Three Conference Papers on Aspects of Sectarian Division - 'Researching Sectarianism'
[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
[Templegrove Action Research Limited - Main Menu]
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
Within Northern Ireland or the north of Ireland, as some prefer,
a conflict has existed, - characterised by violence until recently,
- over the sovereignty and legitimacy of the state and its agents.
This paper discusses some of the issues raised by research in
one location which is focussed on the relations between the two
main rival political blocs within Northern Ireland, and on their
conflicting national identities and opposing political aspirations.
The research is concerned with the ways in which those relations
can be characterised as "sectarian" and attempts to
elucidate the meaning of that characterisation. The role of external
agents such as the British and increasingly the Irish government
in the dynamic between the two blocs is significant, but is not
the focus of the research which gave rise to this paper. Rather,
the research, and the development of methodologies, has been aimed
at learning more about the dynamic of the political, spatial and
other relationships between Unionist and Nationalists in Derry
One of the lenses through which we examined these two blocs was
that of sectarianism and sectarian relations. We wished to know
more about the nature and quality of this relationship. We saw
sectarianism as the characteristic which distinguishes and determines
the quality of relationship between these two politically opposed
factions. In the popular mind, and in some academic studies, sectarianism
is reduced to a one dimensional phenomenon, often psychological
in nature. This reductionism has narrowed the investigation of
sectarianism to rather linear and reductionist questions, such
as, for example, whether, as a set of bigoted beliefs, sectarianism
is cause or effect of the conflict. In this study we have attempted
to avoid seeing sectarianism as one dimensional or as the prerogative
of any one discipline, in order to avoid such over-simplification,
and over-determination. (We have not necessarily always been successful
in this attempt.) In this paper we will set down some of the conceptual
context for our work in order to delineate the broader context,
and establish the parameters of the cross-disciplinary approach,
within a specific research paradigm and developing methodologies,
- the latter of which will form the subject of further papers
at a later stage in the work.
Whilst we attempted to remain open to the contradictions and complexities
of events around us, we brought our own pre-conceived orientations
to the study, one set of which is particularly significant. We
began by locating sectarianism in a broader context of what has
been called "systems of subordination," (Smyth, 1994)(1)
primarily sexism, racism, and class. This orientation was influential
in shaping our approach to the study, in that it seemed to point
to characteristics which sectarianism, racism and sexism had in
common. These include their common reliance on the ultimate threat
of the use of violence in order to maintain the sexist/racist/sectarian
status quo; their ideology of the superiority of one group over
another; the struggle to actualise dominance over the "other"
group; the way in which the struggle for dominance and its counterpart
- resistance to subordination - may closely resemble each other,
at least in dynamic terms.; and, indeed, the way in which the
possession and maintenance of power over the "other"
may seem to be the only way that subordination can be resisted.
Furthermore, the dynamic between the two factions is polarised,
characterised by binary "either/or" "Black/white"
and over-generalised thinking, and where conflict arises between
the two factions, the dynamic in one of symmetrical escalation.
The existing literature on Northern Ireland yields little in the
way of definitions of sectarianism, or explorations of its nature.
One of the few definitions available is provided by Sugden and
Bairner(1993) who describe sectarianism thus:
McVeigh (1992) has argued in relation to Irish racism, that it
merits analysis which examines and uncovers its specificity: that
the phenomenon of Irish racism, as distinct from English or Scottish
racism, takes on a specific and unique form, shaped, as it is,
by the characteristics of Irish historical, economic and political
conditions. So too, we argue, with sectarianism. Sectarianism
in Northern Ireland/ the north of Ireland has been shaped by the
relationship between Ireland and Britain, by the specific economic
and social forces at work here, and by specific local economic
and social and political developments, the latter being a particularly
powerful force since we began work in September 1994. Sectarianism
in Derry Londonderry, we argue, is differentiated from sectarianism
in Liverpool- or indeed Belfast - by the specificity of local
McVeigh (1991)(4) has argued that sectarianism is undertheorised. He states:
The late and respected John Whyte, in his Interpreting Northern
Ireland, (1990) organises the literature on Northern Ireland
under two classification systems within which he identifies a
number of categories:
The extensive array of literature reviewed by Whyte tends to focus
on specific aspects of the society or the "problem".
