Introductory Essay
Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster


A Register of Economic and Social Research on Northern 
Ireland, 1980-83, with an Introductory Essay frontispiece

A Register of Economic and Social Research on Northern Ireland, 1980-83, with an Introductory Essay

by J Darby, N N Dodge, A C Hepburn and J Leonard
Social Science Research Council Northern Ireland Panel, London 1983
ISBN 0 86226 067 1
Paperback 517 entries £4.00


Copies are available in bookshops or, by post, from:

Pat Shortt
Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster
COLERAINE
Northern Ireland
BT52 1SA

T: (01265) 324666 or 324165
F: (01265) 324917
E: mp.shortt@ulst.ac.uk


This material is copyright of the Centre for the Study of Conflict and the author(s) and is included on the CAIN web site with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction or redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.



A Register of Economic and Social Research on Northern Ireland
1980-83
with an Introductory Essay

by J Darby, N N Dodge, A C Hepburn and J Leonard

Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster


CONTENTS

SSRC Northern Ireland Panel Membership and Terms of Reference

Economic and Social Research on Northern Ireland: A Commentary

Abbreviations Used

Agriculture

Bibliography

Economics

Education and Psychology

History

Housing, Planning and Administration

Human Geography

Law

Politics

Social Anthropology and Folk Studies

Social Medicine

Social Studies

Author Index

Appendix 1

Research and Clasification Methods

Appendix 2

Organisations Contacted, with Addresses

Author Index

Subject Index


SSRC Northern Ireland Panel Membership and Terms of Reference

Membership

Professor M J Wise (Chairman)
Department of Geography
London School of Economics

Dr P Kelvin
Department of Psychology
University College London

Mr G Buchanan (from May 1982)
Department of Health and Social Services
Belfast

Professor W Kirk
Department of Geography
Queen's University of Belfast

Mr T Carlin
Northern Ireland Office
Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Mr R L Schierbeek
Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive
British Enkalon Ltd, Antrim

Professor D Chambers
London Graduate School of Business Studies


Dr D G Slattery
Treasury Group
Department of Finance and Personnel Stormont

Miss A Dufton
Assistant Director
Oxford Polytechnic

Mr R S Sterling (to April 1982)
Department of Health and Social Services,
Belfast

Professor N J Gibson
Department of Economics
New University of Ulster

Professor J Wrigley (to March 1982)
School of Education
University of Reading

Dr R Jenkins (from May 1982)
Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology
University College of Swansea

Terms of Reference

  1. To commission a programme of research on Northern Ireland within a budget of 350,000 (1980 Survey Prices) for Phase I and 481,344 (1982/83 Prices) for Phase II

  2. To consider how the social science research capacity for work on this area, particularly within Northern Ireland might be enhanced in the commissioning of that programme

  3. To commission a register of recent and current research on Northern Ireland

  4. To liaise with the Northern Ireland Office and other relevant agencies with research requirements

  5. To establish links with relevant researchers in Great Britain and in other countries with a view to the possibility of setting up comparative studies

  6. To advise researchers in Northern Ireland, and those from elsewhere wishing to research on Northern Ireland, who wish to seek finance from the Research Grant Scheme or other agencies.

Return to publication contents


Economic and Social Research on Northern Ireland: A Commentary

At the beginning of 1982 the SSRC Northern Ireland Panel commissioned us to compile a Register of Social and Economic research on Northern Ireland. The contract outlined the terms of reference with regard to the content of the Register. These were:- (a) to include research on, or relating to, Northern Irish issues in the social sciences and cognate disciplines; (b) to concentrate on current and recently completed research, since 1980, that is either not yet published or not readily available in the existing bibliographies; (c) to include all research carried out within Universities, Polytechnics, Research Institutions, public bodies and other bodies where the research has involved a reasonable commitment of continuing effort; (d) to include postgraduate research but not research for course work dissertations; (e) to include relevant research from institutions in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe and North America. Information was gathered from researchers between June 1982 and January 1983.

The general purpose of the Register is to provide information for researchers and to construct a channel of communication between and among researchers and funding bodies. Two developments peculiar to Northern Ireland underline its necessity. The first is the remarkable increase in interest about Northern Ireland's social and economic problems since the late 1960s, and the accompanying rise in research activity which has produced the 517 projects outlined in the Register. The other development was the formation of a Northern Ireland Panel by the Social Science Research Council, and its need for information about the level and spread of research.

The approach adopted to gather and classify information about research is described in Appendix 1. The aim of this introductory essay is to consider the state of economic and social research on Northern Ireland. It is primarily based on an analysis of the projects described in the Register but, as no research register can claim to be comprehensive, efforts have been made to provide as accurate a picture as possible. In particular a number of consultants were asked to provide briefs on the state of research in each of their fields. These briefs have informed our commentaries on the projects, although responsibility for the views expressed in this essay lies with us.

Agriculture There is a total of 27 research projects concerning agriculture, involving a total of 21 different researchers. In contrast with some other research areas only 4 of the 27 are being conducted by more than one researcher. This may suggest that research into agriculture in Northern Ireland is peculiar within the broader economic and social research field, and this suggestion is further supported by the financial and institutional base of the research. 19 of the 24 funded projects receive their financial support from the Department of Agriculture (Northern Ireland). Since eight members of the Department's Economics and Statistics Division also hold appointments in the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Science in Queen's University, it is not surprising that no fewer than 20 of the 27 projects emanated from one or other of these two sources.

The centralisation of research has also produced a high level of co-ordination in the choice of research projects. There is almost no overlap between the fields of study, and strong indication of a planned, 'cradle to grave' approach to research activity. Thus there are projects on part-time and small scale farming and on farm management; on every major aspect of processing and production -cereals, vegetables, milk, live and dead pigs and cattle; on transport and marketing. The closeness, without overlap, between projects indicates a needs-centred research strategy from the Department of Agriculture, and a deliberate attempt to relate research to the needs of farmers and others in the agriculture industry. Many of the projects have incorporated an attempt to forecast developing trends in the industry, and there has been a growing policy emphasis, especially concerning produce marketing.

