More Than ‘Collaborative Rubber Stamps’: Cross-Community Storytelling in Transitional Northern Ireland

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Storytelling is one of the most cited means of dealing with the legacy of the past in transitional societies. Since the mid-1990s, with the peace process, Northern Ireland has witnessed a proliferation of official and unofficial initiatives dealing with the Troubles (1968–1998). Below the radar of official initiatives, there have been a number of grassroots projects challenging official narratives and recovering silenced accounts of the past. These range across photography, oral history, exhibition, theatre and film.

In this paper, I examine some of these initiatives and show how alternative media has played a key role in cross-community development and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland, despite the political sensitivities. As the conflict had several protagonists, the boundaries between victims and perpetrators have remained blurred and, consequently, stories about the past remain debatable. Interestingly, this has also brought opportunities for projects to develop collaborative storytelling frameworks.

Based on field notes and cross-examination of published studies about the projects, the findings show that by offering shared ownership and authorship these frameworks enable all parties to invest in and benefit from the projects and offer a supportive space for people to engage in discussions about the past. However, these projects are not immune to the paradoxical potential of storytelling to heal trauma and open old wounds – there is no guarantee that people will not re-traumatise or that stories will always be well received. Nevertheless, the findings demonstrate that when people have the opportunity to tell their stories through a collaborative process, the gap between media representations and people’s plural lived experiences is more likely to be addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-31
Number of pages19
JournalIAFOR Journal of Media, Communication and Film
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished online - 31 Jul 2017


  • alternative media
  • Troubles
  • Northern Ireland
  • storytelling
  • collaboration


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