QUB ICOT 2011 – Thinking about Reconciliation and Change

At a bit of last minute, I filled in for a colleague to speak at a roundtable discussion at the 15th International Conference on Thinking, held at Queen’s University of Belfast.

The roundtable was chaired by Evanthia Lyons (QUB), and fellow discussants were Mari Fitzduff (Brandeis University) and Karen Trew (QUB).

There was a separate but interrelated theme for each of the five days of the conference; for Thursday, 23rd June, the theme was “education and democracy”, and included presentations and workshops dealing with peace and reconciliation.

As the conference programme described our roundtable event:

Experiences of the peace processes in Northern Ireland have contributed to the rapid development of scholarship and practice associated with peace building and conflict prevention. The literature on peace building that has emerged in the last decade reflects international efforts to educate future practitioners and scholars. This roundtable brings together a panel that has been closely involved in practice, research and scholarship, which helped to define the field. They have been asked to reflect on emerging theoretical and practical accounts of the process of change from their knowledge of local and international efforts to promote and maintain peaceful co-existence.

I organised my presentation in two parts — a reflection on the theoretical themes, or threads, that I heard throughout the day, then upon my own work at the Northern Ireland Foundation.

There were three threads that I chose to underline and make my own arguments:

  1. Contact hypothesis — if not followed up with reciprocal exchanges and/or networked activity, yes a waste of time
  2. Linear peace process model — increasingly criticised as inadequate; peace plays out differently for sections of society at different rates; failure to demonstrate benefits weakens long-term success
  3. Societal vision statement — or as Brandon Hamber calls it, meta-narratives; will Northern Ireland ever have one?

I then went on to describe how this affects my work projects — galvanising support for improved community relations in Northern Ireland and developing practical projects that are delivered by members of divided/contested societies in the Forum for Cities in Transition.

And with Karen Trew and Mari Fitzduff’s contributions, there followed a interesting and investigative roundtable discussion.

For example, Paul Smyth (Public Achievement) talked about the need for more organisational collaboration (and Northern Ireland’s poor track record here); challenging the narratives (and need for leadership here); and how we set up the space for productive dialogue.

There was also a deep question and much discussion about the role of the media in Northern Ireland, whether it should see itself as delivering an explicitly positive agenda for peace. The best conclusion I heard was that media is as much a product of Northern Ireland society as anywhere else.

Following is my audio presentation: http://mrulster.podomatic.com/entry/2011-06-30T08_07_23-07_00

  • 1.Contact hypothesis — if not followed up with reciprocal exchanges and/or networked activity, yes a waste of time
    2.Linear peace process model — increasingly criticised as inadequate; peace plays out differently for sections of society at different rates; failure to demonstrate benefits weakens long-term success
    3.Societal vision statement — or as Brandon Hamber calls it, meta-narratives; will Northern Ireland ever have one

    Contact hypothesis?
    Linear peace process model?
    Societal vision statement — or as Brandon Hamber calls it, meta-narratives?

    I don’t consider myself as especually thick but I’m seriously struggling with this? Relevance to the real world?

  • Contact hypothesis — send Norn Iron kids to middle class homes in America, and they’ll return as shiny, happy people

    Linear peace process model — get powerful, elite decision makers to forge a peace agreement, and the rest of the population will be grateful and rejoice in their new environment

    Societal vision statement/meta-narratives — is there a single space/venue where anyone/everyone can go to tell their side of the story, or do we all have to sign up to some reconciled version of history and the future first? Public policies of multi-culturalism or emphasis on common citizenship.

    Relevance to real world is how to spend/prioritise the billions we spend here every year, and where we want to put ourselves within the rest of the world.

    Thanks for asking, honestly!

  • I dont consider myself “thick” either (but a lot of people think that I am).
    I didnt understand a word of it either.

  • “get powerful, elite decision makers to forge a peace agreement, and the rest of the population will be grateful and rejoice in their new environment”

    I detect a welcome note of cynicism.
    But surely there are all kindsa people in Conflict Resolution “industry”, community relations “industry” and among liberal dissidents………who already believe that they know whats good for ordinary people.
    Do we really need another lot to tell us?
    And was the Conference (five days …..sheesh….thats a lot of vol au vents) attended by the usual suspects?
    And who bankrolled it?

  • I think I understand the Contact Hypothesis. If people are brought together at a conference and meet themmuns, it’s of no value unless there are follow up contacts. Same as for business networking.

