‘Adults decided our fate’: children and young people navigating space, territory and conflicting identities and the ‘new’ Northern Ireland

Emma Faith Gordon

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Conflicting identities is one of the ‘central dynamics of political and cultural conflict’ in Northern Ireland (Bean, 2007, p. 158). McAlister et al.’s (2010, p. 70) exploration of ‘how identity is linked to place’, observes that it ‘serves to create feelings of inclusion or exclusion’, with versions of ‘historical constructions of space … passed down … to children and young people’. Similarly ‘rituals’ and ‘ceremonies’, as a ‘means of perceiving and displaying difference’ (Graham, 2011, p. 88) reinforce the contestation of space and the expression of identities. For children and young people in Northern Ireland, rioting at interface areas is a means of expressing cultural identity, while also indicating the existence of resistance to the structural, socio-economic inequalities they experience (Gordon, 2018). Although typically framed by media constructions and politicians as ‘recreational’, ‘fun’ and thus ‘not politically motivated’, contemporary research findings assert that for young people rioting is considered to have a firm political foundation and is a means of expressing identity and ‘defending space’ (Jarman and O’Halloran, 2001; Leonard, 2010; Meadows, 2010; Gordon, 2018).

Drawing on extensive qualitative interview data and content analysis of media coverage, this chapter focuses on the role of the media in creating and maintaining negative representations of children and young people. Within a contextual media analysis, a case study of what was framed in media and political discourse as youth 'orchestration' of, and involvement in, 'sectarian rioting', explores how fear was mobilised to represent children and young people as “dragging” communities “back through the horrors of the past”. In addition to analysing interviews with editors, journalists and politicians in Northern Ireland, this chapter further asserts the importance of exploring theories of belonging through an empirical lens. In doing so, it includes the voices of children, young people and their advocates, exploring how they perceive themselves and their peers, as well as the perceived impact of negative representations on their sense of belonging in a society navigating transition from over thirty years of violent conflict. Children and young people describe the ‘expectations’ placed upon them by adults regarding the future and stability of the ‘new’ Northern Ireland, which they feel they had not been a part of ‘forming’. The chapter adds to the existing body of literature on ‘belonging’ by arguing that the realities of conflict and transition illuminate exclusionary and other issues experienced by young people, which are already present in ‘settled democracies’ (see Alvarez Berastegi, 2017; Gordon, 2018).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationYouth, Place and Theories of Belonging
EditorsSadia Habib, Mike R.M. Ward
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780203712412
ISBN (Print)9781138559622
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameSociological Futures

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