Theorising the Practical Wisdom of Grassroots and Civil Society Peacebuilding in Northern Ireland (1965 to 2015)

  • Emily Stanton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Scholars and practitioners increasingly advocate that attention be paid to ‘bottomup’ grassroots and civil society peacebuilding to ensure legitimacy, relevance and sustainability. Northern Ireland is well positioned to add insights from its own 50- year history of bottom-up efforts. However, despite its length and a substantial financial investment from donors, knowledge from practical peacebuilding has been underutilised. Local practitioners have, instead, been described in academic literature as lacking in strategy and coherence. Seeking to address this gap, this research, using a qualitative inductive approach, investigated what peacebuilders have learned from their ‘applied’ practice spanning the years 1965-2015. Insights from the research findings were found to echo scholarly debates about knowledge production for peace, such as: “Whose knowledge counts? “What kind of knowledge matters?” Critical peace scholars, identifying a ‘technocratic turn’ in ‘liberal’ peacebuilding, argue that it privileges international actors and thematic knowledge over local actors and local knowledge. In Northern Ireland peacebuilding was locally-led; however, tensions associated with professionalisation remain and at times, are viewed to subordinate practical knowledge. This thesis argues that grassroots and civil society peacebuilders hold valid and valuable knowledge but to understand, explain and maximise its use - an epistemological rediscovery is necessary. The Aristotelian term, phronesis (practical wisdom) is adopted as an explanatory frame and conceptualised as a form of nuanced context-knowledge gained by experience. Phronesis was evidenced in the fieldwork data as necessary to lever, lubricate and catalyse social change. As a conceptual frame, its salience for knowledge production was proven by: adding explanatory power; as a source for innovation; and for theory building. Importantly, phronesis also amplifies debates demonstrating why ‘local’ knowledge is necessary for peacebuilding relevancy. This thesis concludes that evidence demonstrates the importance of the conceptualisation of phronesis for expanding current scholarship on bottom-up, grassroots and civil society peacebuilding in Northern Ireland and internationally.
Date of AwardMay 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDuncan Morrow (Supervisor), Brandon Hamber (Supervisor) & Grainne Kelly (Supervisor)


  • Phronesis
  • Peace
  • Conflict
  • Bottom-Up Peace
  • Everyday Peace
  • Liberal-Peace

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