A Critically Engaged Analysis of the Role and Value of Sports-Based Programmes in the Evolution of the Northern Ireland Peace Process

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Since the mid-20th century, functionalist interpretations of sport have been drawn upon increasingly by a range of social actors to validate the promotion of sport to achieve nonsporting outcomes. As a rejoinder to the apolitical, uncritical, and evangelical accounts of SDP produced by academics and policy makers (Burnett, 2015), this study questioned or rejected outright many of the claims made for sport, and the Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) movement. Drawing on a critical sociological perspective, it is argued that the recent development of public policy for sport and the evolution of SDP are entwined with neoliberalism, liberal peacebuilding, and forms of social control.

    The study assesses the nascent Sport for Change (SfC) field in Belfast, a city undergoing a process of neoliberalisation for two decades. Sport is interpreted as a highly malleable form of political and cultural symbolism (Houlihan, 1997). Within the creation of the ‘post conflict’ hegemony which underpins the re-branding of ‘post conflict’ Belfast, the value of the power of sport discourse in civil and political society is in its utility to contribute to the symbolic or Potemkin transformation narrative (Nagle, 2009), an economics-led form of conflict transformation.

    A qualitative research programme, combining semi-structured interviews, three in-depth case studies and documentary analysis, was operationalised to address the complexities and rationale behind the deployment of sports-based programmes in neoliberal Belfast. Conceptually the research adopted a Marxist approach informed by a range of Gramscian concepts. It situates SfC initiatives in their economic, political, and social context, to illustrate the manufacturing of consent by the powerful through cultural means (Peters, 2010). The thesis presents SfC as a safe symbol of change in the cultural realm, within a stalled consociational settlement, wherein sport’s primary value is as a vehicle facilitating a nascent rapprochement between cultural nationalism and unionism.
    Date of AwardJun 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKatie Liston (Supervisor) & Paul Darby (Supervisor)


    • peacebuilding
    • neoliberalism
    • sport for development

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