Propagandistic Atavism in Post-conflict Northern Ireland: On Riots As Discursive Events
Keywords:consociationalism, rioting, Northern Ireland, public sphere, propaganda
AbstractIn Northern Ireland (NI), riots are frequently employed by communities as a means of voicing political discontent. In the post-conflict era particularly, NI has witnessed a growing pattern of (reactionary) riots enacted by marginalised communities who feel increasingly disenfranchised. Yet, this communicative capacity of riots remains largely unsung in the literature on political communication in NI. Significantly, such marginalised groups remain side-lined in NI’s public sphere in order to stabilise power-sharing arrangements. Historically, through state-censorship imposed during NI’s political conflict, “the Troubles”, such peripheral status impelled marginalised movements to utilise alternative media practices (e.g., political muralism) to draw attention to their agendas (Rolston, 1991, 2003; Hoey, 2018). In the post-conflict era, however, these marginalised actors are increasingly instrumentalising riots as publicly performed spectacles to publicise their political grievances. The loyalist riots of spring 2021 stand out as one such case study, wherein a marginalised community utilised a riot as a mediatised public platform to disseminate messages to external audiences that, up until then, had been inattentive to the concerns of loyalism. In lieu of the above, the following article’s objectives are two-fold: firstly, we expound a conceptual understanding of riots as “discursive events” before presenting an analytical instrument capable of analysing riots in this light. Secondly, relying on primary data, we apply this framework in an analysis of a case study of the 2021 loyalist riots in NI. Beyond demonstrating the expediency of discursive approaches in the analysis of riots, the findings of our case study illuminate the strategic, propagandistic and instrumental dimensions of the 2021 loyalist riots which research has so far neglected.
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