In this classic reference text on Northern Ireland, sectarianism
is not dealt with, except in passing, nor is mentioned in the
McVeigh goes on to argue that Unionists refuse to pathologise
Protestant sectarianism, and justify it as "an affirmation
of religious belief in the face of the imperialism of the Catholic
church". The British state, prior to direct rule in 1972,
attributed any sectarianism to the Unionists; after 1972 their
official policy of non-sectarianism managed and reproduced sectarianism,
he argues, by the implementation of "fair" policies
within sectarian structures. McVeigh finds the failure of Catholics
to address sectarianism more difficult to understand. He points
out that Catholics see themselves as the "victims" of
"survivors" of sectarianism, and sectarianism itself
as an "epiphenomenon of the problem of imperialism".
The problem for Catholics, according to McVeigh becomes "what
to do about the British, not what to do about the Protestants".
Our study was well placed to explore some of these issues, since
the study was located in city with a numerical predominance of
Catholics and a predominantly Catholic/Nationalist City Council.
We could observe the extent to which Catholics, (whose primary
identity is as the subordinate group in the context of Northern
Ireland/the north of Ireland), can conceptualise themselves in
the role of the dominant group, or can countenance the possibility
that they can, or could in certain contexts, subordinate Protestants.
The question of whether Catholics can be described as "sectarian",
or whether the quality "sectarianism" can be attributed
to their acts or motivations is reminiscent of the questions about
the possibility of Black racism. It is clear from our fieldwork
is that some Catholics possess the attitudinal attributes of sectarianism.
Given positions of power, there is no essential reason that Catholics
would discriminate against Protestants, nor any reason to doubt
that some Catholics with such power already do so. That Catholics,
as a bloc, are generally more subordinated, or are generally less
likely to have access to such power does not alter or negate the
sectarian quality of the acts or relationships of those Catholics
who hold sectarian attitudes and possess and exercise the power
to subordinate Protestants. Whether the quality is theorised as
sectarianism or reverse sectarianism is a moot point. It is sectarian,
in that it is aimed at the domination of the "other"
group (in order, perhaps, to avoid being subordinated by them,
or to avenge past grievances). Sectarianism, therefore is the
quality of relationship between the two blocs, which is inherent
in the relationship between them, rather than simply residing
in the attitudes, behaviour or power position of one party.
Nor is that quality limited to the relationship between Catholics
and Protestants in working class areas, or in enclaves. In order
to explain the undertheorisation of sectarianism which McVeigh
has pointed to, we must examine the quality of relationships within
the academic community, -which is the potential source of such
theorising - and between that community and the outer world it
seeks to understand. If sectarianism is seen in a broader way,
as a particular quality of the relationship between two blocs,
which is historically, economically, politically specific to Northern
Ireland, and which structures all relationships within Northern
Ireland, then the academic community, as part of the society it
studies, must be similarly structured. It will be argued that
the academic community has tended to act as a mirror, reflecting
rather than analysing the sectarian dynamic in the society in
which it operates. That sectarianism is undertheorised does not
mean that sectarianism is considered by the academic community
to be of no relevance. Rather, it suggests that the process of
academic reflection has failed to engage with the task of producing
a thorough analysis of sectarianism. We suggest that this failure
is due to a number of fractures which exist within the academic
community, which are themselves reflections of "fault lines"
which occur in the wider society which structure both, and which
explain the nature of current analyses and lack of analyses.
We wish to concentrate on the manner in which three particular
fractures have restricted the ability of the academic world to
produce a reflexive and thorough analysis of sectarianism.
The three main fracture we refer to are gender, class and
colonialism. Each fracture is associated with a universal
organising principle - in turn, sexism, class division, and racism
and sectarianism - which marshals social, economic, political
and ideological power in ways which maintain systems of subordination,
whereby one group maintains dominance over another group in the
society. The lack of integration of gender, class and colonialism
into analyses of society in Northern Ireland has had implications
for the study of sectarianism which we wish to explore further
here. Their introduction is often seen as a challenge to orthodoxy
and the status quo, and can be perceived as "divisive"
or "tendentious". Yet, we argue, that their omission
has seriously impeded the development of an analysis of sectarianism.
The failure to successfully integrate gender, class and colonialism
into academic practice has weakened methodological base and stunted
analysis in fundamental ways. We will explore the effects of each
and the implications of the omission of each factor in turn.
The "real world" - which is the field of academic inquiry
- is gendered, like the academic world itself. Yet until relatively
recently, mainstream scholarship was largely gender-blind. The
male was considered the norm, and to raise the issue of gender
was considered to be a diversion from the important issues. In
a world where maleness and femaleness are essentialised, and where
characteristics such as physical strength, aggression, passivity,
emotional expressiveness are stereotypically assigned by gender,
the academic world has done little until relatively recently to
question this gender status quo. Feminist criticism has led to
the questioning of a scholarship and "knowledge" that
has focussed largely on male experience and practice. For example,
the use of male subjects in experiments, and the assumption that
it is scientific to generalise from the male to the female experience
has led to radical re-evaluations in the state of the science
in psychology, to name but one field. Two features of this impact,
which are first manifest at the ethical and then the methodological
level concern us here. In the traditional academy, (i) theory
and logic are typically privileged over emotion and instinct;
and (ii) objectivity and value freedom are considered to be characteristic
of good science, and anything else is considered biased, subjective
and therefore of limited scientific value.
