From the Margin to the Middle:Taking Equity, Diversity and Interdependence Seriously

Duncan Morrow, Karin Eyben, Derick Wilson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In 1996, the Future Ways Project of the University of Ulster (Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow, Derick Wilson) was engaged by CCRU to research the scope and scale of community relations education for adults in Northern Ireland. As soon as the decision was made to examine inter-community relationships in a wide variety of contexts and settings, the poverty and superficiality of the language of community relations emerged (Eyben, Morrow and Wilson, 1997, p6). Lacking any rigorous core, public understanding of community relations work was de facto dependent on what was experienced or heard of within its rubric, rather than on any overarching intellectual framework. Since this was overwhelmingly within the fields of community development, education and youth work, community relations were widely restricted within the popular mind to the possibilities and limits which such settings offered. While community relations work was widely associated with inter-community contact, it was intellectually separated from attempts to express difference and uniqueness in a pluralist and antagonistic context and from the issues of social distribution and justice which had motivated the civil rights campaign in the 1960s. Far too often, the first step in creating cross-community harmony was to promote a depoliticised environment. Left in this ghetto, community relations work had nothing to say about the desirable socio-economic, political or cultural basis for good relationships nor could it accommodate difficult discussions about ill treatment, injustice or identity. Stripped of these elements, it is unsurprising that community relations became associated with superficial engagement which acted to disguise underlying tensions rather than to heal them. The result of this confusion was that measures aimed at fostering social relationships that were both desirable and sustainable in Northern Ireland often ran at cross purposes to one another. Furthermore, the absence of a single framework within which the dilemmas of equality and justice, difference and cohesion could be named and resolved had significant social and economic costs. Eyben, Morrow and Wilson identified a need to refocus community relations work on its underlying intentions within the framework of liberal democracy. This implied a desire to reach beyond the experienced perception of community relations work, to an articulation of the principles which all such work sought to embody. In theory at least, the articulation of first principles could then release community relations work from the caricature of perceived practice and challenge all elements of society to consider their contribution to real common goals. Real sustainability demands that interdependence, equity and diversity be taken into consideration together. This has the further advantage of locating community relations work in the middle of the search for a democratic society, an aspiration theoretically shared by all political parties in Northern Ireland. Within a framework of equity, diversity and interdependence, legislative efforts to enforce minimum conditions of fair employment can be understood and measured alongside seemingly unrelated tools such as schools programmes for mutual understanding, local community development initiatives and the engagement of culturally important organisations such as the churches, sport and the arts. In a framework of sustainable development, trust and the distribution of social goods and power can at last be dealt with in parallel.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearching the Troubles
EditorsOwen Hargie, David Dickson
PublisherMainstream Publishing
ISBN (Print)1 84018 635 6
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2003

Bibliographical note

Reference text: References

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  • Equity
  • Diversity
  • Interdependence
  • Reconciliation
  • Community Relations
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Northern Ireland


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