Three narratives in search of a city: Researching Belfast's 'post-conflict' transitions

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20 Citations (Scopus)


This paper highlights the role of narratives in expressing, shaping and ordering urban life, and as tools for analysing urban conflicts. The paper distinguishes analytically between two prominent epistemological meta-narratives in contemporary urban studies and multiple ontological narratives in a given city-in this case Belfast. The first meta-narrative represents cities as sites of deepening coercion, violence and inequality and the second sees them as engines of new forms of transnational capitalism. Both are marked by the strategy of specifying 'exemplar' or 'paradigm' cities. The core of the paper addresses how these two meta-narratives map onto and interact with, three contemporary ontological narratives of urban regeneration in Belfast. We conceive of narratives-epistemological and ontological-as analytical tools and objects of analysis but also as tools for social action for competing political and economic interests and coalitions. While in the urban studies literature Belfast is typically studied as an exemplar 'conflict city', it is now being promoted as a 'new capitalist city'. In the context of post-Agreement Belfast, we explore not only the 'pull' of exemplar narratives but also resistances to them that are linked to multiple and hybrid senses of place in the city. We conclude that any significant move beyond the exigencies of rampant commodification or recurring inter-communal antagonism must firstly, encourage new forms of grassroots place-making and, secondly, reform of Belfast's (and Northern Ireland's) fragmented governance structures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)526-546
Number of pages21
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2013


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