“The Irish Conflict” and the experiences of female ex-combatants in the Irish Republican Army

Azrini Wahidin, Jason Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Purpose: The fundamental purpose of this article is to critically explore the importance of the experiences of female former combatants during the Irish Conflict, colloquially know as ‘The Troubles’ and outline key moments of resistance for female political prisoners during their time
at Armagh jail. The paper will situate the analysis within a Foucauldian framework drawing on theoretical tools for understanding power, resistance and subjectivity to contextualise and capture rich narratives and experiences. What makes a Foucauldian analysis of former female combatants of the Conflict so inspiring, is how the animation and location of problems of knowledge as ‘pieces’ of the larger contest between The State, institutions of power and its penal subjects (ex female combatants as prisoners). The paper has demonstrated that the body exists through and in culture, the product of signs and meanings, of discourse
and practices.
Design/methodology/approach:
This is primarily qualitative methodology underpinned by Foucauldian theory. There were 28 women and 20 men interviewed in the course of this research came from across Ireland, some came from cities and
others came from rural areas. Some had spent time in prisons in the UK and others served time in the Republic of Ireland or in the North of Ireland. Many prisoners experienced being on the run and all experienced levels of brutality at the hands of the State. Ethical approval was granted from the Queens University Research Committee.
Findings: This paper only examines the experiences of female ex-
combatants and their narratives of imprisonment. What this article clearly shows through the narratives of the women is the gendered nature of imprisonment and the role of power, resilience and resistance whilst in prison in Northern Ireland. The voices in this paper disturb and interrupt the silence surrounding the experiences of women political prisoners, who are a hidden population, whilst in prison.
Research limitations/implications: In terms of research impact, this qualitative research is on the first of its kind to explore both the experiential and discursive narratives of female ex-combatants of the Irish Conflict. The impact and reach of the research illustrates how confinement revealed rich theoretical insights, drawing from Foucauldian theory, to examine the dialectical interplay between power and the subjective mobilisation of resistance practices of ex-combatants in prison in Northern Ireland. The wider point of prison policy and practice not meeting basic human rights or enhancing the quality of life of such prisoners reveals some of the dystopian features of current prison policy and lack of gender sensitivity to female combatants.
Practical implications: It is by prioritising the voices of the women combatants in this article that it not only enables their re-positioning at the centre of the struggle, but also moves away methodologically from the more typical sole emphasis on structural conditions and political processes. Instead, prioritising the voices of the women combatants places the production of subjectivities and agencies at the centre, and
explores their dialectical relationship to objective conditions and practical constraints.
Originality/value: This article is one of the first to explore the importance of the experiences of female former combatants during the Northern Irish conflict with specific reference to their experience of imprisonment. The aim of this significant article is to situate our critical analysis grounded in Foucauldian theory drawing on 2
theoretical tools of power, resistance and subjectivity in order to make sense of women's experiences of conflict and imprisonment in Ireland. It is suggested that power and resistance need to be re-
appropriated in order to examine such unique gendered experiences that have been hiddenin mainstream criminological accounts of the Irish Conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-571
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Volume37
Issue number9/10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2017

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