The Irish question and the concept 'identity' in the 1980s

Chris Gilligan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article critically investigates the social construction of 'identity talk' in relation to the Irish Question in the 1980s. Our contention is that the utilisation of 'identity' imagined people as bounded groups in a particular way - as the two traditions or communities in Northern Ireland - and that this way of imagining people was deployed against 'will' - based conceptions of politics. The first part of the article places the emergence of 'identity' as a concept in its historical context and suggests four phases in the use of 'identity'. The second part focuses on 'identity' as a concept and locates its emergence within the meta-conflict regarding Northern Ireland. The article concludes by reflecting on Brubaker and Cooper's (2000) analysis of 'identity' as a category of analysis in light of our case study of 'identity' as a category of practice regarding the Irish Question.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-617
Number of pages19
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2007


  • 'Ethnic' conflict
  • Identity
  • Northern Ireland
  • Sovereignty


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