‘Organic Intellectuals’ as Catalysts of Change: Working with Young People in Conflict and Post Conflict Environments

By Alan Grattan and Susan Morgan.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Using the concept of ‘organic intellectual’, this paper explores the role of the indigenous community activist who engages with young people who become involved, directly or indirectly in communal and political conflict. The research also seeks to compare the skills, strategies and struggles utilised in this process between conflict and post conflict situations. Given the ‘fluid’ nature of the notion of the ‘organic intellectual’ it will also explore the intra-communal ‘struggle’ between ‘organic intellectuals’ with differing and opposing ideological worldviews, for the ‘hearts and minds’ of young people who find their communities in the forefront of conflict. The ‘organic intellectual’, being of and from the indigenous community and with an understanding of that community’s ‘commonsense philosophy’, is in a unique postion to influence and ‘empower’ young people. Often in conflict situations, and due to the socio-political realities and experiences of their community, many young people find themselves under communal pressure to enter into direct action and conflict or to resist such involvement. Either way a decision of this nature carries with it far reaching sociological and psychological consequences for the young individual and the community. The ideological position and subsequent role of the ‘organic intellectual’ is particularly significant when communities are in the process of both ‘divergence’ i.e. moving towards conflict and ‘convergence’ i.e. in the process of reconciliation and reconstruction. As ‘organic intellectuals’ they are in a position to motivate their respective communities through their ability to understand and articulate the prevailing dominant ‘commonsense philosophy’ and world view. As such they may also be ‘catalysts’ for change either as key mediators or antagonists in the ‘divergent’ or ‘convergent’ process. This paper, and on-going research, explores the struggles, strategies and skills of the ‘organic intellectual’ in working with young people to empower them to engage in democratic political processes.

Keywords: Organic Intellectuals, Commonsense Philosophy, Working with Young People, Conflict and Post Conflict Environments, Process of Divergerence and Convergence

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 2, Issue 6, pp.185-192. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 505.678KB).

Dr. Alan Grattan

Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, Hampshire, UK

My main research interests include young people and political participation as well as issues of 'identity' and diversity, 'communities in conflict' and the processes of post conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. I was a member of the 'Youth Work in Contested Spaces' Project which was a joint initiative with the University of Ulster, YouthAction Northern Ireland and Public Achievement. This was a three year partnership programme involving academics, policy makers and practitionerswith a focus on researching and sharing ideas on working with young people in conflict and post conflict environments. The project took my research to South Africa, Israel and Palestine, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia as well as Northern Ireland. Previously I held the position of Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Irish Studies at the Queen's University of Belfast as well as teaching Sociology and Irish Studies at St. Mary's University College, Twickenham, UK and Community Studies at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland. Before entering higher education as a lecturer I worked on many community based anti-sectarian and diversity projects as a Community Education Organiser in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I currently hold the position of lecturer in the Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Southampton, UK.

Susan Morgan

Lecturer, Department of Community Youth Work, School of Sociology and Applied Social Sciences, University of Ulster, Belfast, UK

Prior to working at the University of Ulster I gained extensive experience working with young people as a practitioner in the informal education sector in Northern Ireland. Much of this experience was gained working within segregated communities during the period of intense conflict in Northern Ireland. Work included, among other things, exploring with young people their understanding and experiences of living in a divided and polarised society. I was also involved in developing political education programmes that engaged young women in peace building processes. My teaching and research interests include the development of gender conscious practice with young people in informal education settings, as well as work with young people in communities both experiencing and emerging from conflict.


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