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Unit information: Northern Ireland: A case study in ethno-national conflict and resolution in 2018/19

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Unit name Northern Ireland: A case study in ethno-national conflict and resolution
Unit code POLIM0031
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Neil Matthews
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This module will examine the case study of Northern Ireland. Students will critically assess the origins, nature and dynamics of the ethno-national conflict in Northern Ireland and the approaches and circumstances which led to its resolution. The course will also consider the contemporary socio-political landscape in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland, including outstanding legacy issues and obstacles to reconciliation. Through engagement with the Northern Ireland case-study, the course will cover key concepts and debates in the wider field of peace and conflict research, and will also consider the potential ‘lessons’ (both positive and negative) other deeply divided societies might learn from the Northern Ireland case.

The aims of the unit are:
• to provide students with an in-depth critical and theoretical understanding of Northern Ireland as a case study of ethno-national conflict and resolution
• to enable students to develop their skills in critical thinking and writing
• to enable students to communicate their ideas in a coherent, clear and concise manner, both orally and in written form

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the origins, nature and dynamics of the ethno-national conflict in Northern Ireland
2. Demonstrate a clear understanding of how the Northern Ireland conflict was resolved
3. Evaluate the debate surrounding the consociational approach to conflict resolution, both from a comparative perspective and in the specific case of Northern Ireland
4. Understand the contemporary socio-political scene in Northern Ireland and assess the prospects for reconciliation in the region
5. Critically reflect on the lessons (both positive and negative) that the Northern Ireland case might hold for other deeply divided societies

Teaching details

Ten two hour seminars

In addition to the 20 hours of classroom time, students are expected to devote approximately 180 hours to independent reading, seminar preparation and essay writing.

Assessment Details

Formative- essay plan of maximum 1000 words
Students will develop a plan and outline of their approach to their chosen essay question (max. 1000 words). Essay questions will go through a process of internal review and external examiner review prior to their release to students. Assessment of the essay plan will allow for developmental feedback to be provided to students on key aspects such as: approach to the question; degree of relevant content; range of reading; integration of evidence and argument. More generally, this formative assessment will allow for provision of indicative feedback from the unit owner on the extent to which the essay plan indicates that the unit’s aims and intended learning outcomes are likely to be met in the essay, and suggestions for improvement on all of the above. Written feedback will be provided, with the option of further follow-up discussions with the unit owner.

Summative - 4000 word essay (100% of the mark)
The summative essay will allow for assessment of students’ ability to meet the unit’s learning outcomes, by requiring them to develop an in-depth essay argument over a length of 4000 words that draws upon relevant readings, materials and debates covered in the unit. The essay question will be designed so as to require a substantive component of the essay focuses on the unit’s key themes and issues, including, for example: the origins, nature and dynamics of the Northern Ireland conflict; or the brokering of the consociational peace accord in Northern Ireland.

Reading and References

David Mitchell (2015) Politics and Peace in Northern Ireland: Political Parties and the Implementation of the 1998 Agreement (Manchester: Manchester University Press)

John Whyte (1990) Interpreting Northern Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary (1995) Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken Images (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Rick Wilford (ed.) (2001) Aspects of the Belfast Agreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Feargal Cochrane (2013) Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)

Paul Dixon (2001) Northern Ireland: The Politics of War and Peace (Palgrave)

Jonathan Tonge (2014) Comparative Peace Processes (Cambridge: Polity)

Rupert Taylor (ed.) (2001) Consociational Theory: McGarry and O'Leary and the Northern Ireland Conflict (Oxford: Routledge)

Mary Clancy (2010) Peace without Consensus: Power Sharing Politics in Northern Ireland (Aldershot, Ashgate)

Jonathan Tonge (2004) The New Northern Irish Politics? (Basingstoke)

Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd (1996) The Dynamics of the Conflict in Northern Ireland: Power, Conflict and Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)