Urban Conflicts: Ethno-National Divisions, States and Cities

28 Sep

On May 19 – 21, 2011 the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work will host the Urban Conflicts: Ethno-National Divisions, States and Cities conference. This will be a multi-disciplinary international conference that will seek to foster dialogue between academics and non-academic policy practitioners working in contested cities; Cities that are sites of an (often long) history of (sometimes violent) conflict over the control, boundaries and even the existence of the states in which they are located. Conflicts in such cities spread across many dimensions, both historical and contemporary, and levels – from structural issues of national state and city interrelationships, to urban governance, economic development, city planning and regeneration, policing and cultural development. Such conflicts are also differently understood and experienced by the people living in contested cities and are differently manifested in people’s everyday lives: reflected in the use of urban space, patterns of segregation or sharing, violence, resistance, or simply mundane exchanges with others.

The Urban Conflicts conference will aim to advance the understanding of the nature and dynamics of ethno-national conflicts as manifested in such contested cities. Conversely, it will question how cities and everyday urban life are used – and abused – in the containment of these wider national conflicts, and to explore their potential for achieving self-sustaining moderation, constructive channelling or resolution of conflict. To that end, through the conference Call for Papers, we invite submissions under a variety of overlapping themes:

  • Historical Origins and Development of Contested Cities and States
  • Urban Populations and the Politics of Demography
  • Ethno-National Borders and Walls
  • ‘Neutral’ or ‘Shared’ Spaces in the City?
  • Conflict Management and Conflict Transformation in Cities
  • Political Economy and the Built Environment
  • Contesting the ‘Religious City’
  • Visualising Divided Cities

For the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work the conference will not be a stand-alone event. It is in fact a part of a five-year ESRC-funded research project entitled Conflict in Cities and the Contested State: Everyday Life and the Possibilities for Transformation of Conflict in Belfast, Jerusalem and Other Divided Cities . The project started back in 2007. It is led by the University of Cambridge and involves Exeter University as well as Queen’s University in Belfast.  A multidisciplinary team of researchers (architects, political scientists, sociologists and geographers) have been studying mainly (but not exclusively) the cities of Belfast and Jerusalem as the key sites in territorial conflicts over state and national identities, cultures and borders. A number of other divided cities in Europe and the Middle East, including Beirut, Brussels, Kirkuk, Mostar, Nicosia and Tripoli, are studied by eight PhD students affiliated to the Project.

The School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work is involved in the Conflict in Cities Project through the Social Divisions and Social Conflict Research Cluster. Liam O’Dowd is one of the Project’s principal investigators; Madeleine Leonard, Lisa Smyth and Katy Hayward are project partners; Martina McKnight and Milena Komarova are research associates; and Joanne Robinson is a project administrator. James Anderson (a principal investigator) and Ian Shuttleworth (a project partner) from the School of Geography at Queen’s complete the team of researchers working on Belfast. In addition, there are now five PhD students in the SSPSW associated with the Project: Giulia Carabelli, Linda Rootamm, Monika Halkort, Annie Kane-Horrigan and Brendan Browne.

The Urban Conflicts Conference will be an opportunity for those of us involved in the Conflict in Cities Project to present and discuss the work we have been doing for the past three years. In Belfast we have worked on a series of relatively self-contained, yet interrelated research themes: Developing an over-arching framework for understanding ‘divided’ cities; Exploring, (through case studies of urban regeneration), how changes in the built environment in the past decade are interacting with ‘ethno-national’ conflict and divisions; Demographic analysis of patterns of segregation and mixing in the city and discourses of demography; Exploring young people’s perceptions and experiences of the divisions, (including peace walls and interfaces), and the ways in which they (re)produce, negotiate or challenge them in their daily lives; And examining the significance of Belfast city centre as an ethno-nationally ‘neutral’ space in the everyday lives of mothers of young children living in divided inner city neighbourhoods. Analyses of our ongoing work are regularly published in the online working paper series of the Project.

The Urban Conflicts conference will not mark the end of the Conflict in Cities project. For the next two years the Belfast research team has yet to explore a number of themes: We are to examine the spectrum of different approaches to conflict management and resolution in Belfast, (from policing strategies to the agonistic channelling of urban conflicts), and to study how religion and religious practices in everyday life serve to claim, demarcate and divide urban space throughout Belfast urban area. Through the Urban Conflicts conference, however, we are looking to enrich, expand and compare our own data and analyses of the cities we have studied with the rich but often disparate body of research and practice, and armies of researchers and practitioners who we know are working on countless contested cities. Crucially still, we want to optimise the use that policy makers, practitioners and communities in contested cities can make of such academic research.

The Urban Conflicts conference Call for Papers closes on October 31st, 2011. The conference has just opened a dedicated website – www.qub.ac.uk/sites/UrbanConflictsConference – where you can follow developments, register your interest, or why not submit an abstract?

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