Darkness in the shadows
: Post-conflict trauma and the documentary image

  • Sean Murray

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement heralded a new era within Irish and British politics. Bolstered by the validation offered by referenda both north and south, the prospect of a shared future was greeted with great hope and optimism. The involvement of the Clinton Administration created a greater international dynamic to the agreement with media outlets readily reporting the success as a template for other global conflicts. However, when the bright lights and media frenzy had moved on, difficult legacies of the conflict remained to be addressed. In particular, the growing community of victims and survivors suffering psychological trauma and social exclusion from the effects of over thirty years of political violence.

There is now general acknowledgment that adequate government support was seldom put in place to tackle issues of conflict-related trauma across a broad spectrum of victims and survivors. In the absence of such support, the work of filmmakers has increasingly sought to address this phenomenon by highlighting issues concerning transitional justice; a task complicated by contested interpretations of what defines justice. For Unionism, an emphasis on the application of law, order and security tends to take precedence in these debates, while nationalists invariably stress the requirement of parity and social justice. Such agreements are further complicated by the role of the media, which for over thirty years has been far from an impartial arbitrator between the political ideologies of both traditions, habitually presenting a legacy of dominant narratives shaped by state censorship and control, both north and south.

Developing a practice-based approach, this PhD project analyses and demonstrates how documentary filmmaking can address, investigate, and act as an advocate in debates that are often simplified and marginalized by mainstream film and broadcast media. Through the process of researching, writing, producing and publicly screening a feature documentary on the politics of state collusion with particular reference to the case of the Glenanne Gang, the project examines issues relevant to both the relations between documentary film practice and questions of advocacy, human rights and post-conflict recovery, as well the necessity of a practice- based approach to creative research in this area.
Date of AwardDec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorDes O'Rawe (Supervisor) & Cahal McLaughlin (Supervisor)

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