Two projects, both initiated from the Irish Republic, compare agriculture in the two parts of Ireland and examine the importance of smuggling across the Irish border.

It has been suggested that the dominance of the Department of Agriculture as a sponsor of research also has some disadvantages. Some of these are realised by the Department, which concedes that the focus on applied projects might be regarded as a limited research coverage. Not only does it discourage the searching out of new farming products or markets, but it tends to ignore some important features of the broader rural economy. There are no projects, for example, on agricultural co-operatives, or on alternative rural employment in remote rural areas.

The Department's involvement may also account for the lack of critical research on central planning and policy. Much of the research has a confidence and trust on the reliability of official data which contrasts with some other areas of social research. Further, although the Department defends the lack of overt analysis of agricultural policy on the grounds that there is very limited room for policy modification within the rules of the EEC Common Agricultural Policy, there is a notable shortage of research on that policy, on the EEC or on policy constraints in general.

Apart from these qualifications the state of research on agriculture is generally healthy. Its centralisation probably means that there is little difficulty in securing access to published research findings, despite the fact that the only publications mentioned by researchers are the Department of Agriculture's series Studies in Agricultural Economics and the Irish Journal of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology. However the isolation of agricultural research, not only from broader economic and social issues within the province, but from cross-fertilisation with research in other countries, warns that closeness and intimacy among a small body of researchers carries with it the danger of incest.

Bibliography

One of the more promising developments for social and economic research has been the recent increase in the number of projects collating data in specialist areas which will be useful and available to other researchers. Ten are described in this register, although the total number is much greater. Apart from research registers and bibliographies of Northern Irish materials, the most interesting innovation is the tendency towards specialist collections of source materials. All three institutions in Northern Ireland are building up such specialist collections: the Ulster Polytechnic houses a resource collection on the Irish travelling people; Queen's University is developing collections of materials on housing and a social facilities data bank for Belfast; the New University has built up specialist collections on community conflict and on cooperatives.

This encouraging trend brings with it the problem of diffusion. For overseas researchers in particular it is sometimes difficult to find out about the existence of data and resources collections. Plans now underway to launch an Association for Social Research in Ireland may encourage more co-ordination in this field.

Economics

There are 67 projects listed under this heading, and they involve 51 named researchers as well as several unnamed researchers employed by Government bodies. Unlike other areas where research is carried out almost entirely by the local institutions of higher education, 27 of the projects involve 7 government or quasi-government bodies (most notably the Northern Ireland Economic Council and the Policy Planning and Research Unit), and research on the Northern Irish economy has also attracted several researchers from universities in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

It has been put to us that three factors in particular are responsible for the enormous increase in both the quantity and quality of economic research on the Province since the early 1970s. First and foremost, there has been a considerable expansion in the number of trained researchers, due mainly to the establishment of two new centres of higher education in the Province: the New University of Ulster and the Ulster Polytechnic. These institutions, together with the long established departments at Queen's University Belfast, have increased the number of trained economists and business economists. In addition, the number of professional economists and statisticians employed by the Northern Ireland Civil Service has grown considerably. Secondly, the availability of funding for research has expanded not only from the traditional sources such as the Social Science Research Council, but also from quasi-governmental bodies such as the Fair Employment Agency, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and, more particularly, the Northern Ireland Economic Council. Funding has also come from other bodies such as the Ford Foundation, Co-operation North and the European Community. Finally, the steady deterioration of the local and national economies, with the added dimensions of European Community membership and the conflict, have re-kindled interest in regional economic problems.

Given the diversity of research, it is extremely difficult to categorise it. There obviously cannot be a clear separation, for example, between governmental, managerial and regional policies, unemployment, and local productivity and efficiency. However, with unemployment in the Province currently running at over 20 per cent, it is hardly surprising that this issue colours nearly all the research, and that the structure of the labour market, employment, unemployment and job-creation are the central concerns of about a third of all the projects, with factors affecting the productivity of the manufacturing, construction and service sectors, and policy and public expenditure, as the two other areas where research is concentrated.

Several points have been put to us about the problems facing economic research on Northern Ireland. Firstly, a great deal of the research is descriptive rather than analytical, and very little of it can be regarded as fundamentally theoretical in character. The need for a proper theoretical foundation was emphasised, as was the need for explicitly theoretical models which had been developed in different contexts to be modified to suit local circumstances. Secondly, it was suggested that current research on certain areas, most notably the labour market and the problems of industrial development, ran the risk of becoming repetitive and of directing study away from areas such as energy policy, public expenditure, the financial sector, trade, transport, the problems of income distribution, and updating the Input-Output tables. The impact of the European Community is only just being explored. Thirdly, it was suggested that the belief that local output is determined primarily by demand factors needs to be queried and that a fruitful view might be to see Northern Ireland as an example of a Small Open Economy operating under fixed exchange rates. In such a model, supply factors would be decisive in determining output.

The manner in which research was funded has been criticised by researchers. The bulk of economic research in Northern Ireland tends to be either personally motivated or commissioned. In the former case researchers, usually located in centres of higher education, wish to pursue a line of enquiry dictated by their own interests and seek such funding as they can obtain. In the second case, research projects are dictated by the commissioning body which lays down, albeit loosely, the parameters of the investigation. In both cases, directly in the second and indirectly in the first, the major instrument for directing research is the provision of funding; yet there is very little evidence to indicate a coherent pattern for such direction. If human and financial research resources were abundant in Northern Ireland this would be unremarkable, but such is not the case. Consequently, there is a real need for the various sponsoring agencies and academics to unite in sketching out a planned programme of research on the Northern Ireland economy and related issues which would avoid wasteful duplication, generate results of wider utility, and encourage co-operation between the centres of higher education and government departments.

