Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

New Politics, New Identities?: The Case of Northern Ireland

Dr. Karyn Stapleton, Prof John Wilson.

Conceptions of nation, citizenship, and identity have been increasingly redefined by new socio-political structures (e.g. European integration, UK devolution). Thus the dual forces of regional autonomy and bureaucratic centralisation create many new identity possibilities (McCrone, 2002). What then is the relationship between the structures/boundaries of geo-political citizenship, and the expression of ethno-national identities within these structures? Here, we focus on one context of constitutional change, and consider the extent to which ‘old’ identities are being transformed in light of new political structures. Northern Ireland (NI) is experiencing both constitutional devolution and an ongoing Peace Process aimed at resolving socio-political conflict. These processes could potentially dislodge identity dichotomies and increase identity fluidity (McCall, 2002). However, recent research suggests that the population remains largely polarised along traditional lines.
We argue that to understand post-devolution identities, it is imperative to examine how the relevant categories are worked out, not only at the macro-level of politics/government, but also at the micro-level of everyday talk and self-identification. Hence, we examine the self-constructions of two ‘grass-roots’ urban groupings in NI (one Protestant/unionist, one Catholic/nationalist). Using a discursive framework, we examine how traditional identities are maintained and/or transformed within the changing socio-political structures. This provides insights into the relationship between constitutional processes and identities, and highlights the problematic of devolving power to divided societies. Constitutional legitimation of cultural groupings may result in increased acceptance of diversity, but can also heighten ethno-cultural distinctions and identity conflict. This issue is centrally relevant for UK devolution and EU regionalisation policies.


Dr. Karyn Stapleton  (United Kingdom)
Research Associate
School of History and International Affairs
University of Ulster at Jordanstown

Karyn Stapleton's primary research interests are in the area of discourse and identity; specifically the construction of identity through talk; the discursive construction of gender and ethnic/cultural identities; and the ontology/epistemology of identity.

Prof John Wilson  (United Kingdom)
Professor of Communication
Faculty of Arts
University of Ulster

John Wilson is also Director of the University's Institute of Ulster-Scots Studies. His research interests include pragmatics, sociolinguistics and political language. Recent publications include work on the language of peace and conflict; political discourse, social theory; and devolution and minority languages.

  • Constitutional change
  • Devolution
  • Discourse
  • Identity maintenance
  • Identity transformation
  • 'Cultural pluralism' vs. 'common identity'

(Virtual Presentation, English)