At a methodological level, feminism has given impetus to some
of the re-evaluating the logical, statistical, quantative approach
in the social sciences. Methodologies which extract a greater
depth and richness of data from a more narrowly defined field,
- a more "anthropological" approach which collects data
on both the thoughts and feelings of those interviewed - have
developed under these influences.
The question of the subjectivity of the researcher has similarly
fallen under scrutiny. The has meant the admission of subjective
data such as life stories or autobiography as worthy of analysis,
and the questioning of the "scientific objectivity"
of traditional research paradigms. It would be misleading to imply
that all of this has been universally accepted as valid and reliable
research practice. These debates continue, and the value of any
given research paradigm is a subject which is constantly revisited.
There is also resistance to meeting the challenge of incorporating
subjectivity and emotion into any analysis, specifically of sectarianism.
Typically, resistance in the academic world takes the form of
arrogance, denial of the validity of the new data, intellectualisation
We will return in more detail to the issue of objectivity and
identity when we discuss colonialism. In relation to gender, the
tendency to exclude emotion as data and the resistance to the
exploration of personal experiences and emotions in relation to
sectarian division serves to prevent emotion entering an arena
previously reserved exclusively for logic and fact. Narrowly defined
research paradigms may have a significant prophylactic effect
by preventing the researchers from being swamped by their own
rampant emotions or the (real or imagined) emotions of others
whilst researching sectarianism. The adherence to a logical/ factual
approach which, whilst of value in itself, - can also be construed
(when pursued to the exclusion of all else), as a means of managing
the impact of the field on the researcher.
Such studies and knowledge of sectarianism, has methodologically
tended to be empirical/historical, truth seeking, and quantative
rather than qualitative. The most significant tendency has been
the emphasis on logic and objectivity to the exclusion of emotion,
and the denying emotion or regarding it as suspect. This tendency
in turn shapes the analysis. The undervaluing of subjectivity,
personal experience, feelings and emotions as a way of knowing
the social world, or their dismissal as biased implies the existence
of gaps in any existing understanding and analysis.
The way in which research is designed and the focus given to it,
the topics and interviewees selected are also significant in the
gendering of research. Political worlds, and the world of sectarian
political division is a gendered world in which male and female
roles are circumscribed. Women generally, are not political actors;
the inherent conservatism of the society on both sides of the
sectarian divide has consigned women to the traditional kinder,
kirke und kucken, leaving the contests over national identity
and political power, physical and ideological, largely to men.
Differences between Loyalism and Republicanism are emergent on
this issue, with some evidence that Republican politics have achieved
some small success in beginning to include women in political
life. Loyalist politics, on the other hand has almost exclusively
male, with the exceptions of some female relations of Loyalist
leaders, looks set to remain so in the immediate future.
Consequently, when one looks at the impact of this on scholarship on the "Northern Ireland problem", it is not surprising that the late eminent John Whyte (1990) would argue that a new paradigm was required for research and analysis in the field, and with no apparent irony conclude:
The consequences of gender blind research has been that the academic
world has mirrored rather than investigated the gendered aspects
of sectarianism. We depict this diagrammatically in Figure 1.
What is known about gender differences elsewhere would suggest
that the effective exclusion of women from research and analysis
makes for the establishment of ideological frameworks which are:
objective rather than subjective, paranoid rather than self-investigating,
blaming rather than reflexive, competitive/combative rather than
cooperative, reductionist/absolutist rather than divergent and
exploratory , are "true" and "right" rather
than diverse and inclusive - and, of course, debate amongst scholars
on "the Northern Ireland question" is polarised.
The concrete and obvious remedy to gender-blindness is the inclusion
of women - both as subject in all research and as researchers
in research on sectarianism and on other subjects. This measure
would contribute greatly towards making good some of the more
glaring omissions of earlier work, which for example tended to
interview heads of household, and so on. However, the inclusion
of women will not necessarily ensure that the subject is researched
in any way other than the traditional objective/ quantative paradigm,
since women are not essentially equipped to do it otherwise.
Even if they were, their usually subservient roles may prevent
them from influencing the way in which research is conducted.
