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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Divided Society: Ethnic minorities and racism in Northern Ireland
Edited by Paul Hainsworth.

(London: Pluto Press, 1998)
270pp. Index. Bibl. 45.00; ISBN 0745311962. Pb.: 14.99; ISBN 0745311954.



There is scarcely a serious student of ethnic and race relations who will fail to profit intellectually from reading this book. Concerned, as it is, with the five largest of Northern Ireland's small ethnic minority communities (Chinese, Travelers, Indians, Pakistanis and Jews), Divided SocietyM provides a plethora of insights into the economic, social and political condition of the territory's 20,000 ethnic minority residents. Although diverse, the 11 essays within this edited volume are united by three central themes. First, contrary to the conventional wisdom, ethnic and racial discrimination and neglect are serious and pervasive problems within Northern Irish society. Second, ethnic minority group experiences in Northern Ireland have been historically structured by the sectarian conflict that divides the majority white population. And finally, the social conflict and violence that have afflicted Northern Ireland since the onset of 'the troubles' more than thirty years ago have politically marginalized the difficulties and concerns of its ethnic minority populations. As its editor, Paul Hainsworth's explicit purpose in Divided Society is to illuminate these submerged issues and grievances.

Part one of Divided Society focuses upon issues of race relations, politics, law, policing, health and media coverage that are especially pertinent to Northern Ireland's 'hidden' minorities. One of the more interesting contributions within this section is the essay, "The International Context" (chapter 3), by Brice Dickson and Mark Bell that charts the influence of international law on local efforts to protect minority rights and to outlaw discrimination. Part two, in contrast, offers separate case studies of Northern Ireland's five ethnic minority groups, the largest of which is the Chinese community with approximately 7,000 persons. The respective essays in this section by Watson and McKnight, Noonan, Irwin, Donnan and O'Brien and Warm convey the impression of a hierarchy of economic opportunity and social incorporation among Northern Ireland's ethnic minorities. On the basis of their accounts, the Indian population is the best and the Travelers the least well incorporated of the five ethnic minority groups.

Although one could criticize the editor and authors of Divided Society for failing to do more to locate their subject within the broad theoretical literature on ethnic and racial minorities in the advanced industrial societies, to do so would be unfair. Rather, as its editor intended, the central purpose of Divided Society is to illuminate its hitherto much neglected subject. On this score, it succeeds unambiguously.


Anthony M. Messina,
Tufts University




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