Visual Reconciliation in Transitional Societies

A Case Study of Northern Ireland's Peace Walls

Bachelor Thesis, 2018

53 Pages, Grade: 8,0






Literature Review

Analysis of the Peace Walls as Commemoration Space in Northern Ireland

The Transitional Justice Process in Northern Ireland

Analysis of the Peace Walls as Commemoration Space in Northern Ireland: Methodology ...

Analysis of the Peace Walls as Commemoration Space in Northern Ireland: Pictures
Picture One: “You are now in loyalist Tiger’s Bay”, 1994 by Freddie Quinn
Picture Two: “Peace line by Lanark”, October 1998, Cathy Gormley
Picture Three: “Peace line”, May 2000, Martin Melaugh
Picture Four: “Streets Apart”, 2002, Frankie Quinn
Picture Five: “Towards 2023”, 2010, Frankie Quinn

Analysis of the Peace Walls as Commemoration Space in Northern Ireland: Summary


Appendices 1-5 Bibliography


This paper underlines the importance of an incorporation of visual methodology into the study of transitional justice. It makes an argument for that through the assessment of visual displays on the peace walls as commemoration space in Northern Ireland, relating the reflections of the local transitional justice process to reconciliation in the country.


Transitional Justice started developing after the second world war when the main perpetrators were prosecuted to restore justice, at least symbolically.1 Today, transitional justice is understood as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to temis with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation. “2

It uses a combination of judicial and non-judicial means to achieve its goal. Typically, there are five tools that can be used in a transitional justice process. They include institutional reform, truth, reparations, amnesties or prosecutions and reconciliation. While all can be important, tools are usually tailored individually for different transitional societies. Nevertheless, the tool of reconciliation is regarded as being vital for achieving a long-lasting peace after a period of conflict.3

Truth, forgiveness and memory are the most important factors for reconciliation in transitional justice societies. Active commemoration therefore has to be permitted to all sides of the former conflict.4 Such commemoration can take different forms, but many communities utilise visual displays to convey their distinct understandings of a shared history.5 The clarity and simplicity of images, street art, banners, flags or repeated gestures especially around places of commemoration can be an interesting indicator of social memory and can portray the development of reconciliation in a country. That then can indicate the success of a transitional justice process and can have an influence on its politics. Nevertheless, visual theory is rarely incorporated in research on the field.

The ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland between self-identified Irish Catholics and self-identified British Protestants, often periphrastically referred to as “the Troubles”, officially ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. The country afterwards entered into a transitional justice process, guaranteed under US assistance and the cooperation of the Irish and British governments. The process is generally regarded as a successful case study giving implications for other transitional justice processes. It has however not come to an end yet.6

The Troubles are especially interesting from a visual perspective. While the Northern Irish murals and marches gained prominence through television reports worldwide, their impact on and their reflection of the transitioning process of the society has scarcely been researched. Therefore, the question arises “How do visual displays in commemoration spaces reflect the transitional justice process in Northern Ireland?”.

To approach this research question and due to the scope of this paper, this bachelor thesis will focus on a visual analysis of photographs taken of the peace lines as representative of other commemoration spaces in Northern Ireland. Those walls have been separating the two communities in especially contested areas and were constructed in 1969. Being still erect today, they became an important visual marker of the divided Northern Ireland and make it possible to track visual displays throughout the conflict and transitional justice process.7

The analysis of this paper rests on the assumption that- as the peace process of Northern Ireland is seen as successful- signs should get more positive and pointing towards reconciliation between the communities marking the success of transitional justice. Further, visual displays will be able to indicate if important events in the peace process had an effect on social memory which would be expressed visually.

Methodologically, the discipline of critical geopolitics offers a background for analysis as this field allocates political meaning to the transformation and societal occupation (for example, through art) of space which is ignored in mainstream international relations (IR) theory. It challenges historical empiricism and is of the conviction that social influences on space and memory reflect and form history in itself.8 Especially in transitional justice, space can give important indications of power relations and influences. That allows this research to focus on visual changes of space in a qualitative manner, using semiological9 analysis of visual displays occurring at the commemoration space and connecting included signs to social memory and transitional justice.

The time frame in which I will try to mark visual reflections of social memory and influences from the transitional justice process will span from 1994, the armistice between the most important paramilitary groups and the begin of the transitional justice process, to 2010 when the most important political parties decided on a governmental accord as a finite political settlement of the troubles.

I hope to derive certain implications from my analysis of commemoration spaces in Northern Ireland.

Firstly, I expect to be able to relate visual expressions of social memory in commemoration spaces to the development of Northern Ireland’s transitional justice process which will add an analytical tool to the evaluation of the progress of transitional justice in the country.