Attention must be given to the method by which the field
is dealt with, and to decisions on what is construed as valid
subjects for data collection and analysis. This would entail the
inclusion and consideration of emotions in fieldwork, and the
recognition of the role of emotion at the design, fieldwork and
analysis stages. This allows the feelings and thoughts of researchers
and participants, to be recorded and incorporated into the research
Sectarianism as a topic for research carries an emotional weight
which can make it a difficult subject to discuss openly, and therefore
a difficult subject to research. The acknowledgement of emotion
as a valid and valuable form of data has a particular relevance
to studying a subject such as sectarianism which carries such
an emotional charge. Like the study of deviance, the choice of
participants for the research can be perceived as a judgement.
Participants can be selected - or feel they are selected - because
they have been judged to be "sectarians", just like
participants in research on deviance can feel labelled as "deviants".
The label "sectarian" is an interpretation based on
subjective judgement, a perception which is usually projected
onto others rather than owned as a quality possessed by oneself.
Thus the act of negotiating an interview, or asking someone to
talk is laden with emotional significance.
The issue of intimidation is also prevalent within the study of
sectarianism. Intimidation is a by-product of political violence
linked to sectarianism, and is the most powerful example of the
kind of strong emotions which are present in such research. Intimidation
was defined by Darby (1986) as
Smyth (1994) notes the characteristics of intimidation.
Intimidation is subjective and based on subjective interpretation.
It is therefore not possible to effectively study intimidation
without paying attention to emotion. Since intimidation is such
an important feature of sectarianism, the particular relevance
of the inclusion of emotion to the study of sectarianism is apparent..
At a practical level, we have adopted the following strategies
1. Emotions are acknowledged and recorded, rather than avoided.
(In interviews, fieldnotes, public meetings).
2.Emotions are spoken of and reported
3. Using emotions in this way often leads to feedback or a response
4. Paying attention to emotions increases the likelihood of an
emotive response from - co-researcher and an outcome of this is
an increases likelihood of the validation of emotion, which in
turn furthers the analysis.
The effect of paying attention to emotions in fieldwork is that
emotions are included and acknowledged in the research process,
furthering the analysis and having an overall impact on the analysis,
leading to a different understanding.
The following are examples of how emotions have been used in fieldwork
Example 1. In the first public meeting, the projects director
who was chairing the meeting, acknowledged her feelings and expressed
her nervousness on chairing a public meeting on any issue related
to sectarianism and segregation. She went on to ask people to
agree to listen to each other, and to agree to some basic ground
rules about how the discussion would be conducted. Her nervousness,
once named, became a part of the meeting rather than just a part
of the directors inner world. This self disclosure permitted nervousness
in general, about talking about matters related to sectarianism
and segregation, to be explored and managed. It allowed collaboration
between researchers and participants and went some way to setting
the atmosphere for discussion.
Example 2. This example comes from the second public meeting held
by the project to discuss the subject "Is segregation desirable,
and should walls come down now that there are cease-fires?"
Angry and fearful responses came from the minority Protestant
participants at the meeting; " why are you talking about
this?" "to talk about this is dangerous to us because
it will escalate, we'll lose control and the walls will come down,
whether we want them to or not." The typical response would
have been to back off from the strong emotion, - in this case
anger and fear,- to apologise for upsetting the person, turn to
another topic and not to talk about it. However, in this case
the emotion was acknowledged and explored. We learned that the
fear some people had of talking about certain subjects related
to sectarian division was that if you talk about things, they
change. Their perception of change was negative, being a minority
in the city, and change was therefore to be avoided; thus talking,
too, was to be avoided, unless from a position of strength.
Example 3. In the third public meeting on " the changing
population and Protestant drift out of Derry Londonderry",
we presented statistical information on the shifts in population.
We also included two short monologue-type performances which represented
some of the feelings associated with having to move and the emotional
dilemmas and outcomes of the experience of having to move out
of one's home, from one side of the city to the other, or beyond.
This had the effect of acknowledging that we as researchers were
interested not merely in the numbers who had moved out from the
city, but also in the human consequences of moving. The expression
of emotional dilemmas enabled a more grounded discussion of the
issue of changing population balance. Had we merely presented
the statistical information, we could not have facilitated consideration
of the issues of Protestant drift in a holistic way, in which
all participants were able to consider the larger trends in the
context of the personal effects and consequences of the trends.
an example from the interpretation of field work data.
In the preliminary in-depth interviews carried out within one
of our field studies, two participants spoke of the experience
of intimidation. One participant was male and the other female.