It was also stressed by several economists that the single most important barrier to economic research on Northern Ireland is the volume and adequacy of statistical information relating to the Province's economy. For a well defined region like Northern Ireland with a long history of economic problems, researchers might reasonably have expected that a major effort would be made to provide high quality data. In fact, the collection and compilation of statistics may not have enjoyed a sufficiently high priority within the Northern Ireland Civil Service with the result that the local data base is in parts both small and poor in quality.

One of the first actions of the Northern Ireland Panel of the SSRC was to canvass local opinion on the deficiencies of economic data in the Province. It is to be hoped that they will make forceful representations to the appropriate authorities on this matter. For example, for a very 'open' region it is vital to have information on trade patterns, yet since 1975 no effort has been made to collect any data on this subject. In view of this, current work on reconstructing trade series is particularly useful since it may shed some light on this vital area.

In many cases the data problem is compounded by other considerations. Thus there are deficiencies in the data-series on prices for the region, details about financial assistance to industry is withheld to preserve confidentiality, and some of the data can be misleading. Under these restrictions the quality of research can only suffer. Though there are genuine difficulties in this area, a common view among economists is that the government has erred on the side of caution to an excessive degree.

Finally, it would appear not only that the preponderance of work has lacked a sound theoretical base but that it has concentrated on macro aspects of the economy. It has been put to us that given the sharp contraction of the manufacturing sector in recent years increased research at specific industry level would be beneficial.

Education and Psychology

A total of 69 projects on education and psychology satisfy the criteria for inclusion in the register, involving 65 different researchers. Nineteen of the projects are being carried out by more than one researcher. Twenty are based in Queen's University Belfast, seventeen in the New University of Ulster, eleven in the Ulster Polytechnic and eight in the Northern Ireland Council for Educational Research (NICER); the rest are divided among nine other bodies. Funding is also rather scattered, with the main support coming from the Department of Education (9), NICER (6) and the SSRC (5). In 33 of the projects no financial assistance is indicated.

Most of the research has a strong empirical base, and there is an almost inextricable interweave between psychology and education. 28 of the 69 projects are concerned directly with the Northern Irish conflict, and a number of others have an indirect interest in it. Only six of these investigate the issue of segregated schooling. The remainder are in the psychological field - 9 are concerned with research about attitudes and tolerance, and 13 with socialisation and identity - and they deal almost exclusively with children and adolescents. The shortage of psychological research on adults seems to be based on the assumption that prejudices and group identity are firmly established at the end of adolescence, and remain unaltered. There is little interest in post-adolescent developments, or adult behaviour.

Methodologically more psychologists have been moving towards the disciplinary frontier with the social sciences, with considerable success. Nevertheless, questionnaire work continues to dominate, and it has been suggested to us that psychological research on Northern Ireland seems to have entered a period of consolidation, which ought not to be permitted to drift into stagnation. The growing interest in the work of Tajfel in all Northern Ireland's three higher and further educational establishments may have the effect of placing too many eggs in one, albeit attractive, basket.

Other educational research themes reflect wider societal concerns. Four projects are examining the relationship between school and work and the transition between the two; the eight projects on adult and higher education are partly a reflection of the interest in higher education raised by the proposed merger between the New University and the Ulster Polytechnic, but are also partly explained by an interest in the subject by NICER. The entry of the Equal Opportunities Commission into research funding has stimulated interest in women's issues, although only two projects have resulted in this category.

The dominance of these themes may help to account for gaps other aspects of educational research. Four of these may be particularly noted in the context of Northern Ireland:-

  1. The functions of rural schools, especially during a period of severe educational cutbacks.

  2. Pre-schooling, which was scheduled for expansion before the cuts, and where virtually no research is recorded.

  3. Selection and comprehensive schools, in which research interest has almost disappeared since the failure to implement comprehensivisation in the late 1970s.

  4. Peripheral educational activities, such as the psychiatric and health services in schools, has not attracted the attention of researchers, apart from one project on school meals.

Many of the gaps in research activity have important implications for educational structures and policy and, given that 48% of all projects had no financial backing, there appears to be a strong case for the injection of more research funds in this area.

History In terms of subject matter History is one of the more wide-ranging of the fields under consideration. 54 researchers, undertaking a total of 74 projects, were identified. Of these projects 32 are concerned with economic history (including transport and agricultural history), 27 with social history (including popular and material culture), and 14 with political history. Periods under study range from the middle ages to the present, but there is a heavy concentration on the recent past: 28 projects are concerned with the twentieth century, and a further 13 with the nineteenth. 17 other projects deal with particular topics over the whole range of modern history. In many areas of history the distinction between the North and the rest of Ireland is of little or no significance. Projects have been included here if there appears to be any specific Northern relevance.

Historical research is especially varied in its scope, methodology, and fundamental aims, and this is reflected in the nature of the financial support on which it depends. Historians are beginning to take up projects, especially since the advent of the computer, which require the collection, cataloguing or coding of data on a very large scale. To this extent, a distinct role for the research assistant has come to be recognised. But the older tradition of the principal investigator 'doing his own research', scrutinising all the evidence personally, also continues. While this may sometimes reflect overcaution or an insufficiently businesslike approach to the classification and allocation of research tasks, it is more often to do with the complexity or the limited extent of the available evidence. It remains the case that the first concern of many historians is for sufficient time to carry out data collection and analysis, and sufficient funding to travel to the archives. Thus fellowships for experienced researchers to develop their own projects, such as those offered by the Institute of Irish Studies at QUB, and the provision for staff study leave made by the Province's universities, are essential to the development of the more traditional modes of historical research. 17 projects each were reported from NUU and QUB.

The largest single focus of Irish historical work in the Province, however, is the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, Co. Down, where 9 members of staff are engaged in a total of 27 research projects, covering a broad area from literacy and popular culture to traditional agricultural techniques and tools, vernacular architecture and the history of boatbuilding. It has not been easy to decide which of these projects should be included in a register of social and economic research, but in cases of doubt the projects have been included. Clearly a large part of the work here is directly related to museum activities of identification, collection and preservation, but work on cataloguing the pottery collection and tracing developments in boatbuilding merge into studies of small-scale industrial production, while the history of vernacular building styles cannot be separated from the social history of housing. Agricultural studies at the Museum touch on employment patterns as well as livestock history and field systems.

