As part of our second year Cultural Politics on Tour module, students complete an expense-paid trip to Northern Ireland in order to apply the theories of cultural production, consumption, domination and resistance they learn to the ‘real-world’, culminating in a reflection piece. This week, our featured essay is by K. Gratia Mittelman.
Gratia’s bio: K. Gratia Mittelman is a second-year student from the United States studying Biological Anthropology. She is interested in studying bone markers—specifically those related to the neurological condition, Cerebral Palsy. She discovered a passion for lab work while helping excavate a Roman villa in Romania in 2017 and hopes to pursue a career researching human bones in an osteology or archaeology lab.
Cultural politics—described by Newell as “[referring] to the way that culture—including people’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and perspectives, as well as the media and arts—shapes society and political opinion and gives rise to social, economic and legal realities”— explores a collective set of ideas over societies and their cultures in a very unique way (Newell, 2014). Whereas other research may concentrate on a centralized idea without exploring the nuances of varying opinion, cultural politics thrive on it. When a study of cultural politics starts comparing the cultural and political standings between areas, it becomes what is called “on tour”. Much like staring at a piece of art, understanding cultural politics—or more specifically, a cultural or political motive for behavior—becomes rather similar to being “in the eyes of the beholder”. Only the artist will see his piece of art the way it was intended; everyone else will see it through their own eyes where its meaning is informed by their own, unique experiences and prejudices. But as others view this piece and go about their lives, they will remember that piece and perhaps begin to see it in another light. If someone were to show that piece of art to people in Australia and then people in Iran, the resulting opinion would be completely different, and then the actions following the viewings could take on another form, in which cultural or political contexts have changed. It is in this way that cultural politics have gone “on tour”.
The cultural politics on tour across Northern Ireland creates another interesting concept, for their cultural politics is more easily introduced within the architecture of its cities rather than the people themselves. Walls in Londonderry (from this point forward spelt LondonDerry, as determined by individual political standing) covered in murals recounting mentalities of individuals who lived during The Troubles and fragile-looking, worn buildings precariously lining the streets of Belfast describe a society still fighting to stay on its feet (McCafferty, 2017). In Belfast, the main road is built directly atop a river that still runs below the city today, as if threatening to swallow it whole at a moment’s notice, and a clock tower along that road leans to the right just a little, just enough to suggest the city is still struggling to find its place in the world (Paul, 2018). After being volleyed between Catholicism and Protestantism for the past 800 years, Ireland as a whole continues to fight to establish a solid identity (WonderWhy cited in BelfastChild, 2016).
The general mentality of those who have been the target of appalling acts of hatred still show signs of such hate towards others who have been equally victimized, as though they are the only victims (Bluewolf 2016). Forgetting—or rather, ignoring—the similarity with modern disputes is as atrocious as the acts themselves. A Shoah survivor speaking at a Holocaust museum in Los Angeles declared all Muslims deserve no mercy, despite the sentiment being not so dissimilar to the attempted genocide of his own people during World War II (Skinner: 2). It is this mindset and collection of practices that have been expected of the Northern Irish people, especially when their war began and ended within the last couple generations.
However, the wounds of their battles are not worn on the people in a way that would become explicit to the wandering tourist. The people of Northern Ireland are unbelievably kind and open when it comes to strangers. The skirmishes that occur today—mere arguments in comparison to the violent, explosive time known as “The Troubles”—debate authenticity of Irish religion, political standing, and personal rights themselves (Tunbridge and Ashworth cited in Causevic and Lynch 2011). The debates are similar to any country, except that if one were not aware of The Troubles, he would never know from passing locals on the street. Even Protestants and Catholics (the two major opponents today), despite differences in ritual and the lineage of how one speaks to God, wear the same symbol around their necks (Inns, 2018). Outside of listening to a tour guide or outright asking someone, no one would know.
This lack of a unified identity has created terrible, monstrous rifts in the overall Irish government. Northern Ireland, traditionally Protestant, strives to be one with the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland, traditionally Catholic, demands independence (Anderson and Shuttleworth, 1988). This segregation between country and religion is not nearly as clean as it once was and continues to strain modern politics (McKittrick, 1993; Hughes et al., 2007; Nolan, 2017). In a mapping project that was completed a couple of years ago, scientists discovered that not only had the Protestant / Catholic segregation persisted in both Belfast and LondonDerry, but that the division of preferred political identity was not tethered to the barriers around either religion (Nolan, 2017; McCafferty, 2017).
The overarching ideas of the Protestant-Catholic dispute and The Troubles exist everywhere, but there is a need to distinguish what, if anything, may change from place to place. The nuances vary in every town, in every neighbourhood, in every house. There are neighbourhoods within the multiple segregated cities that are mixed between the religions, and whose residents live in a fair state of peace. These cultural politics are still driven by each unique set of conditions on any street in any location. “Cultural politics on tour” have to view different areas, instead of a single museum, for example, or a single person’s opinion. “Cultural politics on tour” allows for a conscious gaze across time and space and a better understanding of the daily lives that were lived generations ago as well as those being lived today. Cultural politics require a sense of “tourism”, of movement, because otherwise it becomes just as stagnant as the unwavering ideals of war.
Anderson, J., and Shuttleworth, I. (1988). Sectarian demography, territoriality and political development in Northern Ireland. Political Geography, [Pergamon] 17(2), pp. 187-208.
BelfastChild: Remembering the Victims (2016) Segregation in Northern Ireland. Available at: https://belfastchildis.com/2016/02/02/segregation-in-northern-ireland/ (Accessed 15 Nov. 2018).
Bluewolf, J. (2016). [verbal] The 12th Annual Interfaith Ecumenical Service.
Causevic, S., and Lynch, P. (2011). Phoenix Tourism: Post-Conflict Tourism Role. Annals of Tourism Research, [ScienceDirect] 38(3), pp. 780-800. DOI: 10.1016/j.annals.2010.12.004
Hughes, J. et al. (2007) Segregation in Northern Ireland. Policy Studies. 28. pp. 33-53. DOI: 10.1080/01442870601121429.
McCaffery, S. (2017). Derry: a city with two names and two communities. The Irish Times. Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/derry-a-city-with-two-names-and-two-communities-1.3033530 (Accessed: 18 November 2018).
McKittrick, D. (1993). Apartheid deepens on streets of Ulster: Alarming new statistics show the extent of Northern Ireland segregation. Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/apartheid-deepens-on-streets-of-ulster-alarming-new-statistics-show-the-extent-of-northern-ireland-1499129.html (Accessed: 13 November 2018).
Newell, S. (2014). What is meant by “Cultural Politics?” By Prof Steph Newel. The University of Sussex. Available at: https://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol/2014/04/01/what-is-meant-by-cultural-politics-by-prof-steph-newell/ (Accessed: 2 November 2018).
Nolan, P. (2017). Two tribes: A divided Northern Ireland. The Irish Times. Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/two-tribes-a-divided-northern-ireland-1.3030921 (Accessed: 18 November 2018).
Skinner, Jonathon. (2018). Cultural Politics on Tour. Roehampton University: London.
Skinner, Jonathan. (2012). Writing the Dark Side of Travel. pp. 1-18. [electronic] Available at: https://www.dawsonera.com/readonline/9780857458766
Tunbridge, J., and Ashworth, G. (1996). Dissonant Heritage: The management of the past as a resource in conflict. Wiley: Chichester.
WonderWhy (2015) Why Ireland split into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland [YouTube]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCJMQgfHXNI (Accessed 15 Nov. 2018).