Agonistic interaction in practice: laughing, dissensus and hegemony in the Northern Ireland Assembly

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The 1998 Agreement in Northern Ireland has often been portrayed as a textbook example of agonistic peace allowing parties to continue conflict in a political, adversarial manner post accord. Here, I investigate the institutional and dialogical reality of this claim by scrutinising agonistic aspects of interaction occurring in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Specifically, I analyse a video recording of the first sitting after the Assembly did not sit between 2017 and 2020. The debate provides a snapshot of the situation in Northern Ireland and gives insights into what agonistic interaction looks like in practice. The meeting reveals mutual acceptance of radically different identities and perceptions of the past as well as a jovial mode of interaction with elements of self-irony displaying an ability to hold identities and positions lightly. However, the room for counter-hegemonic discourses and passionate, intense contestation about difficult issues is very limited at the meeting. Rather, the Assembly shapes up as a theatre of opposition where Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party perform opposition while forming a new hegemony. Taking the opening debate as a point of departure, I discuss questions regarding inclusion, passionate debate and hegemony that the Northern Irish case poses for agonistic peace.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1324-1342
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number6
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science

Free keywords

  • agonistic peace
  • dialogue
  • humour
  • identity
  • Northern Ireland
  • video data analysis


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