In university-based research, economic and social history attract an equal degree of attention, and often cannot be fully distinguished from one another. Landlord-tenant relationships from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, a subject for long trapped between competing political mythologies, have recently begun to undergo considerable revision, based on intensive examination of estate records in the PRONI and elsewhere. In the history of population and migration, Ireland has long been a focus of international academic interest, especially the century leading up to the great famine. Current research focuses more directly on the north, where emigration, the impact of regional and class factors on demographic behaviour, and the impact of urbanisation on inter-group relations are all subjects of study. Emigration research, especially, links social problems closely with the question of economic development. A number of studies address aspects of nineteenth century economic development, from a study of the interrelationship between proto-industrialisation and emigration in the pre-famine period, to studies of linen ship-building and the development of banking services. The twentieth century is being examined less thoroughly by economic and social historians at present. The performance of the economy since partition, and socio-economic as distinct from political aspects of the sectarian conflict, are particular areas requiring more attention.

Political history is more patchily studied, and the dividing line between it and the separate disciplinary category of Politics is not clear, either methodologically or chronologically. Some work is being done in the early modern period, but the main thrust at present is in the twentieth century, where the release of official records (in London, and much more recently in Belfast and Dublin) on the one hand, and the interest in the background to the present political situation on the other, has been a great spur to activity. Particular concentrations are on British policy in relation to the north of Ireland, the operation of the Northern Ireland government under devolved rule, and the political response to these developments of the Nationalist party. The closure of certain records on the grounds of national or personal security is a major impediment to research on contemporary history, however, and is a policy which should be subject to frequent scrutiny, both generally and in terms of particular records.

Historical research covers a relatively large range of problems, and its area of concentration at any particular time is likely to be less tightly focused than is the case with some other disciplines. There is however a growing feeling in the profession, partly reflected in the nature of some of the research reported here, that as well as maintaining and developing a dispassionate record of our past, History has particular insights to contribute towards inter-disciplinary social science enquiry, notably a depth of perspective and particular experience of analysing the process of change, both long- and short-term. In the past, historians have been more reluctant than most social scientists to engage in collaborative work, either with fellow historians or with others. One strand of future development certainly lies in the direction of problem-oriented research programmes, in which the historian forms part of a wider team. This cannot replace more conventional historical research, but it adds an important new dimension to the historian's activity.

Housing, Planning and Administration

This section looks at recently completed or continuing research in the subject areas of Housing and Planning. The latter is taken to include not only physical land-useplanning studies but para-planning administrative studies as well.

There are thirty-three research items in this section involving twenty three researchers. Thirteen of the items are in house' surveys undertaken and financed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment (N.I.). Of the remaining projects six are based at Queen's University, five at Glasgow Universities, three at the Ulster Polytechnic, and one each at the Universities of Bristol, Durham, Keele and Manchester respectively. Two other projects are Shelter (N.I.) studies. Seven of the academic-based studies involve more than one researcher. Apart from the 'in house' projects, the main sources of funding has been from the SSRC (six projects) and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (three projects). It should be stressed that the projects listed here do not represent an exhaustive list of all the research undertaken in this field since 1980, rather they represent the number of questionnaires returned.

These returns show that a sizeable amount of research undertaken by planning academics has been housing orientated (Hendry, Lewis, Singleton). The amount of actual land-use planning research is low with two funded projects reported (Caldwell and Greer, Middleton et. al.). Two other projects included (Connolly, McKie) fall within what could loosely be defined as para-planning administrative studies. The remaining planning projects are postgraduate dissertations for higher degrees.

The large number of housing research entries encompass a number of distinct strands in the housing subject area. The returns are dominated by the inclusion of a large number of 'in-house' surveys undertaken by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. These surveys, ranging from the province-wide House Condition Survey to the localised Housing Action Area Survey, provide useful statistics about the housing market and enable the NIHE to evaluate and monitor the many policies and programmes it undertakes.

A further housing research strand is that undertaken within the academic community. This more conventional hypothesis testing research is exemplified by the works of Singleton, Tomlinson and Blackman. Independent academic research i.e. research in which the parameters of study are set by the individual researcher, is complemented by 'contract' academic research where the parameters are set by agencies such as the NIHE (Hendry and Hilis 1981). Prior to 1980 the Department of Social Administration, NUU, had carried out several research studies in housing mainly on a contract basis with the Housing Executive. A final research strand in the housing area is the independent research undertaken by Shelter N.I.

Research output in the housing subject area has increased rapidly during the last decade. The establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as a comprehensive regional housing authority empowered to conduct and promote research has undoubtedly acted as a catalyst to such output. In terms of data, availability and access, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is in a strong position to carry out research on its own behalf using in-house staff. It is imperative that such investigation into the nature of the Northern Ireland housing market continues. A dialogue between the housing agencies and the academic community is essential, but it is not without difficulties. For example, to some extent researchers outside the NIHE who are not 'on contract' to the housing authority must rely on the goodwill of the Board and officers of the Executive to obtain vital data. A good deal of NIHE data has been published but much remains within NIHE itself. The NIHE seems willing to fund a good deal of research, but only on a contract type basis. It would be unfortunate if the only Housing research carried out in Northern Ireland was limited to 'in house' NIHE and DOE (NI) work together with that carried out on a customer-contractor relationship with the housing agencies. The SSRC's role in funding independent research is thus a crucial one as highlighted in the report submitted to the Northern Ireland Panel by Professor Parry Lewis.

Professor Lewis's report is important because it establishes for the first time in Northern Ireland a framework for research on housing and a priority listing of topics, following consultations with a wide range of people and organizations. It recognises the need for complementary research to be undertaken by, or on behalf of, administrative housing agencies on the one hand and independent academic researchers on the other. It is to be welcomed that the DOE and NIHE have responded with a commitment to fund a high percentage of the priority topics listed in Professor Parry Lewis's report, but the reservations already made about the dominance of the customer-contractor framework should be noted. In a period of continued financial stringency in housing provision, as well as in housing research, it is likely that 'priorities', allocation' and 'value for money' will be the keywords of the subject matter of housing research in Northern Ireland in the 1980's.

