Transitional Optics: Exploring Liminal Spaces after Conflict

Joanne Murphy, Sara McDowell

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12 Citations (Scopus)
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The purpose of this article is to engage in a new conceptualisation of liminality, as it applies to space and place in societies emerging from conflict but not yet at peace. We adopt a case study approach of two urban environments: Derry/Londonderry, a city that experienced acute levels of violence during the Northern Ireland conflict, and Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country, which has been at the crux of the cultural and economic struggle for Basque independence. The visual, built environment has been significantly reconfigured in both cities to communicate the transition from conflict. Yet the optics of peacebuilding does not necessarily reflect the experiences of communities as they move through complex processes. A more nuanced and critical reading of the urban environment often reveals stagnation within peace processes and the existence of liminal, inbetween spaces. This paper suggests that ‘transitional optics’ in societies moving out of conflict can physically illuminate the complex nature of building peace, and argues that the idea of permanent liminality can offer new ways of understanding the ways in which transitional processes can become trapped. An ‘end-point’ is not always achievable, or perhaps, for some, desirable. The characteristics of permanent liminality can be identified in three main areas: political imagery, physical regeneration and public space as a conflict arena.
Original languageEnglish
JournalUrban Studies
Early online date01 Oct 2018
Publication statusEarly online date - 01 Oct 2018


  • Liminal Space, conflict, Bilbao, Derry, transition


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