Secondly, I want to make a case for the employment of visual methodology in the study of critical geopolitics and especially in the field of transitional justice. I am convinced that my research draws attention to the validity and benefit of a visual analysis of space in the field of transitional justice.

Lastly, I am hopeful to make a case for the visual analysis of different social and political factors of transitional justice Northern Ireland and other societies worldwide, making aware of the insights it offers.

The paper will be structured in three parts as follows. It begins with a thorough literature review justifying the necessity of the incorporation of visual methodology into transitional justice. The largest second part will constitute itself of the analysis of pictures of the peace lines, elaborating on the methodology used and relating the visual reflections of reconciliation to political events. The part will also include a political overview of the Northern Irish reconciliation process to make my analysis easily trackable, the methodology of my analysis and the detailed semiological analysis. Lastly, the concluding third part of the paper will summarise its findings and will reflect on its impact, the fulfilment of my expectations and future implications.

Literature Review

In general, the field of international relations does acknowledge the significance of space in relation to politics. And while the positivist tradition does so in relating to the importance of territory, post-positivist theories and scholars argue for the importance of space as shaping memory and social culture, being influenced by and being influential of politics.10

Further, it is well-known in the field of transitional justice that coming to terms with the past is dealing with the splintered memory of a parted society. Social culture and such memory are essential to incorporate to guarantee a successful transitional justice process that achieves reconciliation.11 In line with the analysis of social culture, scholars have paid attention to artwork in post-conflict societies. Moreover, some scholars pay attention to the shaping of space and social memory through the erection or destruction of memorials. Nevertheless, while there is obviously recognition of the importance of cultural space, there is little to no literature on the relationship between space and the political mechanisms of transitional justice. While it is certain that reconciliation is expressed in space, there is no assessment of that expression in relation to the field of transitional justice.

This literature review argues that this is a research gap that should be filled. That has the benefit to derive a new angle from which to look at the field of transitional justice and might offer a more general tool for the analysis of space and reconciliation in a post-conflict society. To make this argument, I will reflect on international relations literature on the importance of the expression of social memory in visual space and contrast it with the lack of literature on transitional justice focussing on those elements. The goal is to give an easy access to the most important literature on visual political space whilst identifying the inconsistency in transitional justice literature that deals with space and politics on their own but not with both at the same time. I will provide an analysis of methodologies used and relate to the approaches of other researchers to justify the validity of my research question and research design.

In his book “Space and Place” the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan established, as one of the first researchers, a connection between experience, memory and places. While he elaborates in detail how humans relate to themselves and others in terms of spaces and places12 and identify their personalities through certain known places, he also makes the observation that we form and create visible spaces relating to our memory and experiences.13 Space here is not only geographical but can also describe the space of a wall, a building, a canvas or anything else that is tangible and being formed in relation to the human experience. Deriving from that first notion, most of the social sciences explore the element of space and memory relating to their areas of expertise. In the critical geopolitics field of IR,14 spaces are seen as the vital product of sociohistorical action that define identities and therefore also ways of acting in the future.15 Accordingly, space is not seen as a neutral background against which history occurs but rather as being connected to political ways of acting.16 There is a focus on the interplay of memory and space in geopolitical literature, the topic is not only in the focus of peer-reviewed journals such as Memory Studies17 but has also been discussed in specialised series like Paigrave MacMillan’s Memory Studies series.18 This connection is vitally important for the analysis of post-conflict societies, focusing on how memory translates into those spaces.

Tasking itself with the reconceptualisation of space, the area of critical geopolitics analyses the status quo critically detecting how social and spatial lives play together. It especially has a focus on the reproduction of history and the political in space and connects different scientific traditions in doing so.19 Methodologically, critical geopolitics in IR argue for the analysis of spaces, not focusing on specific places but on the concept as a whole, being convinced that social memory can be found in every space, making every space therefore political. The analysis of such spaces is often semiotic as spaces are dependent on the culture they are surrounding, signs can therefore not be analysed generally but must be seen in the context of bearing ideologies. They offer a new perspective on such context nonetheless.

