'Citizenship and Identity: socio-economic inequality, political identity and participation'. Reflections on the 2014 Five Nations Conference in Belfast (4)
By Stephen Jenkins, Head of Politics and Citizenship, Dominican College, Northern Ireland
Belfast is an ideal venue to explore political identity. In fact, socio-economic inequality is often overlooked by all but the most avid sociologists when analysing our ‘deeply divided society’. It was with great anticipation, then, that I attended the 2014 Five Nations Conference. The organisers, including Liz, Deepa, Lesley and Michael, had put together a packed programme for the two days.
The round table discussions provided the opportunity to see familiar faces and make new friends. We then transferred to Stormont. Pete Shirlow’s presentation was lively and informative, with a refreshing perspective offered on the old certainties, particularly how perspective changes with time. In smaller groups we discussed the knock-on effect of an educator’s identity on his/her pupils. That led nicely into Tony Gallagher’s session the following day. One of the highlights of Professor Gallagher’s presentation was the reminder that the theory of simply ‘throwing’ as much education as possible on a deeply divided society was miscalculated. In fact, Citizenship taught badly could actually exacerbate tension and promote hatred, and prolong conflict. It was a reminder of the importance of what we, gathered there together, do on a daily basis.
As usual, the shared coffees, lunches and dinners were the cement of the whole weekend, allowing socialising, mingling and networking of mutual benefit. The conversations on these occasions epitomise for me the value of the whole Five Nations’ raison d’etre.