Human Geography

Human geography research on Northern Ireland has changed substantially over the decades. Early research tended to concentrate on settlement forms and modes of land-use, with the discipline itself having especially close links with the humanities, particularly archaeology and folk studies. Recent research, however, has brought the discipline much closer to the social sciences in its objectives and methods, and the volume of research output emphasising locational, distributional and environmental themes has expanded considerably.

The large number of research entries included here exemplify this point. There are thirty-nine projects, involving thirty different researchers. Ten of the projects involve more than one researcher. The institutional breakdown shows Queen's University with twelve projects, the New University with eleven and the University of Bristol and the Ulster Polytechnic with three projects each. There are four joint Queen's University/Ulster Polytechnic studies and one joint Queen's University/New University of Ulster project. With regard to funding, twenty-two of the projects indicate no financial assistance, and among the funded projects the main support comes from the SSRC.

A closer examination of the entries reveal a great diversity of studies in the areas of rural (four), urban (five), social (ten), industrial (eight) and population (five) geography. The preponderance of work has been in certain branches of economic and social geography such as studies of manufacturing industry (Bull, Harrison and Hart), ethnicity (Boal Poole) and population characteristics (Compton). Underlying many of these topics is a strong awareness of political differences and processes, and in addition there is an increasing trend towards more explicitly political topics, such as boundary problems, voting and violence (Poole, Boal and Douglas, Murray).

It is clear from the list of research entries that a large proportion of geographers have devoted themselves to studying the severe social, economic and political problems which beset the Province. Wherever possible, moreover, there has been a keen enthusiasm for making policy recommendations such as those of Harrison in relation to government assistance for industry and those of Armstrong on rural problem areas. Indeed some research projects are designed with the need for such recommendations quite prominent amongst their objectives e.g. Compton and Coward's current study into fertility behaviour in Northern Ireland.

An important point to make about the current state of human geography research on Northern Ireland is that many of the contributions listed here, if not strictly the outcome of long-running research projects, appear as a lengthy sequence of investigation. The works of Boal, Poole, Doherty and Compton exemplify this. This observation demonstrates simultaneously both one of the strengths and one of the weaknesses of current and recent human geography research on Northern Ireland. On the one hand, certain research projects have been continuing for many years, allowing the extensive use of large data sets and further allowing fresh data to be collected and used for comparison with earlier material. On the other hand, this continuation of what is essentially the same research project over many years means that only a limited number of topics are ever investigated. The research frontier is therefore pushed forward in a few narrow segments only and many potential research themes are, at best, minimally explored. This characteristic of individual researchers working in the same field for several years, with both its advantages and its disadvantages, results very largely from the tremendous staff stability in recent years in Northern Ireland's institutions of higher education.

So far the continuity of research has been stressed but there have been examples of innovation in human geography research as well. This innovation can be classified into two types. The first involves long-established researchers turning to a reasonably fresh topic, though, in many, cases, this is a logical extension of earlier work. A clear example from the research currently in progress is Boal and Campbell's investigation into differentiations within the Protestant community in Belfast. The second type of innovation occurs where the young postgraduate or academic chooses their topic of study for either higher degree or post-doctoral work. A notable example of usefully innovative work of this type is the cluster of investigations into a number of aspects of manufacturing industry by Bull, Harrison and Hart.

A further important characteristic of human geography research on Northern Ireland is the contribution made by geographers who have left the Province. The most prolific example here is Hoare, who left in 1976, but whose investigations of industrial geography and regional development have continued.

Research on the human geography of Northern Ireland is thus carried out in a variety of institutional environments, both inside the Province and outside it. As the entries show, most research is implemented by people employed in geography departments in the Province's institutions of higher education. The last few years have witnessed substantial elements of both continuity and innovativeness, but the prospects for the future remain uncertain. Continued innovativeness requires the appointment of new staff and the existence of a prospering postgraduate body. Because of financial stringency these requirements are not being satisfied. Long-established staff in higher education institutions should perhaps therefore recognise that this places more responsibility on them to practice innovativeness. The alternative is that the discipline will run the risk of fossilisation and that the still existing major research gaps will continue to remain unplugged. However, provided that the opportunities for innovation continue to be grasped by some of the Province's geographers, whilst others maintain the equally important consolidation of well-established research areas, the overall prospects for research in human geography in Northern Ireland in the 1980s can still, despite the financial stringencies, remain promising.

Law

A total of 12 projects have been recorded to date, involving 13 researchers. 5 of the projects are being carried out at QUB, which has the only Law Faculty in Northern Ireland (there is also a department of Legal and Administrative Studies at the Ulster Polytechnic). Three projects are based in Great Britain, and two related projects are being undertaken at the University of Toronto.

Legal research falls into two main categories: the examination of particular areas of law, using primarily internal legal sources, and the impact of law in society, using a wider range of sources and methods, social-scientific as well as legal. There is some degree of overlap between the two, but the distinction is nonetheless helpful. In the first category fall practical expositions of the law relating to industrial tribunals and the land registry law in Northern Ireland, (both published by QUB Law Faculty), and an examination of the legal liability of architects. There is also a general survey in progress of areas of difference between Northern Irish law and English law. Northern Ireland received separate treatment in a massive comparative study of bankruptcy law in EEC countries/jurisdictions, sponsored by the EEC Commission. All these projects are concerned essentially with the exegesis of existing law and are of relatively minor direct relevance to social scientists, although the implications of comparative studies within the EEC include possible changes in the law which may go beyond legal technicalities to social consequences. It is perhaps surprising that more is not being done in this area, although since the law in Northern Irish jurisdiction follows English law in the main, it may be that the work is being done in England.