The male spoke about petrol bombs lighting up his flat in a matter
of fact way, without any apparent emotion. He had remained living
in the area and is adamant that he will stay and will never be
The woman participant, on the other hand, with a shaking voice
and tears in her eyes, spoke of nights where burning logs came
in through the window, of breaking glass and how her front door
had been hammered in. She spoke of her concern for her children's
safety, a desire for the preservation of their innocence, of the
lasting effects of the attack and how affected she herself, her
husband and all her children were by the experiences. In the end
the family left the area as a result of intimidation.
Two points emerge in the analysis:
(a) ways of dealing with emotion are gendered, so that the woman's
tearfulness and the man's lack of expressed emotion do not necessarily
mean that they are in radically different emotional states.
(b) Women and men have different gender roles, in this example
child rearing is mentioned. This means that the woman's expressed
concerns in, for example, a situation of danger will be true to
the role ascribed to her -in this case child-rearing - she expresses
concern about her children and the effect on them. The man's expressed
concerns is true to his ascribed and gendered role - fending off
attackers and fighting to protect his family.
A gender blind interpretation would conclude that the difference
between these two Protestants, is that the male was not fearful
or intimidated and he stayed, whilst the female was fearful and
If we acknowledge the gendered nature of emotion, - that women
and men have different culturally approved ways of expressing
emotion, - then the analysis produces rather different results.
The possibility that the man could be fearful would be considered,
and other factors which explain his staying on in the area (such
as economic reasons) could be examined. Conversely, the woman's
ascribed role of carer for her children means that the woman's
fear is expressed in a specific way, with specific emotions attached
to it, such as fear for the vulnerability of her children, and
worry about the damage being done to them. This does not mean
that the male does not have children, or is not worried about
them, but merely that it is not his role, but rather that of his
female partner to worry about them. Thus, incorporating an understanding
of gender roles and identities impacts significantly on the analysis.
In summary, it is argued that, in relation to gender, a new research
paradigm is required which incorporates and validates of emotions
in field work and analysis, recognises the value of subjectivity.
Specifically in relation to research on sectarianism, emotions
are of great significance, since the study of sectarianism necessarily
involves the study of subjectively defined issues such as that
of intimidation. Therefore, to successfully research sectarianism
requires an emotional articulacy and insight, and a willingness
to view and incorporate feelings as facts in the research process.
In terms of the academic literature, and research on sectarianism,
this lack of attention to subjectivity and the corresponding implicit
claim to detachment, neutrality and subjectivity has created a
situation where the academic community largely unreflexively mirrors
and re-enacts the divisions occurring in the society it is observing
and writing about. On the question of academic analysis, McVeigh
(6) describes academia as "distanced" from "political
stances" and "studiously ignoring sectarianism."
He writes, " Amongst academics, there has been little academic
impetus to theorize sectarianism." and goes on to outline
their " inherited the aversion to the analysis of sectarianism."
With a few notable and fairly recent exceptions, virtually all
analytical writers on sectarianism and on the political divisions
within Northern Ireland implicitly lay claim to objectivity and
scientific detachment. These writers employ scientific methodology
from the social or political sciences, which provide an "objective"
and "scientific" approach and thereby, in their view,
to make explicit their subjective positions or experiences in
relation to community divisions in Northern Ireland. Their method
of argument and analysis relies on telling and retelling of historic
and contemporary "facts" and interpretation of those
facts by their juxtapositioning alongside one another. The process
is that of logical argument, the persuasion is that of illustrating
positions and making cases.
As McVeigh points out, it is as if these writers are apart from
the society they write about. The academic who writes about the
motivation for paramilitary violence does not reveal that he was
interned without trial under emergency legislation, or that perhaps
a close relative is in prison for IRA membership; the academic
who writes about reconciliation does not reveal a privileged middle
class background in England and how coming to work in Northern
Ireland calls into question for that writer aspects of Englishness
and Britishness, and a sense of responsibility to "do something"
hence his/her work on, for example researching prejudice. We argue
that the identity position of the researcher and his or her motivation
in undertaking research has a direct impact on the research as
a whole. These personal positions influence not only the analysis
of the writer, but their very choice of field of inquiry. These
factors influence what is studied and not studied. To take McVeigh's
observation a stage further, without a rigorous self-reflexivity
and transparency on these issues, at a collective level the academic
community can only provide a mirror image of the society it studies.
The academic community too, has its loyalists and republicans,
its champions of the working class and other more popular causes,
operating from behind a veil of academic language and method,
and laying claim to scientific objectivity. To be apart from the
society provides a certain safe distance between the writer and
the violence of community battles - conducted in working class
communities. The weapons are different in the academic battle,
yet one suspects that it is the same battle.
