LISTENING TO THE VOICES MARGINALISED BY CONFLICT
When Dr Julie Norman came to Belfast in 2015 as a Queen’s University Research Fellow, she brought an extra dimension to the role – her teaching.
‘I pushed for that,’ she says, ‘It’s really important for me to keep a foot in education and teaching and working with young people. My research is stronger when I’m teaching – and vice versa.’
Julie is one of 14 outstanding postdoctoral researchers from all over the world who are now at Queen’s, extending their impact and accelerating their careers. At the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice her research is focused on human rights and security in conflict situations, ‘looking especially at political prisoners and detainees and how the state and prisoners end up negotiating policy, through prisoners’ resistance on the one hand and states’ attempts to control on the other.’
And she is teaching. ‘In fact, I ended up stepping into the role of Director of Education, convening our brand new Masters programme in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice. That became a whole new aspect of my work which was very exciting.’
FROM WASHINGTON TO BELFAST
With a PhD from American University in Washington DC, before coming to Queen’s Julie had been at Concordia University and McGill University in Montreal, teaching courses on Middle East politics, Israel-Palestine, human rights and international development.
‘I was familiar with Queen’s, and with working on protracted conflict I was familiar with Northern Ireland as well. The new Institute appealed to my interdisciplinary interests and background and it was bringing together a lot of what I hoped to do – so I applied.’
She has become immersed in her role, including involvement in a number of important knowledge exchange projects. ‘People want to learn from the context here in Northern Ireland. For example, we’ve had former fighters from Lebanon meeting former combatants here. We had hunger strikers and lawyers from Israel-Palestine coming to meet former hunger strikers here and we’ve had a crosscommunity group from Israel-Palestine meeting a cross-community group from Corrymeela.’
HER OWN GROWING EXPERIENCE OF NORTHERN IRELAND
‘There are so many layers and nuances. You come to appreciate the complexity. Living here, going to events where the audience member next to you asks a question and makes a comment that refers specifically to suffering or loss they experienced during the conflict – that’s very humbling.’
Her research projects include awards from the British Academy for work on community engagement in divided societies and the implication of detention policies on security and human rights in protracted conflict. She is also turning her attention to the plight of refugees in the Syrian conflict.
She says, ‘The work on prisoners is ongoing. I find it a very under-studied and under-analysed aspect of conflict. And the refugee situation is obviously one that demands attention.’
A CONSTANTLY CHANGING SUBJECT MATTER
There is also the need to be able to respond to events. ‘When you’re teaching about the Middle East, in particular, it’s constantly changing. I might prep a lecture and between the time I leave home and get here I know I have to change it.
‘It’s the same with research. Working on contemporary issues, you need to have openness and flexibility. We’re not content just to sit in our offices. We’re engaged with what’s going on in the real world.’
Over the past decade, Julie has spent weeks or months each year in Israel-Palestine and the West Bank. ‘A lot of the focus of my work is to try to amplify marginalised voices, to get stories heard that wouldn’t be heard otherwise and to let those stories speak for themselves. And I want policymakers to hear these voices.
‘In the classroom, I strive to be as objective as possible, to encourage students to draw their own conclusions. And as a researcher, I see myself as a practitioner. I want to have some impact on policy.
‘There are certain issues of justice where to stay completely objective would be morally questionable. There are times when you feel you have to take some kind of stand. But I think being able to do that through writing, through research, through teaching is a real privilege.’
Find out more about the important work being doing by our researchers At the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice