Girardian sacrificial commemoration and post-conflict reconciliation in Northern Ireland

  • Jan Robert Schulz

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the influence of post-conflict commemoration on reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Through a close study of commemoration practices since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, drawing on empirical on-site research (2014-2015) and 23 interviews with local actors and stakeholders, this thesis asks if commemoration helps or hinders reconciliation. This thesis presents a new way of looking at the role of commemoration in post-conflict reconciliation.This study makes two main contributions to the existing literature. First, it identifies the narrowness of existing concepts for the analysis of commemoration. The existing literature discusses the effects of commemoration on peace and reconciliation in dichotomous terms. On the one hand, repetitive practices keep the conflict alive and hinder reconciliation; and on the other hand, reflective practices, i.e. being critical towards the self and being empathetic towards the other, facilitate reconciliation. It is argued that these existing mechanisms have a limited explanatory power regarding the case of Northern Ireland. Second, as a response to this dichotomy between repetition and reflection, this thesis proposes two new mechanisms - scapegoating and sacrifice - for the analysis of commemoration practices. These two mechanisms are a re-conceptualisation of René Girard's scapegoat mechanism. Hence, this thesis rethinks Girard's scapegoat mechanism, splitting it into two mechanisms, in order to make it applicable to commemoration practices.The four mechanisms discussed - repetition, reflection, scapegoating and sacrifice - form the analytical framework of this thesis. The utility of the four mechanisms is tested in three empirical case studies. These three cases, all situated in post-conflict (post-1998) Northern Ireland, examine nationalist, unionist and cross-communal memory work by looking at the commemoration practices of Sinn Féin, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Titanic. The first two case studies, Sinn Féin and the RUC, deal with stakeholders of the Northern Ireland conflict that were fighting against each other on opposite sides. Utilising the analytical framework, the case studies ask if and how commemoration helped their post-conflict transformation from armed conflict to peace. The third case study examines the post-1998 memorialisation of the Titanic. Through newly created commemoration practices and the creation of Belfast's new city district Titanic Quarter, the new Titanic memory is one of the biggest phenomena of cross-communal memory work in post-conflict Northern Ireland. The thesis argues for the utility of the newly developed analytical framework, particularly demonstrating the added value of Girardian sacrificial practices for the analysis of post-conflict commemoration.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHugh Macginty (Supervisor)


  • Memorialisation, commemoration, post-conflict reconciliation
  • Commemoration, memorialisation, post-conflict, collective memory, violence, Girard, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, psychoanalysis, psychosocial defence, conflict, images, Northern Ireland, peacebuilding, Peace Studies

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