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11.30  Separate Spaces and Identities: The Shaping of Urban Spaces and Resistance Identities in Belfast

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This paper will look at the effect of the “Peace Walls” in Belfast, Northern Ireland, through the lens of Michel de Certeau’s theory of the relationship between urban spaces, heritage narratives, and collective identity. In this paper, I will examine the relationship between manipulation of urban space by the British military authorities in Belfast and the hardening of oppositional heritage narratives and identities in the communities and neighborhoods that have been cut apart by the walls. Certeau, in both The Practice of Everyday Life and The Writing of History, writes about the definition/redefinition of urban spaces by hegemonic groups, and about the relationship between place, heritage, and identity. For Certeau, the manipulation of urban space by social, political, or economic powers is intended not only to define the physical space but to control the people who use that space and, in many cases to control and/or define the collective identities (often expressed through heritage narratives) of those groups who live or work in those spaces. 

The building of “Peace Walls” in Belfast and other areas in Northern Ireland after 1969 was presented by British authorities as a solution that would separate communities in violent conflict and suppress sectarian violence. Communities in areas divided by the Peace Walls have their own narratives concerning the purpose and effectiveness of the walls, and most of those narratives reflect the views of those communities regarding their history or heritage. The Peace Walls, however, can also be seen as a manifestation of Certeau’s theory, in which the building of the walls both hardens antagonistic identities and heritage narratives within the affected communities, and prevents softening or re-examination of those narratives and identities. By ensuring the continuation of existing sectarian identities and reinforcing oppositional heritage narratives, the walls thus ensure continuance of the conflict, and continued political and economic dominance of the divided communities.

Mary K. Laurents


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