Strategic collective action and collective identity reconstruction: parading disputes and two Northern Ireland towns
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Collective identity is an important component of collective behavior and a factor in intractable conflict situations. Social movement research has focused attention on the role of collective identity in the formation and maintenance of social movement organizations. Less attention has been paid to the relationships between collective action and collective identity in conflict situations. Social psychologists have pointed out that the reconstruction of identity is conducted in interaction between opposed social actors. However, the study of collective behavior has only recently begun to conceptualize such social action as an interaction between actors in a multi-organizational field in which collective identity is mutually reconstructed. Fortunately, scholars studying the potential transformation of conflict have provided analytical tools for classifying the ways in which opponents in conflict situations interact with one another, often strategically. Using qualitative data that include interviews, participant observation, and documentary sources, I examine the conflict methods and tactics deployed by parties to disputes over parading in two rural Northern Ireland towns. Parades are a form of cultural expression through which communities articulate their political and religious preferences and beliefs, thus reproducing collective identities. Parades, however, have often commemorated contested historical events or have promoted political views that are offensive to one community or the other, and they have become a central focus of conflict in Northern Ireland since 1995, indicative of a shift in conflict methods from violence and coercion toward persuasion. I contribute to the study of collective action and collective identity by demonstrating how collective action events were designed by loyal institutions and nationalist and loyalist residents’ committees to discursively disseminate persuasive messages and ideas. Even instances in which one opponent avoids another can have persuasive characteristics. The deployment of collective action methods were executed in a multi-organizational field that included opponents and third parties, and the process involved the mutual reconstruction of collective identities as the parties articulated their positions and their perceptions of other groups. Parties to the disputes also developed various responses in attempts to reconcile their collective actions, their opponents’ collective actions, and their sense of collective identity.