Queen’s University, Belfast has recently made a significant investment in what it claims is its long-established expertise in conflict and peace processes by founding a dedicated Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice. At the heart of this development it says is the recognition of the inseparability of social justice from sustainable processes of conflict transformation and, ultimately, of peace. But what if part of the problem lies in this Institute itself? What happens then?
The purpose of the Institute is claimed to be facilitation of sustained interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching and to provide strategic focus to support world class research in this field. The Institute says it will promote cross-School, cross-Faculty and inter-institutional co-operation that leads to high quality publications and will engage research users and other practitioners to enhance the non-academic impact of the work being undertaken. In Northern Ireland it is actually doing the opposite by acting to destabilise those ongoing workers within the community with whom it disagrees.
The Institute was established on 1 August 2012 with Professor Hastings Donnan as its first Director. ISCTSJ claims to connect the perspectives of all those who seek to contribute to conflict transformation and social justice – from the insights of world leading researchers to the experience of practitioners, policy makers, politicians and activists. This is in essence not true, for I had never heard of this Institute until Peter Shirlow’s poor research about the Cruthin and the Common Sense document was brought to my attention by senior community activists. It claims to strive to create dialogue within which all voices can be heard and to underpin the pursuit of peace through world class research. But yet, as we have seen, it attempts to destroy those voices of long-term activists within the field in Northern Ireland which do not accord with its own out-dated and retrogressive views of Irish history , marginalising the history of the Cruthin and treating Gaelic pseudo-history as real, so maintaining an anti-British ethos in Ireland, and indeed in northern, southern and western Great Britain ( “Scotland”,” England” and “Wales”), as well.
Each year the Institute will announce a Priority Theme to provide a focus for its activities and to stimulate innovative and imaginative research collaborations on a flexible set of broadly interdisciplinary topics related to conflict transformation and social justice. This will be led by two Institute Fellows from different disciplines at Queen’s. The Priority Theme will normally be announced a year in advance.
The Institute will also support a number of Interdisciplinary Research Groups that will develop a programme of activities including seminars, workshops, conferences, exhibitions and performances whose overall objective is to enrich understanding of conflict transformation and social justice. Interdisciplinary Research Groups will play a key role in assisting the Institute realise its goals of attracting leading international researchers and involving research users, policy makers and practitioners in a way that maximises research impact. Research training at postgraduate level will be an increasingly important element of the Institute’s core activities, and will include the development of a new, cross-disciplinary Masters programme in conflict transformation and social justice.
But will it challenge its own? No, of course it won’t. They’ll all swing togethaa, togethaa they will swing, make lots of lovely PhD’s and Masters for themselves, while trying to impose their own prejudiced sense of reality on all of us. And they’ll award each other every accolade they can in doing so. Do we need them? No, of course we don’t. We long-term community activists in Dalaradia and the Ullans Academy promoting Common Identity are more than capable of looking after ourselves without their interference. In fact, my own opinion is that they should be disbanded altogether and the University of Ulster, with a much more experienced group of scholars, like the incomparable Professor Paul Arthur, Honorary Professor in Peace Studies there, continue as the Academic Centre of Excellence in Conflict Studies in Northern Ireland.
History is primarily a record of human relationship with a vast network of variation in the manner of its evolution. Now is the time to widen its perspective beyond the religious and political divide. People do not change their minds, rather their horizons are widened. We begin to comprehend that what we thought was the whole of reality is but a small part and that a representation. Nobody can claim to own reality just as nobody can legitimately claim that theirs is the only view of history. And that is where we have seen that the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice of Queen’s University is fundamentally flawed.
To be continued