Some topics, such as the psychological effects of state violence,
remain virtually unexplored by researchers: sectarianism is another
such field. O'Dowd (n.d.) argues:
The role of the academic is not to have lived experience of these
battles, but to "know" about them in a purely scientific
way. This leads to a disowning of "personal life" which
is akin to the denial and silence that surrounds the issue of
sectarianism itself: it is uncomfortable and socially gauche to
be open about one's "sectarian" identity. The class
split facilitates the allocation of the most violent, and therefore
uncouth, sectarian motivations and actions to the working classes.
Such allocation allows a denial of such motivations and actions
in the middle classes.
The possibilities or implications of incorporating subjectivity into traditional methodological approaches in research and writing on sectarianism would entail the writer declarating his or her position, and / or data providing data on his or her socialisation in relation to the sectarian divide. This would immediately make for a more transparent and honest scholarship in the field.
Racism and sectarianism are included with the concept of colonialism,
since both sectarianism and racism find a common history in the
history of colonialism. Thus sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland
can be characterised, not as Protestant versus Catholic or unionist
versus anti-unionist, rather as native pro-colonial versus native
anti-colonial. This is perhaps best illustrated by the situation
of the Northern Unionist /Protestant who discovers on travelling
to England that he or she is regarded as a "Paddy" in
the same way as Northern anti-unionist/ Catholics, and is just
as much a target of anti-Irish racism.
Academic life does not reflect the outside world in terms of its
composition. Rather, the more powerful groups are over-represented
and, conversely, the less powerful groups under-represented. Academia
in Northern Ireland contains a disproportionately large number
of English academics and a similarly disproportionately large
numbers of males in its ranks. What women there are in the academic
life of Northern Ireland are usually found primarily in traditional
female areas: the liberal arts, nursing, social work and the social
sciences. The ideology is one of elite academic achievement, and
yardstick by which academic achievement is measured is the Oxbridge
standard and that of British academic achievement.
This ideological and practical legacy of colonialism, and the
formulation of resistance to it, has had consequences for the
development of gender politics, and the state of power relations
between men and women. The Irish poet Eavan Boland has written
of her need to combat 'the association of the feminine and the
national - and the consequences of simplification of both"
(1989, 24). Ashis Nandy (1983) writing of the experience of India,
argues that, in general, colonial and anti-colonial discourses
tend to narrow concepts of sexuality and establish, as normative,
a sharp dichotomy between an aggressive warrior masculinity and
a submissive, passive femininity. C.L. Innes (1994)
The traditional academic world tends to privilege colonizers'
accounts over "native" accounts. The exclusion or marginalisation
of native accounts of the native material or ideological world,
and the tendency to construe the conflict in terms of the "two
warring tribes" thesis essentialises the "violent nature"
of the natives, and casts the colonizer in the role of neutral
Academic practice has been to aim for a value-free and objective
scholarship on the "Northern Ireland question", and
it has not been academic practice to state the identification
or identity position of researchers or writers. Yet, we argue,
that this is an important question, and to know the stand-point
and concerns of the writer is essential to the ability to evaluate
his or her contribution to the understanding of sectarianism.
To fail to make the personal position of the speaker or writer
explicit is to obscure the meaning of the statement and limit
the value of the contribution to the study of sectarianism. Further
it obscures the extent to which the academic world reproduces
rather than analyses the division found in the society.
We conclude that a new paradigm is required, which encompasses
the explicit use of the researcher's identity position within
Northern Ireland, and his or her subjectivity becomes part of
the research process, and where appropriate, part of the content.
The use of a co-researching strategy whereby two or more researchers
from various identity positions work in collaboration, making
explicit use of their various perceptions, by, for example comparing
perceptions, exchanging fieldwork diaries and in order to arrive
collaboratively at an analysis would seem to be a more productive
method of proceeding. This process would, in the long run, make
for a more reflexive subjectivity within each of the participating
researchers, and between them as a team and ensure that any analysis
represented more of a synthesis of data than otherwise might be
Similar mirroring processes can be seen to be at work in relation
to class division, the academic world and the study of sectarianism.
The ideological consequences of the academic mirroring of the
"real world" in the study of sectarianism, has tended
to lead to an uneven distribution of research interest in class
terms. The working classes, or more deprived people, are the usual
subjects of research on the Northern Ireland problem, and are
consequently over-researched in comparison to their middle class
neighbours. Class and sectarian segregation, (which occur simultaneously),
have meant that if the area of research is defined geographically,
then the selection of poor and sectarianly homogenous areas for
research attention is almost guaranteed. Conversely, the middle
classes are under-researched, since the areas they live in do
not contain as much sectarian violence perhaps, or there is little
apparent sign of the presence of sectarianism. Further, those
conducting the research come from the middle classes or are upwardly
mobile researchers. This leads to a situation where the middle
class researcher examines the working classes, in this study,
for signs of sectarianism. We then carry off the data, conduct
the analysis and publish the "results" thereby compounding
a class division of intellectual labour and often further marginalising
already marginalised communities.
