This paper provides a critical analysis of the role of discourse in conflict situations, with a particular focus on dominant and competing discourses which have emerged in relation to conflict in Ireland historically.
It begins with a general discussion about theoretical ideas around discourse, focusing in particular on the writings of critical theorists such as Gramsci, and Foucault. It engages with some of the key ideas about common-sense acceptance, reproduction and reinforcement of dominant hegemonic discourses, and how such hegemony emerges and is sustained. It also looks at how subordinate discourses often challenge and replace once dominant discourses. It then analyses how discourse plays a role in conflict in society and how discourse, like conflict itself, often changes in form and content depending on circumstance. Using examples of discourse, sourced from the print media and academic literature, about conflict in Ireland, the language and terminology used and how this has framed competing understandings and interpretations of the conflict, the article illustrates how conflict is reflected in competing discourses including dominant and subordinate variants. It argues that uncritical, unqualified acceptance of dominant discourse about conflict by academia and others potentially prevents the development of rigorous social scientific research, the unravelling of the underlying causes of conflict as well as potentially delaying the onset of real and meaningful peace building. It also potentially places academia firmly on the side of the status quo in conflict situations.