Theorising Youth Sector Peacebuilding
: Youth Workers’ Orientations Within the Politics of Peacebuilding

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Youth sector peacebuilding is an under-theorised field in Northern Ireland. Social and political life is scarred by enduring conflict-legacies in this north-easterly part of Ireland.These realities have invoked an internationally financed peacebuilding industry that has invested multi-millions of pounds, euros and dollars into youth work. Despite the extensive contributions of youth work practitioners to peacebuilding, limited theoretical models have been developed on approaches to practice. Utilising the mixed method of Q methodology, this research generates four statistically significant distinctive viewpoints of youth workers concerning peacebuilding with young people. Drawing on principles of morphological analysis and framed within a Bourdieusian lens, these viewpoints are developed into a socio-political model of youth sector peacebuilding. The
model identifies a dialectic of politicising versus harmonising approaches to
peacebuilding. Viewpoints 1: Critical Thinking & Dialogue and 4: Political Engagement & Social Justice are indicative of a politicising orientation. Viewpoints 2: Mutual Understanding and 3: Social Cohesion & Restoration orient towards harmonisation. Propensities towards dialogue or action are also examined through the model. The empirical findings are considered in relation to the influences of a neoliberal political economy on funding priorities, policy, and practice. Bourdieu’s thinking tools facilitate an analysis that argues harmonising approaches to peacebuilding are incentivised by those in power while more emancipatory politicising approaches are adulterated. The thesis provides tools for practitioners, funders, and policymakers to develop a more
reflexive and emancipatory approach to youth sector peacebuilding. The
methodological and epistemological approaches used in the research challenge
pejorative and simplistic interpretations of core peacebuilding concepts. The study grapples with how peacebuilding is understood in contested societies and the structuring features of social life that give rise to different understandings. While focused on Northern Ireland, the study will resonate with those committed to peacebuilding locally and internationally.
Date of AwardFeb 2022
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorKristian Lasslett (Supervisor), Mark Hammond (Supervisor) & Eliz Mc Ardle (Supervisor)


  • Youth work
  • Sectarianism
  • Community relations
  • Q methodology
  • Bourdieu
  • Morphological analysis

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