Communities in play
: The social value of youth drama groups in rural areas of Northern Ireland

  • Molly Goyer Gorman

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis seeks to understand how participants and non-participants value youth drama groups in small places in Northern Ireland, and the role which these groups play in ecologies of local cultural participation. In line with the AHRC Cultural Value Project’s approach, value is interpreted as a subjectively experienced phenomenon. Drawing on theories of social capital and place, the study explores the relationship between youth drama groups and wider social networks in their communities, and investigates the groups’ role in shaping local senses of place-identity. Primary research involved two case studies: a youth theatre in a majority-Catholic small town, and a Young Farmers’ Club renowned for its plays, in a majority-Protestant rural area. The approach was ethnographic incorporating some arts-based methods. A key finding was the extent to which segregation of the two main religious traditions in Northern Ireland, particularly in the education system, affects the demographics of the case study groups. While both groups promote collective identities unrelated to religion, they operate within tightly bonded cultural networks and some of their practices may unwittingly feed ‘quiet cultural segregation’. However, social bridging was found in the audiences for their performances. Findings on place differed: one group was valued as an alternative to a dominant sporting culture – a space for young people ‘to be different’ – whereas the other was seen as central to local culture and the main nexus for place-identity. The study concludes that youth drama groups can be fruitful avenues for inclusive community development in small places, but that more shared points of connection are needed for groups to reach beyond their local and institutional contexts. Findings around recruitment practices and cultural segregation have implications for Northern Irish arts, education and community relations policies. Findings with broader relevance include the potential of grassroots drama groups to help shape place-identity.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorDavid Grant (Supervisor) & Maria Lohan (Supervisor)

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