Furthermore, the research process is a one way process in more
than one way. Jargon and excessively technical language exclude
all but those versed in the jargon, even if they are physically
present. Ultimately, those who are researched may experience no
direct gain or benefit from participating in the research.
In order to address these issues, it was necessary to democratise
the research by securing involvement of those researched at each
stage of the research process. This was done by incorporating
representatives of the researched population into the management
and advisory structures of the research. This required the adoption
of a discipline in relation to the use of technical language,
and a more "user-friendly" research style. In the ongoing
work of the project, the production of interview transcripts and
the agreement of them with interviewees, the consultation with
those researched about the analysis, presentation and dissemination
of the findings all contribute to breaking down the class-dichotomised
research process. The use of, for example local exhibitions of
the findings of the research which include the comments of those
researched is a useful mechanism for feedback to communities,
and to researchers alike.
In terms of the benefit of the research to those researched, the
adoption of an action-research paradigm allows the incorporation
of, for example, services to the community into the design, so
that the research is seen to be of mutual benefit.
A number of principles seem to be central to new paradigm research. The principles together with the mechanisms through which we have tried to actualise them are outlined below:
Principle (1). Research is an exchange between the researcher and the researched in which both roles are crucial and equally valuable.
Mechanism - our Board of Directors include individuals from working
class communities and backgrounds, including the communities studied.
Furthermore, our Board of Directors meeting are open to the public
including the researched communities on alternate meetings.
Principle (2). Research is a field of expert operation.
Mechanism - An research Advisory Group exists which includes individuals
from the working class communities studied. The Advisory Group
is made up of research experts and community experts: both forms
of expertise are recognised and valued and attention is paid to
the language used.
Principle (3). Research is a socially responsible activity and
a cost/ benefit balance of responsibility to community is required.
Mechanism - Networking with and participating in "indigenous"
informal groups and community associations in the working class
communities being studied takes place. relationships between these
organisations and individuals and the research could be described
in some instances as "give and take".
Principle (4) Research is a socially accountable activity.
Mechanism - This has been addressed by creating space for the
ongoing public presentations of findings and analysis to interested
parties and individuals, based on the ideal of and "public
ownership" and citizens rights to know.
Principle (5). Research is accountable yet a barrier to actualising
this accountability is the fact that only other academics tend
to read academic journals, and working class people do not usually
read academic journals.
Mechanism - Academic language and discourses are alienating and
so local media channels are used for presentations and feedback
as well as public meetings and pamphlet type publications. There
is collaboration with journalists and other publicity and information
channels, including an attempt to present other academics' research
on issues relating to sectarianism and segregation in places accessible
to the communities researched.
What we mean by action research is that the research is not a
static but a dynamic and interactive process with the communities
researched, and that change will occur as a result of the research
being conducted: some of this change may occur in the researcher
in terms of how he/she perceives the issue, some change may occur
among those researched in terms of access to information, expertise
or advocacy, for example, and some change may occur in outside
The ultimate evaluation of the research will not merely be in
terms of the knowledge gained and the analysis arrived at by the
researchers but also in terms of movement and change which occurred
as a result of the information disseminated. Results such as public
awareness raising, confidence building, improvements in the quality
and form of political dialogue, broadening the content and creating
a culture of political dialogue, public policies affected, and
marginalised life situations explained and understood.
Figure 4 pulls together the arguments about research under each of the three "fractures" referred to at the beginning of the paper. The synthesis of all three arguments led to the search for a new research paradigm which would incorporate the issues raised under all three discussions above. The notion of new paradigm research (Reason and Rowan, 1993) was incorporated into the design of the study and the result is shown as Figure 5.
After much discussion we arrived at a research design which involved
both qualitative and quantitative methods, action-research, and
ongoing feedback of our findings to the communities and the city
as a whole. (please note that the actual research did not follow
exactly the design outlined in Figure 5, but incorporated other
extra features which became necessary to incorporate in order
to maximise the effectiveness of the work. A full report of the
work involved, including the additional activities and techniques
will be contained in the final report of the project.)
