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Article Review Essay

Conducting their study as the transitional funding attached to the peace process in Northern Ireland is reaching its end, the authors examine the role of aid in conflict resolution particularly with regards to intangible outcomes such as identity formation. The idea behind this funding is that it reduces economic disparities between the conflicting groups and that the economic growth started by this funding will continue into the future.

These funds come from the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), which addressed unemployment and poverty in Republican / Loyalist communities; the Peace I funds, which promoted social inclusion, cross-community contact, and economic development; and the Peace II funds (ended in 2006), which had similar goals to Peace I but targeted local, grassroots (nongovernmental) organizations. The authors also consider the role of external agencies as they intervene in ethnopolitical conflict and the importance of community development in the peace process.

The authors are careful to note that economic aid is not a magic cure for conflict as this aid, if improperly administered, can at times heighten underlying conflicts. Indeed, in Northern Ireland, the approach has had mixed results. In designing their study, the authors took both a qualitative and quantitative approach. For the qualitative portion, the authors interviewed 98 community leaders, civil servants, and development officers from Belfast, Londonderry/Derry, and the Border region (Northern Ireland).

These interviews consisted of semi-structured questions, including those attached to the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale: “What are your best wishes and hopes for your personal future? What are your worst fears and worries about your personal future? What are your best wishes and hopes for the future of your country? What are your worst fears and worries about the future of your country? ” (page 166). The quantitative data was drawn from the summer 2006 Northern Ireland Public Opining Survey.

The sample consisted of 1,023 adults representative of Northern Ireland’s adult population. The study as a whole was designed to look at the respondents hopes and fears about Northern Ireland’s future. Through the inclusion of qualitative data, the authors hoped to demarginalize voices that are often not heard in the official discourses of the peace process. This study yielded numerous tantalizing findings. First, the authors found that more Nationalists than Unionists imagine a future where conflicting groups are able to perceive a sense of shared community.

Second, the authors found differences based on gender: more females than males saw the opportunity for building new relationships amongst communities in the future. Third, the authors found two common fears / concerns that extend across religions, genders, and ages: the fear that violence in changing the social fabric of Northern Ireland and the belief that politicians are disingenuous and not interested in serving the needs of their constituency. Fourth, the authors found that more Nationalists than Unionists saw the modernization of the economy and the political structure as means by which to support the peace process.

Finally, the authors found that younger adults were more concerned about the potential failure of the peace process and the economy than older adults The authors consider numerous theories about identity formation. In designing their study, they took into consideration geographic differences in identity formation: i. e. Londonderry/Derry vs. Belfast and urban vs. rural locations. They also consider how the Irish view immigration and the infiltration of outside values. In general, this article is not convincing.

Its primary strength is the detailed background to the conflicts in Northern Ireland, with a focus on the economic causes and effects of this conflict. This strength does not mitigate the effects of the article’s numerous weaknesses. First, the authors do not explicitly state their hypothesis. While exploratory studies such as this one can potentially reveal valuable information, the authors nowhere state the reasons behind the study. When questions such as identity formation are being explored, the readers need to know the authors’ relationship to the issue.

For example, are the authors somehow involved in this ethnopolitical conflict? Or, are they looking at it from the perspective of an outsider? If they are outsiders, does their perspective have a bearing on how the respondents answer their questions? Second, the authors explicitly state that they wish to demarginalize those voices that are not typically heard in the official peace process discourse. However, in selecting the respondents for the qualitative portion of the study, the authors chose community leaders, civil servants, and development officers.

It would seem that these are precisely the voices that are heard in the official discourse. Readers are left to wonder why the authors did not include a more representative sample of the population of Northern Ireland for this portion of the study. Third, this does not seem to be a study that was designed specifically to answer certain questions. As noted, the authors nowhere state a hypothesis. For the reader, it appears that the quantitative and qualitative data seems to have been mixed together ad hoc. In other words, the study does not seem to be designed to fit a specific question.

Rather, the authors appear to have attempted to answer questions based on the information they had at hand. Fourth, as the basis for this study was largely to examine economic role of the peace process, it seems like a gross oversight that the authors did not provide data on their respondents’ demographics. In the discussion section, the authors indicate that they collected background demographic information (political party, religious views, age, gender, socioeconomic status) on the respondents, but this information was not included in the results section and does not appear to have been considered in any significant way.

Finally, the analysis of the qualitative data seems a bit lacking. It would perhaps have been stronger to indentify the common themes and subthemes of the responses, rather than using the responses as illustrative examples. Because of these specific weakness as well as the authors’ failure to mention the limitations of their study and to provide specific recommendations for how their results can be used to generate future studies and/or to impact the peace process, this article is not convincing.


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