Identity Change and Identity Traps. Research from the Two Irelands. -- book talk by Jennifer Todd


Wednesday, March 13, 2019, 4:00pm


CGIS Knafel Building, Room K262, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Portrait of Jennifer ToddIdentity Change and Identity Traps. Research from the Two Irelands.

This paper starts from an old question, why ethnic boundaries and related identity divisions in ‘divided societies’ appear so persistent. It addresses the question by a comparative analysis of identity change in each part of Ireland in the 21st century. These were cases where many of the conditions likely to produce identity change were emerging: violence (and related fear) had all but ceased; the radical horizontal inequality that characterized Northern Ireland (and to a much lesser extent the Republic) through much of the 20th century was largely remedied; and both societies were experiencing structural change, in the Republic economically driven, in Northern Ireland driven by a peace process and political reconstruction. In the early 2000s, very extensive identity change was found at the micro-level, indeed I show that it was twice as frequent in Northern Ireland as in the Republic. But this micro-level change did not directly translate into changing macro-social boundaries: on the contrary, the Republic of Ireland saw a softening of national-religious exclusion, while Northern Ireland saw a (partial) strengthening of it. The paper explores why. It discusses the comparative measures of micro-level change. It proposes a social explanation of the overtime stalling and reversal of micro-change, based on a notion of social traps of change, where individuals’ resources and opportunities lead them to undertake types of change almost certain to fail. It argues that this gives rise to moral dilemmas that the dominant normative repertoires fail to provide signposts beyond.

The paper is based on a recently published book and explores some of its more general significance for a dynamic empirical analysis of micro-identity change and its (potential) macro-impact in politics and social life.


Jennifer Todd, full Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations (2007-), Professorial Fellow of the Geary Research Institute (2018- ), and Research Director (previously Director) of the Institute for British-Irish Studies at the University College Dublin, is an expert in ethnicity, ethnic conflict, collective identity, and the Northern Ireland conflict. She has published prolifically, including her critically-lauded, co-authored work Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland, which has since become a classic in the field. She has recently published a study of Identity Change after Conflict (Springer Palgrave 2018) and a co-authored study of British-Irish negotiations on Northern Ireland, From Sunningdale to St Andrews is in press (Oxford University Press, 2019). Professor Todd is a member of the Royal Irish Academy (2007), the highest national honour for Irish academics, she held an IRCHSS senior Research Fellowship (2006-2007), a Fernand Braudel Senior Research Fellowship, European University Institute (2016), and is the current Political Studies of Ireland Fellow, an important honour in Irish political science (2017-2019), and has been awarded multiple international and national research grants. She has published in a range of journals from West European Politics to Theory and Society, from European Journal of Sociology to Political Studies, from Political Psychology to Nations and Nationalism and many more.


Open to the public.