JE | “Démocratie et résolution de conflits internes : aspects théoriques et rôle(s) des médias : Irlande du Nord, Catalogne, Pays Basque”

Democracy and Internal Conflict Resolution: Theoretical Aspects and the Role of the Media.
Northern Ireland, the Basque Country, Catalonia

As part of the MIMMOC’s Conflict/Post-conflict research objective, this day conference aims to contribute to both a reflection and scientific cooperation on two themes related to conflicts and their resolution. As is demonstrated by the Northern Irish, Catalan and Basque cases, the main challenge about conflict resolutions is that of Democracy. How can the settlement of conflicts both satisfy the rival parties involved in the conflict while respecting the fundamental principles of Democracy? How can peoples exercise their right to self-determination? How can the governed give their consent to the new institutions created to solve the conflict? How can collective rights and individual rights be accommodated without endangering democratic ideals? How can democracy, the State and the nation be rearticulated?

Theoretical aspects

Theoretical debates and research on conflict resolutions have raised the issue of the choice between conflict regulation and conflict transformation as one of the key questions to be dealt with (Finlay, 2009; Nagle and Clancy, 2012). Consociational democracy aims at regulating the conflict. In the Northern Irish case it helped reduce violence in dramatic proportions by allowing all parties to take part in the new legislative and executive institutions (McGarry & O’Leary, 2004). Yet, since it does not aim at transforming the rival communities’ political identities, its detractors argue that it is not conducive to real reconciliation. In other words, consociation, as a mode of conflict regulation, has only changed the form of the conflict but has not brought solutions to the fundamental roots of the conflict (Horowitz, 2001; Wilford, 2001). This raises questions. If conflict regulation only brings partial or even temporary solutions, how can divided societies and rival communities be transformed? Are there examples of conflict resolutions, actual and/or theoretical, which allow for reconciliation and transformation? What lessons can be learnt from the Northern Irish, Catalan and Basque cases?

The Role of Media

Theoretical studies on the media and communication have insisted on the ambiguous role the media play in divided societies. They can be both the safeguards of democracy and pluralism and/or the instruments political and ideological domination (Van Dijk, 2000). According to pluralist theories, mass media are an essential pillar of democracy. By allowing access to information on public life, by giving multiple viewpoints and therefore by questioning dominant ideologies, they are the defenders of citizens’ rights. As such, mass media are an essential instrument for what Rousseau defined as the social contract. Mass media help the public shape their opinion and doing so, help the people give their consent to or withdraw their consent from the government.

Yet, in deeply divided societies, this democratic function of mass media tends to disappear under political, economic or even political pressures (Chomsky, 1988). Mass media often become vectors of dominant ideologies. For this day conference, the main focus will be on the role and positioning of the media during conflict resolution processes. In Northern Ireland, in the Basque Country or in Catalonia, what was the role of the media in the conflict and in their resolution? Did they represent a forum, a public space (Habermas, 1962) to facilitate dialogue or conversely did they simply produce or reproduced dominant discourses or ideologies? Did they manage to break the ideological mould which fuelled the conflict? Did the production and distribution of mediatic discourse contribute to the regulation or to the transformation of conflicting parties?

We welcome papers focusing on the specificities of or the comparison between mediatic discourses in Northern Ireland, the Basque Country and Catalonia.