Pauline Hadaway

Pauline Hadaway's articles

PhD research abstract on Cultural Policy and Peace Building

Associated Categories Cultural Policy, Research Interests Tags:

Whilst the arts and culture remain relatively insignificant in terms of direct government spending, cultural policy has extended its influence across wide areas of social and economic policy-making in the whole of the UK over the past three decades. Whether reformulating social and economic problems through the language of cultural identity, cultural diversity and cultural recognition or using culture as an instrument to drive economic growth and promote social cohesion, cultural policy has moved from the margins to the centre of public policy debates. One of the most visible effects of the growing ‘attachment’ of culture to social and economic policy objectives has been the proliferation of culture led strategies designed to drive economic regeneration and tackle social exclusion in economically declining regions across the UK.

During the years of the Peace Process, and following the 1998 Belfast Agreement, government and local authorities in Northern Ireland have embraced and invested in culture led strategies for economic regeneration and social renewal. While Northern Ireland clearly shares many of the same socio-economic problems facing post industrial regions across the UK, this thesis contends that the rise of cultural policy- making in post conflict Northern Ireland represented a profound shift from previous security driven agenda aimed at ‘normalizing’ society, which had dominated policy- making during the years of the Troubles. Put simply, ‘cultural difference’, which had been perceived as divisive, destabilizing and threatening during the years of the conflict, re-emerged at the centre of policy discourse in the post conflict period, as ‘cultural diversity’, a potentially cohesive and unifying force.

The key focus of interest for my study is the adoption of regeneration strategies in post conflict Northern Ireland, which invoke cultural heritage and memory as a way of re-imagining and reconstructing ‘shared space’. My thesis contends that the foregrounding of culture and its attachment to social and economic policy poses particular problems for a society like Northern Ireland, in which politicized forms of culture have historically expressed divisive and contending political and cultural identities.

I’m interested in three interrelated questions: Firstly, how and why did culture come to be adopted as a positive, inclusive and unifying force in Northern Irish policy- making during the Peace Process and in particular following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement? Secondly, what are the key ideas and rationales that have shaped culture led regeneration as a strategy for economic and social reconstruction in post-conflict Northern Ireland? Finally, how have implementations of culture-led regeneration and peacebuilding policies played out in practice, amidst the often complex and conflicted political realities on the ground?

My study will look at these questions in the context of two significant post conflict projects:

  1. Titanic Belfast, the ‘centre piece’ of a major public- private partnership initiative that uses cultural heritage and urban place-making as part of a ‘toolkit’ for economic regeneration and the construction of shared civic and community space. Located on the former site of Belfast’s dockyards, Titanic Belfast lays claim to be the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction. Housed in an iconic ‘signature building’, Titanic Belfast opened its doors to the public in April 2012, on the former site of the shipyards where the world famous ocean liner was designed and built, exactly one hundred years after the fateful maiden voyage.
  2. The International Centre for Conflict Transformation (ICCT), part of a major regeneration project, aimed at transforming the former site of the Maze prison/ Long Kesh from a ‘contested site’ into an ‘inclusive space’ for commercial, leisure, tourism and cultural use. To be located within the ‘largest publicly owned regeneration site in Northern Ireland’, the ICCT was envisioned as a community and educational resource and interpretative centre, with a special focus on the history of the peace process and facilities ‘for visitors to appreciate the historical significance of the former prison’. Following a three-year development and consultation process involving a range of stakeholder and community interests, plans for the ICCT were shelved in August 2013, after the First Minister summarily withdrew government support.

Titanic Belfast and the ICCT are substantial cultural developments that throw useful light on the ideas and rationales shaping cultural policy and the particular forms that culture-led regeneration policy has taken in Northern Ireland. As case studies they also typify the problems associated with developing and implementing cultural policy in a society where political and cultural divisions remain entrenched. In selecting these case studies for research, I am drawing upon relevant literature emerging in the field of urban and political studies and social geography, responding to problems of delayed decision making, resource competition and deepening segregation that are impeding social and economic development in Northern Ireland. Recent analyses of public attitudes may also suggest that the political attention paid to symbolic issues relating to cultural identity may be at odds with public interests and opinions, which are more likely to be focused on and shaped by national and global rather than the parochial concerns.

An important body of literature has emerged in the field of spatial and urban planning, which questions the congruence of instrumental uses of contested heritage in tourism and urban regeneration with the need to develop authentic representations of community, accurate representations of history; or to foster ‘mature and creative reflection’ in the post conflict city. Important research is also emerging in Irish political studies, highlighting contradictions arising from the divergence between policy rhetorics of inclusiveness, regeneration and resolution and the persistence of sectarian antagonisms as a practical reality in the community.

There has been a growing interest in studying UK cultural policy in terms of variations in the way it develops in different regions and localities, how it becomes attached to local political priorities and the way cultural policies fare when implemented amidst differing political currents and expectations. I hope that this critical study of culture led economic and social policy in Northern Ireland will contribute further knowledge in this important area.

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