“The Politics of Space and Place”, for example, an edited issue makes a very timely description of how places are influenced by and are influencing politics, being both political and politicised. In its various chapters it elaborates on the elements of securitisation and exclusion through the element of space, analysing the building of walls, memorials and general city-planning with relation to political goals and actions in each period of time. Methodologically, the authors use a semiotic analysis of different spaces, searching for pointers in those pictures that are relatable to politics. While they acknowledge that such analysis could potentially be subjective, they also show up how the analysis of space through the lens of critical geopolitics can open up a new perspective on political action as it considers the bottom-up expression of social experience.20

“Post-conflict performance, film and visual arts: Cities of memory” in which the authors, two film studies scholars, take the angle of critical geopolitics to analyse the shaping of landscapes or cities in the post-conflict sphere that is mainly influenced through memory21 is another good example for geopolitical analysis of space that offers new insights into post-conflict societies. It explores how political memory and commemoration play together, making cities the “urban memories of violent histories”,22 because a conflict is not limited to specific sites but lives on in the daily life of people, the whole area bears memories and space for associations. Therefore, landscape and all space in a post-conflict country becomes commemorative landscape and object to research.

For their research, the authors focus on different memorial sites in different post­conflict cities all over the world, not contrasting them to each other but analysing each situation for the expression of memory and socio-political influences. They also vary between the media they analyse, while focusing on memorials in one chapter, maps or drawings are analysed in the other. They nevertheless derive the notion that places in a city act as sites of conflicting memory through the performance of visual acts, being in dialogue with their surroundings. To analyse such dialogue, they compare the political situations in the analysed surrounding to visual sites, assessing to what extent memories and experiences are expressed in the space of post-conflict cities through the semiotic analysis of signs. They do not track developments though or justify their choice of visual site, their main goal is only to show that politics and visuality play together. Their book acknowledges that and calls out for more research on political conflict, incorporating space into the analysis. The semiological assessment of post-conflict societies bears implications for the field of transitional justice, offering new insights.

In transitional justice research though, as dealing with the coming-to-terms after a conflict and being interested in post-conflict social memory, memorial and reconciliation, a visual approach or an analysis of place is nearly absent. Visual research is largely disregarded in favour of a judicial or political focus on reconciliation. The debate tries to measure the impacts of truth commissions, amnesties and prosecution on reconciliation with very little input, favouring argumentation deriving from the debate about justice.23 Still, it is important to mainstream transitional justice scholars to try and foresee or measure the impact of the mechanisms employed in a transitional justice process, to trace successes and failures in a peace process and give recommendations to achieve reconciliation and democratic peace. In those efforts there are scholars calling out for a more bottom-up approach to the topic, analysing not only judicial means but also the actions and reactions of populations.24 That indicates that there is the space for different approaches and more critical research in the field.

There is a paucity of visual research in the field attempting to fill this gap. “Retracing Images: Visual Culture of Yugoslavia” by Súber and Karamanic discusses the importance of reworking the past in transitional justice and outlines the importance of space- derived from critical geopolitics- for that.25 The piece discusses the political implications of the erection or destruction of memorial sites on the reconciliation process. For that, it mainly pays attention to the political motivations for the change of the memorial landscape in Yugoslavia, tracing the intended goal which is, according to the authors, often the normalisation of space. By destroying certain socialist memorials and erecting more neutral ones, social memory should be tricked into reconciliation and normalcy after the lustration process. While credibly outlining those agendas by analysing different monuments, the authors do not pay attention to the success of that plan. The memorials are only analysed at one point in time, public reaction to them is not described- it is therefore unclear, if they contributed towards reconciliation, if the population shared their account of social memory in a similar way or if the actions did indeed have any repercussions for the transitional justice process.

Memorials and the politics behind them are also discussed by other scholars. While Switzer and McDowell discuss the normalisation strategies through city­planning in Belfast they mainly focus on political goals behind those plans. They only mention briefly how social memory could interplay with them but do not analyse the plans in practice or connect those actions with the transitional justice process or reconciliation.26

Similarly, Winter27 and Marschall28 discuss how memorials can be part of a mourning process and establish that they are an indicator for the process of reconciliation but do not pay attention to the development of such memorials over time and in contrast with the development of the transitional justice process. They do not connect the social element of space with the political actions of a post-conflict society that must influence such social memory. Politics are not connected to the social that they are supposed to influence and while the different authors acknowledge that sites and space can influence and reflect reconciliation, they do not trace how, and they do not analyse what the political mechanisms of transitional justice contribute to that.

Other authors analysing the visual and the impact of spaces on transitional justice do not concentrate on reconciliation of a population but pay attention to artists and their individual accounts of historical events.29 While that has the justification of analysing work that was made for its interpretation, it lacks an account of the impact of politics on the reconciliation process relevant to society. It also does not consider the interaction of different individuals important to a process of reconciliation in a post-conflict society but pays attention to single opinions and processes. Spaces as being inclusive and non-sectarian allow for the analysis of contested memories being united in space, a process of reconciliation between those memories is an effort of a whole society, shaping spaces together.30 If reconciliation in transitional justice is to be assessed, only the analysis of public spaces and the visual displays in them can give significant indications.

