What now for the contact hypothesis? Towards a new research agenda

Paul Connolly

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    110 Citations (Scopus)


    This article begins with a review of recent research on the Contact Hypothesis. It will be shown that the literature in this area has become essentially closed and self-referential where the core political and theoretical premises that underpin the Hypothesis have been taken for granted and the debates have therefore become restricted simply to how best to measure the influence of inter-group contact. One of the key reasons for this is the lack of critical engagement with the Contact Hypothesis from those of a more structuralist and/or ‘radical’ perspective. This may be because the individualistic focus of the Hypothesis is seen from such a perspective as largely irrelevant to addressing racial and ethnic divisions and/or because it may be felt that to engage with the concept is to give it undue legitimacy. It will be argued in this article, however, that the wholesale dismissal of the Contact Hypothesis is a little premature. Just as recent research on racial and ethnic divisions has drawn attention to the way in which such divisions exist at a number of layers within the social formation – from the structural, political and ideological through to the sub-cultural, interactional and biographical – so must any initiatives aimed at addressing these divisions be similarly ‘multi-layered’ in their approach. However, it will be argued that for research to help inform specific strategies at the interactional level, there needs to be a significant change in the way that inter-group contact, and the Contact Hypothesis more generally, is studied. The article will ‘model out’ one potentially fruitful way in which such research can develop through the use of an ethnographic case study involving a cross-community scheme arranged for Protestant and Catholic children in Northern Ireland.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)169-193
    Number of pages25
    JournalRace, Ethnicity and Education
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2000

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development


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