Exploring Barriers to Constructing Locally Based Peacebuilding Theory: The Case of Northern Ireland

Emily Stanton, Grainne Kelly

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This article seeks to explore why, after significant financial investment and a history of nearly 50 years of civil society activity, there is a paucity of explicitly codified and consolidated indigenous theory that has emerged from peacebuilding practice in Northern Ireland. Methodologically, this apparent contradiction is explored, utilizing both empirical research (interviews with key peacebuilders) and the wide practitioner experience of the authors. It is argued that two complex dynamics have contributed to the subordination of local practice-based knowledge, namely, the professionalization of peace and the dominance of research over practice within academia. These two dynamics have played a mutually exacerbatory and significant role in creating barriers to constructing local peacebuilding theory. Phronesis, an Aristotelian term for practical knowledge, is explored to discover what insights it may contribute to both research, theory and practice in the field of peacebuilding, followed by examples of institutions demonstrating its value for practice–theory reflexivity. The article concludes with a call for peace research that validates and values practical knowledge. By doing so, the authors argue, new avenues for collaborative partnership between practitioners and academics can open up, which may play a constructive role in bridging practice–theory divides and, most importantly, contribute to building more effective and sustainable peacebuilding processes in Northern Ireland and in other conflict contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-52
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Conflict Engagement and Resolution
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 27 Aug 2015


  • peacebuilding
  • phronesis
  • civil society
  • Northern Ireland
  • practice-theory


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