In his new book Unionists, Loyalists, and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland, Associate Professor of Sociology Lee Smithey discusses how grassroots movements have transformed the conflicts in Northern Ireland. The book, which launched earlier this month at the Parliament Buildings of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont, recently received the Donald Murphy Book Prize for Distinguished First Book by the American Conference for Irish Studies.
In an interview at the Stormont launch, Smithey discusses his inspiration for the book. A second launch event, also with audio, took place at No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast.
“Unionists, Loyalists, and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland draws attention to the ins and outs of how peace and conflict are being navigated at grassroots levels among Protestants who deeply value their identities as unionists and loyalists and want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom,” Smithey says. “Many of the ways they have publicly expressed their collective identities, such as parades, bonfires, and murals, remain contentious today, but increasingly, attempts are being made to make those practices less disconcerting outside of unionism and loyalism, even if the practices are not abandoned. The implications for how ethnopolitical identities can also become less exclusive in the process lie at the heart of the book.”
Smithey coordinates Swarthmore’s Peace and Conflict Studies program and teaches about social movements and nonviolent conflict resolution. He also contributed to the development of a study abroad program in Northern Ireland with an emphasis on peace and conflict resolution. The program allows students to take graduate level coursework in Northern Ireland while interning with grassroots organizations involved in the peace-building process.
Smithey is currently working on a mural mapping project with Professor Greg Maney of Hofstra University. The pair walk every street of Belfast in Northern Ireland every two years to document the murals in order to analyze the shifting contents and themes of the murals in the various neighborhoods. He’s also working on a book with Professor Lester Kurtz of George Mason University on the paradox of repression, with a focus on nonviolent resistance.