Social representations of Irish neutrality

O'Dwyer, Emma (2013) Social representations of Irish neutrality. (PhD thesis), Queen's University, Belfast, .


Neutrality is a foreign policy orientation which denotes non-aggression and impartiality in war and the inviolability of neutral territory (Salmon, 1989). Despite its enduring popularity among Irish citizens, it occupies a unique position, variously perceived as an expression of sovereignty or pacifism, or as a symptom of moral ambivalence and self-interest. This thesis provides a mixed-methods examination of the meanings which Irish citizens, pro-neutrality activists and the media attach to neutrality, drawing on social representations theory (Moscovici, 1961/76), identity process theory (Breakwell, 1993; Breakwell, 1986) and rhetorical approaches to social psychology (Billig, Condor, Edwards, Gane, Middleton, & Radley, 1988; Billig, 1993). It examines neutrality’s relationship with national identity, often posited as a reason for its endurance (e.g. Devine, 2008b). It explores social representational change from two angles – in terms of change in social representational content and the consideration of how social representational change might be achieved in terms of resisting dominant representations. Four empirical enquiries were conducted to investigate Irish neutrality. Study 1 examines the change in social representations of neutrality using an ALCESTE analysis (Reinert, 1990) of media data from four events considered key for understanding Irish neutrality –WorldWar II (1939-45), Ireland’s membership of the European Union (1973), the invasion of Iraq (2003) and the Lisbon Treaty referenda (2008,2009). This study shows that the social representational field is context-dependent and marked by stability and flux; Irish neutrality during World War II has assumed an iconic and enduring quality, while representations have more recently begun to encompass Irish involvement in peace-keeping. This study also reveals the value tensions which neutrality signifies and its potential to problematise the relationship between national identity and neutrality, specifically in terms of the Northern Ireland conflict. Study 2 presents a quantitative analysis of the 2001/02 Irish Social and Political Attitudes data (Garry, Hardiman, & Payne, 2006). This study examines the content of representations of neutrality, how such representations were anchored in values, and the importance of group differences for how such representations were objectified. It reveals four dominant definitions of neutrality – independence, non-aggression, impartiality and peace-keeping - and shows that older people were more likely to use the definition of independence over any other, indicating possible intergenerational differences in objectification. Social representational content was found to moderate the relationship between values and support for neutrality. Study 3 examines the content of social representations of neutrality and its relationship with national identity. Four focus groups were conducted with Irish citizens of different ages and levels of educational attainment. From discussions of vignettes detailing hypothetical conflict events, a thematic analysis (Braun & Clark, 2006) of the relationship between social representations of neutrality and Irish national identity was undertaken. Study 4 comprises of a thematic analysis of focus group data with three groups of pro-neutrality activists; two included Sinn Fein members and one Green Party members. The anchoring of social representations of neutrality in ideology and the strategies of resisting dominant social representations were investigated. Overall, the findings show that social representations of neutrality are dilemmatic and polyphasic; they are characterised by competing arguments, tensions, ambiguity and ambivalence, which need to be negotiated. The thesis also posits that the relationship between neutrality and national identity is dynamic and that representations are functional for identity. In terms of process, social representations of neutrality may be anchored in values and ideology and age seems relevant to the process of objectification. Implications for research on foreign policy orientations as well as the benefits of using a social representations approach are advanced. Taken as a whole, this thesis underscores the need to study foreign policy orientations using a theoretical framework which prioritises the issues of content, context, conflict and identity, that is, what foreign policy orientations mean to people, if and how these meanings change and are contested, and how they are related to identity.

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