Imagining Belfast

Political Ritual, Symbols and Crowds

This two-year project will commence in June/July 2005. It will study the formation and public expression of identity in Belfast, combining a long term historical study with an anthropological investigation of recent developments. The historical study will construct a comprehensive festive calendar for the city across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, then proceed to more detailed research into specific events and practices, and into particular points of discontinuity. The anthropological research will identify changes and continuities in the contemporary festive calendar, explore policy towards the use of public space in the city and the implications for future policy in the changing nature of such space, and examine future options for a failed 'city of culture'.

The result will be an analysis that may challenge perceptions of Northern Irish society as a society characterised by two monolithic and inflexible 'traditions'. At the same time it will seek to move beyond simplistic debate as to the authenticity of particular cultural forms to an understanding of the way in which historically-based identities can be both sustained over time and redefined in response to changing circumstances. We hope this report will result in both a new perspective on issues of culture and identity in Northern Ireland and a theoretical contribution to debates on the nature of 'tradition' and the use of ritual in the formation of identity.

This project is being funded by the ESRC Identities and Social Action programme and is held jointly with the School of History. The principal researchers are Dr Dominic Bryan of the Institute and Professor Sean Connolly, School of History. Additional research fellows will also be appointed.