Inside and Outside Peace and Prosperity: Post-Conflict Cultural Spaces in Rwanda and Northern Ireland
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In post-conflict settings real and imagined boundaries do a great deal to determine who is inside and who is outside of state-based narratives of peace and prosperity. Based on case studies in Rwanda and Northern Ireland, I provide an analysis of the post-conflict periods and the impact of neoliberal-styled governance on the dynamics of power. I argue that as power shifted, ‘peace’ also entailed a general social pacification, and prosperity equated to greater private profit. However, top-down social engineering has not contained the entire field of social struggle. I examine micro-level interventions taking place on the margins of mainstream discourse that trouble the moralizing state-narratives that seek to legitimate structural violence. Such spaces facilitate alternative values and practices that contribute to sustained social and cultural resilience, as well as forms of resistance. Post-conflict Rwanda and Northern Ireland have been impacted by both coercive and consensual forms of social engineering. In Rwanda, state-based framework laws and forceful regimes of local implementation rely on stark contingencies of reward and punishment to shape and control behaviour in the public sphere. In Northern Ireland, the power-sharing structure of the Belfast Agreement has reinforced ethnic politics, while depoliticizing and instrumentalizing civil society in support of its neoliberal policies. I present ethnographic research and interviews conducted with community organizations in Northern Ireland (Ikon) and Rwanda (Student Association of Genocide Survivors - AERG) that demonstrates how alternative discourses and practices are emerging in the cracks of these top-down systems. I explore Ikon’s use of creative performances and radical theology to create socially resonant cultural spaces that function as temporary autonomous zones. These TAZs unsettle aspects of individual identity while intentionally seeking to destabilize mainstream power dynamics. Unlike Ikon, AERG faces greater public scrutiny and higher political stakes. They demonstrate an adherence to the dominant social script in the public sphere, while exhibiting micro- level agency through trauma healing, and material support in private day-to-day practices. AERG’s performance in the public sphere creates temporary spaces of encounter that exceed the boundaries of official discourse, making their alternative presence felt while remaining illegible to the dominant surveillance frameworks.