The compilation of file notes, and the "matching" of
fieldworkers to communities of the same identity as themselves
has been a deliberate research strategy. This meant recruiting
a researcher who had personal experience which would allow her
to identify with the Protestant community, since the proposer
is from the Catholic community. The next phase of the research
will afford the opportunity to explore the insights gained by
conscious use of the workers' subjective views and observations.
A comparison of these, the use of reflective dialogues in which
the impact of each community on each worker is explored will provide
the opportunity to deepen the qualitative analysis.
(a) community development and community research
Although the project was designed around the concept of action
research, certain tensions exist in the area of methodology. The
tension between being 'useful' to the communities, contributing
positively to the ongoing work in each of the communities and
engaging with local people, versus the need to be a "researcher",
analytically competent, yet able to detach sufficiently from the
community in order to engage in the research task. The challenge
is that of collecting information, analysing it, feeding it back
to the communities through the use of public meetings, local media,
publications, and allowing this process to shape the research
in an ongoing way. Ultimately, the process is explicitly concerned
with generating change in the issue which is studied, in addition
to the usual research task. This involves the communities in question
and those who attend the public meetings in a cycle of re-action
to the research as it is presented to them. As was stated earlier,
the ultimate evaluation of the research will not merely be in
terms of the research outputs, but it will also be in terms of
the change achieved in the community. There are moments when the
role of the researcher resembles that of a community development
worker, since the research aims to make a positive contribution
to the communities being studied, and this often accentuates the
community development aspect of the research role. Finally, the
skill base required to undertake such work is quite wide, and
demands a range of skills and experience on the part of the researcher.
In the initial phase of the work, we saw the work as mainly qualitative.
However as the work progressed, we began to see the qualitative
and quantative aspects of the project as connected. Initially,
we conducted an interrogation of the census data to establish
the baseline population changes in the city and in the areas being
studied. We used small area statistics on a grid square basis.
A questionnaire designed for use in the two communities tested
the prevalence of some of the views and experiences found in the
in-depth interviews carried out in each area. A combination of
approaches are being used: quantitative methods are used, both
in the analysis of the baseline census data, and in a questionnaire
survey in the two communities; qualitative methods are being used
in the compilation of fieldwork notes, records of public seminars,
and in- depth interviews; and an action research or "interaction
research" orientation is being maintained by the ongoing
presentation of our findings, the use of the responses we receive
to shape the next phase of the work, and the ongoing interaction
with the communities and relevant policy makers.
In conclusion, the need to find new ways of researching was apparent
from the inception of a project which involved the researching
of sectarianism in a manner which got as close to the heart of
the matter as possible. The challenge posed by researching a subject
such as sectarianism, where there are many obstacles between the
researcher and the heart of the matter, may have stimulated us
to productively reconsider the paradigm within which we work,
and to revisit some of the ethical issues which may not seem so
pressing in researching some other "safer" subjects.
The quest to more clearly and carefully define a new paradigm
which better meets the needs of both researcher and researched
will continues. The work outlined here has been, however, an instructive
Baker Miller, J. (1995) Domination and Subordination. in Rothenberg,
P.S. Race Class and Gender:An Integrated Study. 5th edn. New York:
St Martin's Press.
Boland, E. (1989) A Kind of Scar: The Woman Poet in a National
Tradition. Dublin: Attic Press, LIP Pamphlet.
Darby, J. (1986) Intimidation and the Control of Conflict in Northern
Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
Innes, C.L. (1994) Virgin Territories and Motherlands: Colonial
and Nationalist Representations of Africa and Ireland. Feminist
Review, 3: 1994.
Kuhn, T.S. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd
edn. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
McVeigh, R. (1991) The Undertheorisation of Sectarianism. Canadian
Journal of Irish Studies.
McVeigh, R. (1992) The Specificity of Irish Racism. Race and Class,
33, 4. (1992).
Nandy, A. (1983) The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self
Under Colonialism. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
O'Dowd, L. (n.d.) Analyzing Sectarianism, unpublished paper, Belfast:
O'Dowd, L. (1989) 'Ignoring the Communal Divide: The Implications
of Social Science Research", in R. Jenkins (ed.) Northern
Ireland: Studies in Social and Economic Life. Aldershot: Avebury.
Reason P. and Rowan, J. (1993) Human Inquiry: A Sourcebook of
New Paradigm Research. Chichester. John Wiley.
Reinhartz S. (1992) Feminist Methods in Social Research.
Smyth, M. (1994) Social Work, Sectarianism and Anti-Discriminatory Practice in Northern Ireland. Derry Londonderry, University of Ulster.
Sugden and Bairner. Sectarianism and Sport in Northern Ireland
Whyte, J. (1990) Interpreting Northern Ireland, Oxford, Clarendon
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :