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Temporary or Permanent Barriers: Teenagers’ perspectives on peacelines in Belfast Madeleine Leonard and Martina McKnight.

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Presentation on theme: "Temporary or Permanent Barriers: Teenagers’ perspectives on peacelines in Belfast Madeleine Leonard and Martina McKnight."— Presentation transcript:

1 Temporary or Permanent Barriers: Teenagers’ perspectives on peacelines in Belfast Madeleine Leonard and Martina McKnight

2 Teenagers and Divided Cities  ESRC funded research project: ‘Conflict in Cities and the Contested State’ ( ), ESRC RES  Purpose of research is to explore the ways in which young people relate to, occupy, manage and cross space in Belfast and whether they consider Belfast as a divided or shared city.  How do their localised everyday micro-geographies differ from adults in politically contested cities such as Belfast?  Can these differences shed light on the saliency or disruption of wider socio-political processes around territory and boundaries.  Focus on young people’s attitudes to peace-lines

3 Post Conflict Belfast  Belfast remains a divided city in terms of housing and education.  NIHE – 90% of housing estates in Belfast dominated by one or other community.  Education – over 90% of children and young people attend schools on basis of religious background.  Segregated space impacts on young people more than adults because young people often lack the resources to move outside the immediate locality and find it more difficult to establish more geographically spread social networks (such as through employment).

4 Methodology  Questionnaire 20 schools – 442 young people between ages of 14 and 15.  Young people’s graffiti messages and drawings on an imaginary peace-line in Belfast.  Picture Prompts with 125 teenagers from 6 schools in interface areas.  Focus group discussions (6 schools).

5 Peacelines in Belfast  Disagreement over number of peace-lines in Belfast.  Belfast Interface Project Report (2012) identified 99 barriers in 15 parts of the city where there are identifiable clusters of Catholic and Protestant.  One third of barriers could be removed easily.  Survey of adults in interface communities (2007) – only 2% felt walls were not needed and should never have been put up.  Young people growing up in ‘post conflict’ Belfast – growing up against backdrop of paramilitary ceasefires, signing of a peace agreement, setting up of Northern Ireland Assembly, transformation of Belfast into post- conflict, consumerist city - how do they view peace-lines?

6 Picture Prompt Do you know where this wall is? If you do tell us where. What do you think it is for? How many of these walls are there in Belfast? Whereabouts in Belfast do you think these walls are? Why do you think Belfast is still divided into Catholic and Protestant areas? Are you optimistic about growing up in Belfast? Do you think it will be better for you than your mum or dad?

7 Narratives on Peace Walls Inclusionary Exclusionary Necessary Ineffective Temporary Invisible

8 Inclusionary Walls Positive territoriality – establish boundaries of community. Strong place attachment – young people’s identity associated with neighbourhoods. Born in neighbourhood as were parents – so long standing family relationship with neighbourhood. Strong peer friendships – group solidarity. Pride in area and history of area.

9 Inclusionary Walls People like to see them and they make the area look better (girl) It marks your territory (boy) It tells everyone you’re proud to be something (boy) You know where you are (girl) You know you are safe (boy) They give people something nice to look at (boy)

10 Exclusionary Walls Walls keep people in but keep others out Reinforce inward-looking tendencies rather than facilitating wider geographical and social engagement Clearly defined boundaries indentified safe and unsafe areas Enabled a geography of knowing unknown places

11 Exclusionary Walls They keep the Huns in and the Taigs out. (Catholic boy) It separates religions and troubles. (Catholic boy) You know where to go and where not to go. (Catholic girl) It keeps the Catholics on one side and the Protestants on the other (Protestant boy) It locks off parts of the city which is like saying ‘you’re not allowed here’(Protestant boy)

12 Necessary Walls Troubles may not be over – young people expressed insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. Without walls – lives could be put at risk. history might repeat itself. Relationships are still not ‘normal’. Threat of violence remains. Longevity of walls/barriers indicate they are still needed. Freeze geographical space – trap the past but this trapping of the past is still necessary.

13 Necessary Walls It’s not as bad but it might get worse again. (Protestant boy) If they (the walls) come down they’ll (Catholics and Protestants) try to take over each other’s land. (Protestant boy) They fight sometimes (Catholics and Protestants) so they (peacewalls) separate the areas so there is no fighting. Catholic girl) They stop Catholics and Protestants fighting and rioting. (Catholic girl)

14 Necessary Walls Necessary Walls Some people just can’t get along and that’s that, and if you brought Catholics and Protestants together, they’d probably kill each other cause they’re two different religions. That’s like putting Scotland and Wales together. (Protestant girl)

15 Ineffective Walls Ongoing ‘recreational rioting’ in North Belfast 12th July 2010 – petrol bombs and pipe bombs thrown at police – 80 police officers injured. Cost of containing violence over three day period - £1.1 million: ‘it’s a bit like a Euro Disney theme park for rioting’ (quote from local priest The Guardian July 14th)

16 Temporary Walls Questionnaire responses: When should walls come down 9% - right away (11%) 34% years (38%) 22% - 10 years (26%) 35% - never (25%) Young people have moved on – they think differently from their parents. They didn’t live through the ‘troubles’. They produced recommendations for bringing the walls down.

17 Temporary Walls They were a good idea at the time but they are not needed today because the behaviour of people has changed over time. (boy) They use to be a good idea because then people wouldn’t riot as much but now it only gives Belfast a bad name and ruins the look of the place. (boy) I think peace walls are so so so stupid. It is a thing of bricks. If you want to make a difference knock it down and let people make a difference. (girl)

18 Invisible Walls In interface areas – walls became a normal – invisible feature of landscape. Encouraged division to appear natural and normal. Young people expressed little curiosity about who lived on the other side.

19 Invisible Walls Invisible Walls To be honest I don’t think they make a difference. They are just paintings on walls. (Catholic girl) I thought they were just there for people to do graffiti (Catholic girl) There is a big one right outside my sister’s back. See at XXX like there’s just her house and then another wee row of houses and it’s just there but it’s like a normal thing now so it is...you just walk out and you just see it there and you just look at it without really seeing it cos like it’s just always been there (Protestant boy)

20 Conclusion Conclusion Cautious Optimism. Boundaries neither fixed or natural. Some young people wanted opportunities to transcend sectarian spaces and engage in more meaningful terms with adjacent peers. ‘Shared Spaces’ remain for the most part parallel spaces. Sectarian attitudes still not confronted by education system. Young people’s ‘ways of seeing’ still not incorporated into public policies.


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