Those projects which deal directly with the impact of law on society have, predictably, a heavy focus on the operation of emergency provisions legislation. There is, however, one project which has examined the working of the Small Claims Procedure in Northern Ireland and made recommendations for reform, and it is believed that there may be work in progress on the operation of housing law. The main thrust, however, is in the area of emergency provisions, where there are 4 projects reported. One takes a broad, comparative and long-range historical view of emergency provision in Northern Ireland and Canada, but the predominant emphasis is on the monitoring and critical assessment of the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland and the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Great Britain. One further project explores the powers of the police and military to use lethal force under present United Kingdom law, and argues that clearer guidelines could be given.

Legal research, as reported, has a heavy empirical and applied emphasis. From one point of view this is both predictable and desirable, and it is not surprising that such research has focused on the political and cultural divisions in the community. In contrast with a number of other disciplines, it appears to be the case that limited and specific empirical projects have predominated to the detriment of work of a more general theoretical nature, and that where locally-based studies have sought to stress the wider implications they have failed to attract the academic attention which they merit. It is suggested that far more comparative work, of both theoretical and applied interest, could be undertaken in the general area of the impact of law in divided societies, and in relation to disadvantaged groups, with regard to employment and other issues.

Politics

Politics is the only discipline where the majority of research projects are being undertaken by researchers based outside the Province. Of the 55 listed projects (41 researchers), 17 are reported from Great Britain, 2 from the Republic of Ireland, and 16 from countries further afield. 8 projects are in progress at the Ulster Polytechnic, 8 at Queen's University and 3 at the New University of Ulster, where there is no department of politics. It is perhaps to be expected that politics has attracted more outside interest than other disciplines. More surprisingly, it has not attracted funding on a comparable scale. Only 20 of the projects have received special funding, including 9 aided by the SSRC and 2 by the Committee for Social Science Research in Ireland.

Sponsorship has been most readily forthcoming for studies concerned directly with the search for solutions to the constitutional question, where 7 out of 11 projects are funded. Within this area of enquiry there are three main emphases. The first looks at Northern Ireland as a constitutional problem for the United Kingdom, with projects concentrating variously on the underlying goals of parties and governments/ on the ability of the British state to implement politically effective social reform in the Province, and on the questions of sovereignty and devolution. The second looks at Northern Ireland as a constitutional problem in itself. Here the current approach has a somewhat negative ring, seeking to explain the failure of the constitutional experiments of the 1970s and the inappropriateness of Lijphardt's consociational model. The third group of projects is concerned with inter-governmental co-operation and the search for solutions in an Anglo-Irish context. Within this category generally, the overall thrust is explanatory rather than predictive, following and assessing political initiatives rather than initiating them. The main research methods in this category are interviews, participant observation, and an examination of the literature.

The most popular area of research is political attitudes, although funding here has been more difficult to obtain. Only 4 of the 18 projects are specially funded. The main focus of interest is in the relationship between religion/ethnicity and socio-economic circumstances. Data sources range from re-workings of the 1968 loyalty survey to surveys carried out during the past two or three years. Findings vary considerably. One project argues that political rather than social change is necessary before the conflict can be resolved, while another stresses the degree of inter-communal variation within both the Catholic and Protestant sides on the basic questions of national identity, law and order, and constitutional policy. Other attitudinal studies focus more specifically on the views of political activists and paramilitaries, while a smaller group of studies are examining aspects of cross-border and cross-channel attitudes to the Northern Ireland problem.

In the third major area of research, political movements, 5 out of 12 projects are specially funded. Funding appears to be most readily available for projects which set the Northern Ireland political system in a comparative European context or seek to examine the impact of EEC membership on the political parties in the Province. A number of studies examine individual parties and movements, including the DUP, the Official Republican movement, the Provisional IRA and the SDLP (the latter in a comparative context alongside Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party). The Unionist party and the NICRA are the subjects of a more historically-based approach. Studies of the elections and the electoral system continue to appear. No research has been reported on the Alliance party or on labour politics. Surprisingly little has been done on local politics and the operation of the district councils system implemented in 1973. A small number of studies, some of them inter-related, are now under way.

Other areas of political research include an analysis of rioters, the role of the army and police, and two projects which examine different aspects of the North American ramifications of the conflict. There have also been a number of short assessments of the general political problem, and a major synthesis of political research is now in progress. Among areas which do not appear to be receiving full consideration are the work of statutory bodies, and the role of the Province's major newspapers.

Social Anthropology and Folk Studies

There are 24 projects involving 17 researchers under this heading. Twelve of the projects (ten of them being carried on by two researchers at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum) are in the specialised field of ethnomusicology, folk narrative/history/song and medicine. The preponderance of projects in these areas is understandable in terms of the "folk" orientation of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the tradition of ethnomusicology fostered within the Anthropology Department at Queen's University, Belfast.

Of the remaining 12 projects, all are more anthropologically familiar and accessible in that they study small-scale populations or local institutions and generally use the anthropological method par excellence of participant observation. Eight of these projects can be broadly categorised as neighbourhood or community studies, either of specific groups such as the Northern Ireland Gentry or Travelling People, or aspects of local life such as employment, religion, young people or the process of suburbanisation. The remaining four studies are concerned with folk models of unemployment and the unemployed, Trade Unions, Labour politics, and the resettlement of Vietnamese Chinese in Craigavon.

Apart from what has been said about the emphasis on folk studies, three main observations may be made about current social anthropological research in the Province. First, Queen's University Belfast, with four research projects being undertaken by professional anthropologists and four doctoral research projects, accounts for ten of the fifteen researchers. Secondly, and unlike other disciplines, doctoral research accounts for about half of all research. The reason for this is probably that anthropological work, with its emphasis on living for long and uninterrupted periods of time in the fieldwork area in order to participate and observe, becomes increasingly inconvenient or impossible unless the researcher is freed from teaching and family ties. Thirdly, only two of the researchers are institutionally based outside the Province, and no researcher comes from abroad. It is in many ways surprising that the Province, with its undoubted anthropological appeal, potential and suitability for testing theories within the discipline, as well as its proximity to the mainland, does not attract more anthropological work. Although it could be argued that the Province's reputation deters some anthropologists, anthropological fieldwork has often entailed personal hazards, and it could just as well be argued that its reputation could also attract others. The explanation for this apparent lack of outside interest probably lies in the old-established orientation of anthropology to distant lands.

