Journeys through the Hidden City: Giving visibility to the Material Events of conflict in Belfast

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The ‘peace-walls’ of Belfast represent a widely acknowledged architectural legacy of the Troubles, the period between 1969 and 1994 when sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland was most extreme. This paper reveals a further crucial but unacknowledged architectural legacy. It is a Hidden City of unassuming inner-city architecture where everyday pervasiveness masks a capacity to perpetuate conflict-era forces in a post-conflict city. The first half of the paper presents a Foucauldian analysis of declassified government documents revealing the knowledge created through undisclosed systems of power-relations. Here a problematization of accepted norms reassesses the Troubles-era urban landscape and exposes the latent significance of its socio-material complexity. The second half of the paper illustrates the material consequences of related hidden policy practices on the contemporary post-conflict community. It borrows from Goffman to offer an exposition of the institutionalisation of movement and meaning at play in the Hidden City. A triangulation of interviews, photography and architectural fieldwork is used to theorise the Material Event, a construction of meaning derived from the interaction between people, architecture and the wider systems of power-relations. The paper concludes by demonstrating the complexity of the systemic challenges posed by the Material Events and how these help constrain conflict-transformation practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1053-1075
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number6
Early online date5 May 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Dec 2017


  • Architecture
  • Conflict
  • Foucault
  • Belfast
  • The Troubles
  • Security.


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