Making Sense of Communication in Societies Divided by Terrorism: Lessons from Northern Ireland

Owen Hargie, P. Irving

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

4 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter examines the role of communication in Northern Ireland (NI), a society deeply divided by terrorism. It reviews definitions of terrorism and then presents a model that studies the phenomenon from five inter-related perspectives: the context within which terrorism occurs, the terrorists, the public, the media and the government. Our analysis is informed by involvement in a major pan-European project (SafeComms, 2011), which charted the ways in which public authorities can communicate most effectively in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. It also draws upon our previous research into the NI Conflict (e.g. Hargie, Dickson and Rainey, 1999; Dickson, Hargie and Nelson, 2002; Hargie, Dickson and O’Donnell, 2006; Dickson, Hargie, O’Donnell and McMullan, 2008; Hargie, Somerville and Mitchell, 2015). The overarching conceptual framework that underpins our analysis is that of ‘sensemaking’. The importance of sensemaking in PR has been highlighted by Berger and Meng (2014). One reason for this is that it is particularly pertinent to understanding “circumstances that are suffused with dynamic complexity” (Colville, Pye and Carter, 2013, p. 2010) such as terrorism. We argue that in divided societies there is a sensemaking schism, and so a major task for all those involved is that of using communication to attempt to bring the two sides more closely together so that a shared sensemaking frame may begin to emerge.See:
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Public Relations: Perspectives from Deeply Divided Societies
EditorsIan Somerville, Owen Hargie, Maureen Taylor, Margalit Toledano
ISBN (Print)9781138860131
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 20 Sept 2016


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