Zero-sum politics in contested spaces: The unintended consequencesof legislative peacebuilding in Northern Ireland

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Studies of ethno-nationalist conflict have repeatedly underlined the significance of policy interventions that seek to de-territorialise contested space after armed conflict and create more plural societies. Creating ‘shared’ space in divided societies is often critically important and inextricably linked to peacebuilding. However much of this scholarship has tended to focus on the relative success or failure of such policies. This paper conversely explores the ‘unintended consequences’ (Merton, 1936) of legislating around fragile public space in Northern Ireland and considers its potential to undermine, rather than reinforce efforts to transition to peace. Drawing on a body of work around unintended consequences, territorial socialisation and peacebuilding, we argue that such legislation in ethno-nationalist societies emerging from conflict is a double-edged sword which can be utilised both explicitly and implicitly to reactivate tribal spatial politics and exacerbate divisions in deeply divided societies
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-202
JournalPolitical Geography
Early online date15 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017



  • Unintended consequences
  • Zero-sum conflict
  • Legislation
  • Territorial socialisation
  • Peacebuilding
  • Northern Ireland

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