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Festivalisation, Culture and Conflict

Festivalisation, Culture and Conflict

PhD project title and outline, including interdisciplinary dimension:
Festivalisation, Culture and Conflict

This project seeks to engage with the question of how urban cultural festivals may be seen to be constitutive of cultures in their formation, projection and transformation, particularly in the postcolonial and/or post-conflict societies. It is linked to an ongoing AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded project (see and will provide the successful applicant with access to this project which is based on a partnership with Féile an Phobail (the West Belfast Festival) and other community and local government organisations. The project seeks to explore the productive interactions and/or ethical tensions between the construction, projection and transformation of local and global identities, between ‘bottom-up’ self-fashioning as heterogeneous communities and ‘top-down’ fashioning by institutional stakeholders that include the travel and tourism industry, publicly funded tourist boards and state bodies.. Each of these forces has overlapping, vested interests in controlling the image of cultures through their transition from conflict zone and thus commoditized spectacle for the dark tourist, to emerging, newly-transformed cohesive community that is equally marketable as a target for phoenix tourism. This project will interrogate that relationship.

The successful applicant will define the precise focus of the doctoral project in consultation with the lead supervisor in line with their own experience, expertise and the cultural context for their chosen case study/(-ies), but areas for research might include:

  • the role and impact of the urban cultural festival in facilitating the transition from ‘dark tourism’ (focusing on narratives of conflict) to ‘phoenix tourism’ (focusing on narratives of conflict resolution; Causevic and Lynch, 2007)
  • Urban cultural festivals as ‘contact zones’ or ‘exclusion zones’: do festivals ‘translate’ local cultures – particularly those on the margins – or do they in fact occlude them? Does their content reflect the prevalent concerns, organic cultures and indigenous traditions of local communities, particularly those most disadvantaged in socio-economic terms? Or does the process of ‘festivalization’ (Getz, 2007) ossify culture? As Chang asks, ‘whose memories are we drawing on (or denying) […] And whose traditions are we keeping alive through the enactment of festivals and other rituals?’(Chang, 2005: 248)
  • Economic v cultural and/or social impact and value how is the ‘success’ of cultural festivals defined? Do commercial interests sit comfortably with social, cultural or aesthetic ones? What are the structures of power that define their governance, funding and accountability to the community? How do communities negotiate conflicting imperatives in this regard when translating their ideological positioning, though cultural festivals, for tourists, funders and the outside world? To what extent do festivals enable historically marginalised communities to translate their counter-hegemony to an international audience and thus to attain social and cultural capital, as understood by Bourdieu (1984)?
  • Self-fashioning of communities from below v institutional fashioning of community from above (to what extent are the activities included in festivals defined by ‘top-down’ (institutional) or by bottom-up (grassroots) imperatives? How can festivals perform (counter-discursive) resistance? How does a community’s desire to remember a troubled past interrelate with an institutional desire to minimise conflict? What are the ethical issues at play in these negotiations?
  • The festival as a third space of transculturation: to what extent do festivals act as a form of outreach to the ‘other’? Are reconciliation and rehabilitation a part of their social function? To what extent do they mediate cultural translation? How does the artistic content of the festivals reflect these concerns with the role of the festival as cultural mediator? In what ways might festivals alleviate inter-communal tensions in contested spaces

Primary supervisor:
Professor Margaret Topping (Arts, English and Languages)
Secondary supervisor: from a complementary discipline.
External Partner/Organisation: Féile an Phobail (the West Belfast Festival)