* This post is part of a series based on talks given at the Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Conference held at the University of Queensland in 2018.
Young people across the world are growing up in environments marred by violent group-based conflict around religious, racial or political differences. These conflicts can have long-lasting effects, not only among survivors, but also for subsequent generations. These effects, however, need not only be negative; there are also constructive ways that young people react to conflict and its legacy. It is these constructive pathways that we have been researching amongst young people in Northern Ireland in our Altruism Born of Suffering project.
What is Altruism Born of Suffering?
Altruism born of suffering (ABS) is a theory that outlines the conditions under which individuals who have experienced risk or harm may be motivated to help others. Key dimensions include whether the harm was suffered individually (e.g., being beaten up) or collectively (e.g., bomb targeted at a community), and whether it was intentional (e.g., hate crime) or not (e.g., natural disaster). It is thought that individuals who experience harm or risk might engage in helping behaviours due to shared past experiences, common victim identity and increased empathy with other sufferers. Whether an individual helps or not might also be influenced by personal and environmental influences such as norms (unwritten rules about how to behave) and past intergroup contact experiences (how often an individual interacts with those from a different group and how positive those interactions are). We believe that understanding the processes underlying these positive pathways following adversity, especially among young people, may be the foundation for more constructive intra- and intergroup experiences that can help to rebuild social relations.
Youth as Peacemakers in Northern Ireland
As part of our project, we conducted a survey (in Autumn 2016 and then again in Spring 2017) amongst 14-15 year olds living in Northern Ireland (N = 466, evenly split by religion and gender) to examine how ABS might playout in a real-world conflict setting.
Participants, born after the 1998 Belfast Agreement, represent a ‘post-accord’ generation. Although not exposed to the height of the ‘Troubles,’ the most recent peak of intergroup violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, these young people still face ongoing sectarianism and annual spikes in tension.
We found that having friends who support youth to have friends from the ‘other’ group is really important in determining how much young people interact across group lines. Furthermore, having intergroup contact is associated with greater support for peacebuilding and being more engaged in society, and with lower participation in sectarian anti-social behaviours. Finally, when youth are exposed to a continued intergroup threat, they are more likely to engage in sectarian antisocial behaviours if families reinforce group distinctions and intergroup bias.
Our findings suggest that youth who are living with the legacy of protracted intergroup conflict can be supported to engage in constructive behaviours and that it is vital to recognise the peacebuilding potential of youth.
Guest post by Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones, University of Bristol, and Dr. Laura K. Taylor, University of Bristol.
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