The late John Whyte famously observed that ‘relative to its size Northern Ireland is possibly the most heavily- researched area on earth; hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been published since the current troubles began there in 1968’. (1990: viii). Since his seminal ‘Interpreting Northern Ireland’ was published 25 years ago, many thousands more research studies have been undertaken, books and articles written. Many accounts still approach Northern Ireland as a case study for understanding the causes and remedies of violent conflict. However a number of experienced academics voices are raising concerns about the tendency to consider Northern Ireland as a ‘place apart’ or to think about its problems ‘in isolation from the wider international and UK society’ (Gilligan, 2008). Is there a danger that an over emphasis on understanding the region through studies of community, conflict and ‘cultural difference’ could lead to ‘stereotyping’, as the general and largely unexceptional experience of living and working in Northern Ireland tends to slip out of view? And what about the ‘researched community’? Could Northern Ireland be suffering research fatigue? And in what ways are the subjects of research able to engage with and respond to research findings?
Research matters. Researchers not only frame academic thinking, but also influence politicians, policy and public understandings of politics and place. With this in mind, we are proposing to form a transdisciplinary research network aimed at introducing early career researchers like ourselves with established scholars alongside activists, professionals and other informed and interested representatives from ‘researched communities.’ This would be a platform for discussing issues of common interest, presenting papers, testing research ideas and building links that could bear fruit in joint research projects in an informal and supportive environment. The main focus would be on Northern Ireland and we envisage that a sufficient number of colleagues, both in the University of Manchester and throughout the North West are interested in coming together to consider these questions on 10 May 2016. If you are interested in joining us or want to find out more, contact us at email@example.com