Unionists, Loyalists, and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland provides a valuable case study of a seemingly intractable conflict undergoing transformation. Lee Smithey offers a grassroots view of that transformation, through interviews and field research in the region, and provides essential models for how ethnic and communal-based conflicts can shift from violent confrontation toward multiculturalism and democratic cooperation. Smithey focuses particularly on Protestant unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland, who maintain varying degrees of commitment to the Protestant faith, the Crown, and British identity. He argues that mutually-opposed collective identities in ethnopolitical conflict can become less polarized as partisans adopt new conflict strategies and means of expressing identity. Thus, the close and recursive relationship between collective identity and collective action forms a crucial element of conflict transformation. Smithey closely examines attempts in Protestant/unionist/loyalist communities and organizations to develop more constructive means of pursuing political agendas, expressing collective identity, and improving community relations. Key leaders and activists have begun to reframe collective narratives and identities, diminishing out-group popularization and making community support possible for greater political and civic cooperation. As Smithey shows, this kind of shift in strategy and collective vision constitutes the heart of conflict transformation, and the challenges and opportunities faced by grassroots unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland prove instructive for other regions of intractable conflict.