Opinion Former Article

ESRC: Urban conflict and divided cities

Urban conflict is nothing new in cities like Belfast, Jerusalem and major cities in the Middle East. An international conference will take place at Queens's University in Belfast (19-21 May 2011) exploring how cities have been shaped by ethnic, religious and national conflicts.

The conference is part of a five-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) entitled 'Conflict in Cities and the Contested State: Everyday Life and the Possibilities for Transformation of Conflict in Belfast, Jerusalem and Other Divided Cities' (CinC).

A multidisciplinary team of researchers have been studying mainly (but not exclusively) the cities of Belfast and Jerusalem as the key sites of territorial conflicts over state and national identities, cultures and borders. Researchers have been investigating how violent and non-violent ethno-national conflict have shaped the cities we see today.

Israel's separation barrier (wall) that has so altered Palestinian Jerusalem is one of the most well-known cases today. But many other urban borders have been imposed and are powerful: for example in Belfast the so-called 'peacelines' even divide some parks between Catholic and Protestant areas.

This conference will address questions on how cities and everyday urban life are used and abused in the containment of wider national conflicts. Sessions and forums will explore the potential cities have for achieving self-control and the positive channelling or resolution of conflict. It will equally provide opportunities for engagement with policy-makers.

Conference highlights will include:

A keynote speech by world-renowned urban scholar, Professor Saskia Sassen, Columbia University on the theme: 'Urban Space: Enabling the Powerless'.

Ninety-six presentations organised in parallel sessions drawing on research from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, North America and Africa. This will include a number of papers by members of the project 'Conflict in Cities'.

An exhibition, called 'Capturing Urban Conflicts', showcasing the visual research of 'Conflict in Cities' will include a series of photo-essays on topics of various contested cities and the virtual mapping of a number of the project's cities.

A policy roundtable sponsored and organised by the Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission on the theme of Policies and Progress on Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland Cities. Panel members will include representatives of business, government, voluntary and the community sector.

A World Bank-sponsored policy roundtable on Cities, Conflict and Development, chaired by Nigel Roberts, co-director of the World Development Report 2011. The panel will comprise of contributors with extensive policy experience at international, national and local levels.

A bus tour of Belfast areas most affected by the conflict which will allow participants to appreciate the complex legacies of division. Narrated by ex-combatants in the conflict, the tour presents the troubled history of Northern Ireland from competing republican and loyalist perspectives.

Opportunities are also available for delegates to meet with a variety of community practitioners involved in grassroots projects aimed at conflict management and transformation in Belfast.

Dr Wendy Pullan comments: "Much of the research of Conflict in Cities has been devoted to understanding how ethno-nationally contested cities are both like and unlike each other, and what we can learn from making such comparisons. By bringing together researchers and practitioners who focus on a wide variety of cities, we expect to further comprehend these highly complex situations, with the hope of working towards ways of dealing with them".


Dr Wendy Pullan (Tel: 01223 332962, email: wap10@cam.ac.uk)

ESRC Press Office:

Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, email: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk)
Jeanine Woolley (Tel: 01793 413119, email: jeanine.woolley@esrc.ac.uk)


On 19 -21 May2011 'Conflict and Cities and the Contested State' will host the Urban Conflicts: Ethno-National Divisions, States and Cities conference. Venue: School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen's University Belfast. More information at:


The project which started in 2007 is led by the University of Cambridge and involves Exeter University as well as Queen's University Belfast. A number of other divided cities in Europe and the Middle East, including Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Kirkuk, Mostar, Nicosia and Tripoli (Lebanon), are studied by seven PhD students who are part of the Project.
Conflict in Cities is directed by: Dr Wendy Pullan (PI, Cambridge), Prof Mick Dumper (Co-I, Exeter), Prof James Anderson (Co-I, Queen's Belfast), Prof Liam O'Dowd (Co-I, Queen's Belfast). More information on the project funded by the ESRC at: www.conflictincities.org

4. A series of prominent speakers include: Scott Bollens, Samir Khalaf, Fred Boal, R.J. Morris, Menachem Klein, Rami Nasrallah and Sinisa Malesevic, and CinC project investigators: Wendy Pullan, Liam O'Dowd, James Anderson and Mick Dumper. Research from a wide range of cities includes: Belfast, Beirut, Berlin, Bilbao, Brussels, Derry, Dublin, Goma, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Jos, Juarez-El Paso, Montreal, Mostar, San Diego-Tijuana, Sarajevo, Skopje, Stockholm, Tel Aviv and Vukovar.

5. A reception at Belfast City Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor, and incorporating a tour of the recently refurbished building for conference delegates is on offer.

6. Conference papers will address a variety of overlapping themes: Historical Origins and Development of Contested Cities and States; Urban Populations and the Politics of Demography; Ethno-National Borders and Walls; 'Neutral' or 'Shared' Spaces in the City?; Conflict Management and Conflict Transformation in Cities; Political Economy and the Built Environment; Contesting the 'Religious City'; Visualising Divided Cities.

7. Conflict in Cities is accredited to the Global Uncertainties Programme. Global Uncertainties brings together the activities of the UK Research Councils in response to global security challenges. The programme will help governments, businesses and societies to better predict, detect, prevent and mitigate threats to security.

8. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2010/11 is £218 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

More at www.esrc.ac.uk

Kind Regards

Jeanine Woolley

Communications Manager
Communications Team
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
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