Psychocultural Interpretations and Dramas: Identity Dynamics in Ethnic Conflict



Ethnic identity connects individuals through perceived common past experiences and expectations of shared future ones. Identity is concerned with group judgments and judgments about groups and their motives. This article explores identity through the case of Loyal Order Protestant parades in Northern Ireland and the concepts of psychocultural interpretations (shared, deeply held worldviews found in group narratives) and psychocultural dramas (conflicts over competing, and apparently irresolvable, claims that engage the central elements of a group's historical experience). Psychocultural dramas are polarizing events whose manifest content involves non-negotiable cultural claims, threats, and/or rights that become important because of their connections to core metaphors and group narratives that embody a group's identity. In ethnic conflicts, psychocultural dramas arise over competing claims that evoke deeply rooted dimensions of the conflict which cannot be settled by reference to more general rules or higher authority. Psychocultural dramas are tools of analysis for understanding the centrality of cultural identity and ritual in ethnic conflict and for the redefinition of such conflicts in ways that increase the chances for managing them constructively. Examining the psychocultural dramas surrounding parades disputes in Northern Ireland suggests why and how some conflicts are more amenable to constructive outcomes than others.