How Irish citizens negotiate foreign policy : a social representations approach to neutrality

O'Dwyer, Emma, Lyons, Evanthia and Cohrs, J. Christopher (2016) How Irish citizens negotiate foreign policy : a social representations approach to neutrality. Political Psychology, 37(2), pp. 165-181. ISSN (print) 0162-895X


The present study investigates the relationship between the foreign policy orientation of Irish neutrality and national identity using a social representations approach (Elcheroth, Doise, & Reicher, 2011; Moscovici, 1961/76). In four focus groups conducted in the Republic of Ireland, 22 participants discussed vignettes in which hypothetical conflicts were described. The findings pointed towards the dynamic relationship between neutrality and Irish national identity and more generally to the importance of macropolitical phenomena for identity construction. The process of categorization was key to participants' decision making regarding the hypothetical conflicts; the decision to support or oppose the Irish state's involvement in the conflicts frequently revolved around a reconsideration of the boundaries of the ingroup. Furthermore, social representations were laden with the possibility of social change; the construction of neutrality as morally ambivalent, motivated by pragmatism rather than principles, opened up a space for younger participants to resist dominant, pragmatic interpretations of the policy and offer alternatives. Theoretical and empirical implications of the findings are discussed. Taken together, the findings demonstrate the critical potential of extending a social representations approach to issues of political psychological significance.

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