The State as a Verb: Conflict as Political Production in the North of Ireland, 1968-1998 (An Stát mar Bhriathar: Coimhlint mar Táirgeadh Polaitiúil i dTuaisceart na hÉireann, 1968-1998)

Mr Keagan Day1

1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland (c. 1968-98), comparably small and poorly armed Republican organisations were able to assert sovereignty in Catholic enclaves in West Belfast. Here they created de facto statelets on territory that was, de jure, part of the United Kingdom. The dominant narrative of Troubles literature deifies British sovereignty and legality throughout the conflict, and treats anti-state groups – and the enclaves which birthed them – as atavistic and a priori illegitimate: unworthy of scrutiny. This study rejected such liberal assumptions about the state and conflict. Taking as ontological starting points Schmitt’s concept of the political and Foucault’s conceptualisation of power, this study employed document analysis investigate the tactics of power production employed in Republican enclaves in West Belfast between 1968 and 1998. It finds that British-aligned actors and Republicans employed myriad tactics of power production which fall under six descriptive categories: 1) Physical Violence, 2) Intelligence Gathering, 3) Occupation and Exclusion of Space, 4) Welfare and Service Provision, 5) Manipulation of Symbolism, and 6) Manipulation of Language and Discourse. These tactics were employed by both sides in the conflict and were productive of polarised political communities and politicised terrain in West Belfast. These findings challenge the dominant narrative of Troubles literature and point to a new understanding of decolonisation and state-building wherein the state is produced by and productive of conflictual power relations; requiring constant enactment and reification to ensure its own survival.


My research lies at the intersection between Critical Criminology and Critical Security Studies, and I am interested in the ever-evolving ways in which we deconstruct and reconstruct politicised terrain and bodies through conflictual tactics of power. Having completed an Honours degree in Criminology, I am currently completing a Masters degree in International Relations, with a view to design a PhD project which challenges traditional approaches in both fields. Ultimately, I hope to produce research which informs a more constructive approach to decolonisation and reconciliation.


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