Harmonising or politicising: Youth sector peacebuilding in contested societies

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Peacebuilding in contested societies is a cross-sectoral enterprise in which young people are primary stakeholders. Multilateral state-sponsored programmes and philanthropic agencies have resourced a vibrant youth sector delivering peacebuilding initiatives in Northern Ireland and the border counties. Despite billions in investment and a rich tapestry of transformative practice, a visionary peacebuilding strategy co-created with young people has remained elusive. As a result, youth sector peacebuilding in Northern Ireland is inhibited by an obstacle facing civil society peacebuilding across the globe – an ill-articulated vision resulting in pockets of disparate practice. Based on empirical research involving 43 youth work practitioners, this article offers a novel and rigorous methodological framework and sociological analysis to support researchers, policymakers and practitioners in contested societies to advance conceptualisations of peacebuilding. Freeden's framework of morphological analysis is operationalised through Q methodology leading to the identification of four distinctive orientations to peacebuilding. Bourdieu's concepts of capital and field are drawn upon to analyse the four perspectives, framed within a new sociopolitical model of youth sector peacebuilding. Tensions between harmonising versus politicising propensities are discussed as a substantial divergence variously incentivised or neglected by powerful actors within the field with significant implications for the trajectory of practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-228
Number of pages26
JournalIrish Journal of Sociology
Issue number2
Early online date25 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished online - 25 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • General Social Sciences
  • Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • Youth Work
  • Peacebuilding
  • Bourdieu
  • peacebuilding
  • Q methodology
  • Youth work
  • morphological analysis


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