Social Medicine

There are 43 researchers carrying out 31 projects listed under this heading. Several non-university organisations are involved in this research but (with the exception of research in nursing at the New University of Ulster), Queen's University, Belfast, with its medical faculty, proximity to the large urban hospitals and over 30 researchers, predominates in this field.

Of the 31 projects, 13 are concerned with the old, the deaf, the mentally handicapped, nicotine and alcohol problems, and the care of the dying; nine projects with heart disease, tuberculosis, byssinosis, congenital anomalies, anencephalus and spina bifida; four projects with the problems of the nursing profession; and the remaining 5 projects with ante-natal care, the recording of perinatal deaths, patient profiles, stress amongst managers, and the relationship between juvenile psychiatric problems and the violence created by the Troubles

Unlike research in other disciplines, most of the projects in social medicine involve more than one researcher (in one instance 11 people are jointly carrying out a single project), and sometimes this research is designed to be long term: in two cases the research period is ten years. But perhaps the most striking feature is the number and range of bodies funding research. Apart from the Department of Health and Social Security, the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of General Practitioners which have, wholly or in part, funded 12 of the projects, there are 19 other funding bodies. Only 6 of the 31 projects do not indicate any additional funding outside their salary.

What factors influence research in social medicine? It has been put to us that in all kinds of ways things are possible in socio-medical research that are rarely possible in the other social sciences. To begin with, a vast amount of data is readily available to those with a foot in the door. There are the lists, registers, and formal parameters of population constructed for administrative purposes; about one in three G.P.s keeps an up-to-date age and sex register; there are patients' cards, the day book, medical notes and nursing notes, infant welfare cards, written records of referrals to every sort of community nurse, and finally the mortuary book. All of these act as an encouragement to certain kinds of research. Secondly, medical and nursing staff are already on mailing lists so that the giving and garnering of information is relatively easy. Thirdly, there are various powerful incentives within social medicine for its practitioners to do research: research qualifies people for M.D.'s, it pays fares and conference fees, and it is seen as the key to the door of a real profession and a counter in promotion games. Lastly, research into illness is universally regarded as respectable, praise-worthy, and above all useful, and so co-operation and money are generally easier to obtain.

However, it has also been suggested that the factors that encourage research can also adversely affect it. For example, because research in social medicine is so universally and highly regarded, funding from a wide range of sources, including commercial, charitable and public sources, is generally available; but this means that research must demonstrate immediate, obvious and practical benefits if it is to be so funded. This can lead to a piecemeal approach which is characterised by too great a concern with immediate application, an absence of middle-range or systematic theory and an apparent absence of any open, critical and long term research policy. Again, the quantity of information and the different disciplinary backgrounds of researchers often means that researchers do not always appreciate what has been done and is being done by colleagues within what is a multi-disciplinary field.

Social Studies

Social Studies is possibly the most difficult category to delineate, and we have relied on self-definition as far as possible. Consequently projects on linguistics and religion have been included in this category, where they have a social science element. Three projects on the media have also been included here, two of which deal with the reporting of the conflict.

The result is a total of 75 projects, divided around a wide variety of centres. Sixty of the projects are shared almost equally between four institutions; the New University of Ulster, Queen's University, the Ulster Polytechnic and the Policy, Planning and Research Unit (PPRU) in the Northern Ireland Department of Finance; the others are divided between eleven different establishments. Funding is a serious problem, and 38 of the projects do not indicate any special financial backing. Among the funded projects, the most common sources of income are the Department of Education (6 projects), the SSRC (6) and the Department of Health and Social Services (5). In relation to the level of research being conducted, backing by government is relatively low.

A substantial proportion of research in social studies is devoted to problems of social malaise, poverty and employment patterns. During the 1970s studies of social malaise were confined to the Belfast area, and the first study of social indicators in the western and southern parts of the Province came in 1981. Ten projects in the register are concerned with poverty, including surveys of low-income families, low pay, family income supplement, single parent families and supplementary benefits. Official statistics remain a major source of information on poverty and five projects on this theme have been produced internally by the PPRU. Some of these data are not generally available, and a speedy implementation of the unit's plan to publish a series of occasional papers on their research is very important for the future of research in this area. Outside the PPRU there is a strong research interest in poverty at the New University and in the Polytechnic's Low Pay Unit.

Although unemployment and employment are the subjects of nine projects, most of these are essentially analyses of statistical data. Only one is directed to the social and psychological consequences of unemployment, a concern which may grow as unemployment itself increases. The sponsorship of the Fair Employment Agency has encouraged the growth of a relatively new research interest in equality of opportunity.

Apart from these themes of poverty and unemployment, the most common subjects for research on social studies are penal and probation administration (nine projects) and youth and child care (five). The former are divided between government studies and private research, with three based in Whitefield House Assessment Centre and Lisnevin school; the latter deal mainly with child care services and unemployed young people.

Perhaps the most neglected research theme in social studies is the personal social services. For the last decade Northern Ireland has had a unique system of integrated health and personal social services, but there has been no research into its structures since 1976, nor any evaluation of its operation. Most research in this area has concentrated on the provision and delivery of services and, with some exceptions, there is little research into the aged and the handicapped. Social work, which was under-researched during the 1970s, is the subject of only one project in the register. This may arise partly from a tendency for social work departments in higher education to concentrate on professional training, but it also reflects a lack of sponsorship from the DHSS.

Community development and community work, a major focus of research interest during the 1970s for community groups, academics and the Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission, have recently attracted far less interest and support. Only one project in the register has examined the state of community work since the District councils assumed responsibility for it. Voluntary groups and the role of informal networks are also neglected areas. Research into community groups has particular significance in Northern Ireland because of the close links with community relations and conflict.