  • Mark McGregor

    I’m thick as pig shit and I was as lost as my betters above. That makes me feel less inadequate. Still totally baffled mind.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Mr Ulster

    I have listened to the audio link. The frustration for me is the inability to quite grasp what it is you or your peers feel the problem/s is/are against which these various theories, models and theses are, I assume, to be held up as possible bases for progress to be made. Basically, for what ill are these ideas possible cures ?

  • Dec

    ‘There were three threads that I chose to underline and make my own arguments:
    1.Contact hypothesis
    2.Linear peace process model
    3.Societal vision statement — or as Brandon Hamber calls it, meta-narratives;’

    Did you lot get paid to sit around at able and discuss? If so please tell me it wasn’t the common tax-payer (ie me).

  • Dec

    ‘There were three threads that I chose to underline and make my own arguments:
    1.Contact hypothesis
    2.Linear peace process model
    3.Societal vision statement — or as Brandon Hamber calls it, meta-narratives;’

    Did you lot get paid to sit around a table and discuss all that? If so please tell me it wasn’t the common tax-payer (ie me) forking out for it.

  • granni trixie

    I actually believe in (as far as I understand it) contact hypothesis. However, I am always scepical when I see a discipline which seems to positively encourage jargon eg the above and eg ‘transitional justice’.

    Also doubtful of the value of the ideas of someone who, for the first few years of CRCs existence, advocated a strategy of NOT engaging with the Churches to deliver community relations (a mistake – it was something CRC eventually rectified).

  • @fitzjameshorse re my tone of cynacism, quoting Gramsci, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will…” IMHO I (and my organisation) am not saying what’s “good for ordinary people”, but public policy is public policy, heavily decided by politicians and civil servants, and I’d like to see more bottom-up influence in that process. Re bankrolling, I dunno, you’d have to ask Queen’s (and that’s another discussion thread?)

  • @Mark McGregor “thick as pig shit” — surely not, by your Slugger contributions.

    @Nunoftheabove “for what ill” = segregation; “possible cures” = shared society

    @Dec “Did you lot get paid to sit around a table and discuss” Ha! Hardly likely. Re bankrolling, see my reply to @fitzjameshorse above

    @granni trixie re engaging with churches for community relations, I agree. But I’m still a strong adherent of the separation of church and state, particularly education policy (but that’s another debate).

    Grateful for everyone’s comments, constructive and interesting.

  • wild turkey

    Mr Ulster

    an interesting post.
    to pick up on your comment to grannie t. is it your perception that your views on seperation of church and state is a minority view in (1) your given area of academic interest and (2) the general community relations/conflict resolution industry/sector/whatever?

    like you, i am a firm believer in seperation of church and state (you can take the boy out of america but you can’t take america out of the boy perhaps)

    interesting article by simon schama on the jefferson and the founding fathers

    “the Sage of Monticello would have no chance at all beside True Believers like Michele Bachmann. But Jefferson’s rationalist deism is not the idle makeover of liberal wishful thinking. It is incontrovertible historical fact, as is his absolute determination never to admit religion into any institutions of the public realm.”

    http://www.newsweek.com/2011/06/26/the-founding-fathers-were-flawed.html

    mahalo

  • Nunoftheabove

    Mr Ulster

    Segregation as in…segregation on religious/’community background’ grounds ? Political ? Social class ? Cultural ? Enforced or voluntary ? Educational segregation ? Residential ? Social etc ?

    Is there much/any consensus on what this segregation derives from and both how and why it has come about, the better to make pointful headway on any consensus on what the alternatives might look like or might that be considered a little ‘hot’ to be seeking agreement on ?

    With regard to this notional shared society, can you precis what you and your chums actually mean by that and why you regard it as something people can/should be both paying attention to and/or sponsoring/subsidizing research into and projects on ?

  • between the bridges

    Experiences of the peace processes in Northern Ireland have contributed to the rapid development of scholarship and practice associated with peace building and conflict prevention. The literature on peace building that has emerged in the last decade reflects international efforts to educate future practitioners and scholars. This roundtable brings together a panel that has been closely involved in practice, research and scholarship, which helped to define the field. They have been asked to reflect on emerging theoretical and practical accounts of the process of change from their knowledge of local and international efforts to promote and maintain peaceful co-existence…..
    .
    in other words we think we are really smart and if you fund us we will do loads of reports with nice graphs and big words to tell you what the dogs in the street already know.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Possibly, kinda depends on how you define peace and from what you believe – or can prove – conditions of non-peace derive. I’d be surprised if I was surprised about any of that however I’d be pleasantly surprised if I was surpised at all.