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Keywords:

  • Social Identity;
  • discourse analysis;
  • political rhetoric;
  • minority rights;
  • majority;
  • victim status

Researchers have argued that, depending on the framing of the Northern Ireland conflict, each group could either be a minority or a majority relative to the other. This complicates macrosocial explanations of the conflict which make specific predictions on the basis of minority or majority positions. The present paper argues that this conundrum may have arisen from the inherent variability in microidentity processes that do not fit easily with macroexplanations. In this paper the rhetoric of relative group position is analysed in political speeches delivered by leading members of an influential Protestant institution in Northern Ireland. It is apparent that minority and majority claims are not fixed but are flexibly used to achieve local rhetorical goals. Furthermore, the speeches differ before and after the Good Friday Agreement, with a reactionary “hegemonic” Unionist position giving way to a “majority-rights power sharing” argument and a “pseudo-minority” status giving way to a “disempowered minority” argument. These results suggest a view of the Northern Ireland conflict as a struggle for “symbolic power,” i.e., the ability to flexibly define the intergroup situation to the ingroup's advantage.