Summarising this short account of relevant literature on the visual element in transitional justice scholarship shows that the field as being dependent on the accounts of memory and reconciliation can profit from an analysis of visual displays of such in space as said analysis can reveal the development and change of social memory, including reconciliation, in line with critical geopolitics.

Even though there are some scholars contributing to such research it is striking that that is often not connected with the political and judicial means of transitional justice which are meant to influence reconciliation and social memory. That is an inconsistency in research that is worth filling, accounting for a bottom-up approach that assesses reactions to transitional justice measures, including unorthodox visual, spatial sources that give room to new considerations.


1 Ruti G. Teitel, “Transitional Justice Genealogy,” Harvard Human Rights Journal, Voi. 16 (2003): 70.

2 Guidance Note of the Secretary General, “United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice”, United Nations (March 2010): 2.

3 Eilisin Rooney, Transitional Justice Grassroots Toolkit (Belfast: Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster, 2012), 8.

4 Rooney, Transitional Justice, 7.

5 Neil Jarman, Material Conflicts: Parades and Visual Displays in Northern Ireland, Explorations in Anthropology (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1997), 14.

6 David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles: A Histoiy of the Northern Ireland Conflict (London: Penguin, 2012), 216.

7 Ignacio Alvarez Prieto, “Peace Walls,” Northern Ireland Foundation Our Shared Future (website), accessed May 1, 2018,

8 Joseph Robinson and The Junction, “Splintered Memory: Inscribing the Past in Northern Ireland”, unpublished workshop guide, 2.

9 In this paper, I will use the terms semiological and semiotic as much as semiology and semiotics interchangeably. Semiology as a study confronts the question how images incorporate and transfer meaning in them. Semiologists analyse this phenomenon. (Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials (Los Angeles: Sage, 2007):74.)

10 For example, refer to: Tim Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction (Flew York: John Wiley and Sons, 2014).

11 Teitel, “Transitional Justice,” 77.

12 He distinguishes between place as a known geographical location and space as abstract component. For my analysis, this difference is less important.

13 Yi- Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), 6-18.

14 Such research is mainly subject to geopolitical scholars and because of my research’s scope I will not analyse the absence of such scholarships in the more positivist traditions of IR.

15 Shane Alcobia-Murphy, Governing the Tongue in Northern Ireland : The Place ofArt/the Art of Place (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2005), 100.

16 Chiara Certomà, Nicola Clewer, and Doug Elsey, The Politics of Space and Place (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Pub, 2012), 35.

17 SAGE journal, publishing periodically, won multiple prizes. Refer to: “Memory Studies,” SAGE Journals (website), accessed April 19, 2018,

18 J. Sutton, “Paigrave MacMillan Memory Studies,” Paigrave MacMillan (website), accessed April 19, 2018,

19 Joseph Robinson, “Splintered Memory”, 2.

20 Certomà, The Politics of Space and Place.

21 Des O’Rawe and Mark Phelan, Post-Conflict. Performance, Film and Visual Arts: Cities of ?????’ (UK: Paigrave MacMillan, 2016), 1-11.

22 O’Rawe, Post-Conflict. Performance, 7.

23 David Anton Hoogenboom, “Theorizing ‘Transitional Justice’” (Doctoral Dissertation), The University of Western Ontario, 2014. Retrieved from

24 For example: Kieran McEvoy and A.Bryson, “Justice, Truth and Oral History: Legislating the Past ‘From Below’ in Northern Ireland,” Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 67 (1), (2016): 67-90.

25 Daniel Súber and Slobodan Karamanic, ed., Retracing Images : Visual Culture After Yugoslavia, Balkan Studies Library, V.4. (Leiden: BRILL, 2012), 252.

26 Catherine Switzer and Sara McDowell, “Redrawing Cognitive Maps of Conflict: Lost Spaces and Forgetting in City Centre Belfast f Memory Studies, Voi 2 (2009): 337-353.

27 Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

28 Sabine Marschall, Landscapes of Memory: Commemorative Monuments, Memorials, and Public Statuary in Post­Apartheid South Africa (Amsterdam: Brill, 2009).

29 For example: Graham Dawson, “Trauma, Place and Politics of Memory: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972-2004,” History Workshop Journal, Voi.59,1. 1 (March 1, 2005): 151-178.

30 Alcobia-Murphy, Governing the Tongue, 99-114.

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Visual Reconciliation in Transitional Societies
A Case Study of Northern Ireland's Peace Walls
University of Groningen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
transitional justice, visual global politics Northern Ireland troubles
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Anonymous, 2018, Visual Reconciliation in Transitional Societies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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