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Constructing the ‘Other’: The Role of Space in Continuing Conflict in Northern Ireland

Part 2 Dissertation 2011
Joanna Doherty
Newcastle University | UK
Despite political advances since the 1990s and the general perception that peace has arrived in Northern Ireland, conflict in the region is still ongoing and it is being enacted through the built environment. Rather than merely providing the setting for everyday actions, space plays a fundamental role in generating sectarianism and violence. Its unquestioned character enables it to be used as a tool for asserting difference and deepening divisions. The implicit nature of this spatial manipulation also ensures that the violence it engenders remains overlooked, as an ingrained and repetitive performance of conflict that continues in everyday life across Northern Ireland behind a façade of peace.

This dissertation investigates these spatial practices of conflict, which are typified in an area of residential segregation in Derry. On the edge of the city centre, the unionist Fountain estate is separated from the nationalist Bishop Street area by an interface wall. The wall has created both a physical and psychological division between the two communities, fostering a sense of isolation and resentment towards the ‘other’. Beyond the wall, other boundaries between the two neighbourhoods are defined by more imperceptible means. Demarcated through flags, painted kerbstones and murals, their symbolism targets a specific audience. As territorial markers, they impact on daily travel patterns to continually produce space along sectarian lines. The boundaries of the area are further defined on a temporal basis by parades. Both nationalist and unionist marches appropriate spaces and delineate a zone of sectarian exclusivity. In doing so, they impose a singular narrative on the landscape that simultaneously consolidates differences between the two communities.

These spatial tactics encompass the stark, the implicit and the ephemeral and operate across a range of scales. Whilst each individually contributes to ongoing conflict, it is their layering that makes them so powerful. Together they persistently reinforce divisions and embed their system of ethno-sectarian territoriality in the everyday lives of the residents. To move beyond this situation of ongoing conflict, the role of the built environment needs to be fundamentally addressed and these spatial practices acknowledged as a potent method of constructing the ‘other’.

Joanna Doherty

Zeynep Kezer
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