The low level of funding in general is a matter for concern within social studies, and well over half of the researchers have not indicated any special financial support. Apart from the areas already indicated, there is particular need for greater finance on a number of research themes, including social need and provision outside Belfast, the social effects of the current depression and the inter-relationships between different social services and between different social problems. More specifically, it has been suggested that the functioning of Northern Ireland's unique Payment for Debt Act in a region where debt is a major and growing problem appears to be an urgent subject for research.

Despite the shortage of funding there is a considerable amount of robust research activity in social studies. Particularly encouraging is the growth of databases on social facilities, bibliographical material, handbooks and surveys. Further, the detailed, applied research is not taking place in an empirical vacuum. There are projects on general social policy, and many others have been careful to consider their findings within the broader policy context. The community conflict is a major component of this context, and is an important feature in a majority of the projects.

Conclusions

The most striking features about social and economic research on Northern Ireland are the sheer number of projects and their concentration within Northern Ireland itself. Between 1980 and 1983 517 reported projects were either started, completed or published. Many of these reflect specialist research interests which have emerged in the Province's higher institutions. Law, Social Medicine and Agriculture, for example, are firmly based in Queen's University Belfast. The strength of the New University of Ulster's Social Sciences School has led to considerable research activity in the fields of nursing, social policy and community conflict. The Low Pay Unit and the School of Business Studies at the Ulster Polytechnic have also been very productive. Research on Northern Ireland which is not based in the Province is overwhelmingly related to community conflict. In Political Science 35 of the 55 projects described in the Register are located outside Northern Ireland. Many of them aspire to finding solutions to the Ulster Problem.

Several government and quasi-government agencies have developed significant research programmes, and their contribution has been increasing since the early 1970s. The most active of these are the Northern Ireland Economic Council (NIEC), the Policy Planning and Research Unit at Stormont (PPRU), the Northern Ireland Council for Educational Research (NICER), the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), the Fair Employment Agency (FEA) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Some of these agencies have cooperated effectively with academics, and may provide the most promising means of bridging, where possible, the understandable divide between government and academic research.

At the root of much of the suspicion is the issue of funding. Normal institutional funding such as the hidden support for research contained in the salaries of academics or researchers employed in government agencies, have not been included in the Register. The extra financial assistance, which is included, reveals a very scattered and uneven pattern. At one end of the spectrum, 25 of the 31 projects in Social Medicine, and 19 of the 24 in Agriculture, are supported by grants. Financial support in History, Politics and Social Studies, on the other hand, is very low, and only 17 of the 39 projects in Human Geography are funded. While this may be partly explained by traditional academic patterns of funding, the low level of support for research in Law (10 from 12 projects did not report any financial help) and Economics (25 from 67) is more surprising.

It is not easy to explain these disparities. At first sight the two most favoured categories have little in common Research into Agriculture appeals to individualists, with only 4 of the 27 reported projects conducted by more than one researcher; Social Medicine, however, thrives on cooperation and many of its projects were shared enterprises - in one case by 11 researchers Nor is government approval the answer: certainly in the case of Agriculture, where researchers are jointly employed by the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Queen's University Belfast, the fruit of the liaison is extensive government funding; the pattern is quite different in the case of Social Medicine, where the 25 funded projects receive their support from no fewer than 22 different bodies. These two areas of research, however, share one important characteristic. They are predominantly occupied by short-term, practical projects which have clear and immediate applications. The fields of research in both cases are sometimes viewed by researchers and funders as self contained, and there is little overlap between projects. The benefits of these factors are considerable and obvious; funders are attracted by the prospect of clear, precise and immediately applicable research and, in the case of Agriculture, can ensure that it is coordinated and directed along preferred paths. There are disadvantages too: there is sometimes less evidence of concern about longer term implications and about the broader social and economic context in which the research is located; as a result it is noticeably less critical than research from other disciplines. The assumption that research proposals should be judged primarily on practical criteria, and that broader and theoretical studies should fare badly by such a measure, is particularly dangerous. It is indisputably important to examine the effect of EEC policy on Northern Ireland's agriculture, for example, but equally important to research the EEC itself and the processes by which policy decisions are reached.

The reasons for the scarcity of research support in other areas appears to be more varied. History has relied traditionally on human rather than financial resources, while Politics, Sociology and Anthropology may currently be suffering from a low level of government sympathy. Whatever the reason, the present distribution of social and economic research funding suggests the existence of a considerable rift between privileged and underprivileged subjects, and between research which operates within existing theories and research which is aimed at producing the next generation of theories. Since government funding is a factor in creating this imbalance, it seems unlikely that it will be remedied except through the re-direction of such funding. The protection of unfavoured research areas and approaches is likely to become increasingly the responsibility of the Trusts and the SSRC itself.

This relationship between research and funding, and in particular between academic research and government assistance, is a source of concern. Researchers naturally want access to data and Government is frequently the prime collector. But academics often have great difficulties in gaining access to information. Sometimes this is because the kind of information that academics want is simply not being collected, or is not being sufficiently publicised; here the intention of the Policy Planning and Research Unit at Stormont to publish details about their internal research projects can only be welcomed. On other occasions information, sometimes of a thoroughly non-sensitive nature, is simply refused or only given if the intentions of the researcher are judged to be benign.

A further source of concern is about the control and direction of research. It is widely acknowledged that a policy on research is needed, but on the one hand research appears to proceed fitfully according to unco-ordinated individual decisions or funding by charities, and on the other hand research policy and priorities appear to be reached by government bodies without sufficient open and critical debate between the various interested groups. There are, no doubt, genuine difficulties in this field, but if the dangers of incoherence and oligarchy in research policy are both to be avoided, and if academic research is to play its proper role as an independent and critical source of information for policy-makers and others, then there must be more openness and co-operation.

Centre for the Study of Conflict,
New University of Ulster,
May 1983.

Return to publication contents

© CCRU 1998-1999
site developed by: Martin Melaugh
page last modified:
Back to the top of this page