Project C

Spaces of conflict


Principal Investigator

Professor Gill Valentine –

Research Fellows

Dr Johan Andersson –

Dr Lucy

PhD Candidate

Kasia – for PhD project webpage click here


Spaces of conflict: Conflicting and competing rights in the city

Project C addressed spaces of conflict focusing on groups with conflicting and competing rights in public spaces. Of concern here were the relationships between different social groups in terms of their right to occupy and take up public space in different forms. This project involved two different case studies, with research being carried out in the UK and in Poland.

The first case study investigated conflict around Faith and secularism in contemporary Britain

Questions regarding the role of religion in public life remain contested, as exemplified by recent debates on issues such as same-sex marriage, gender equality, and faith schools. While some argue that a climate of ‘militant secularism’ now means that religious groups (including Christians) can be viewed as persecuted minorities, others suggest that religion still occupies a dominant role in the political sphere. There are also inequalities between different faith groups. For example, the Church of England has automatic access to the House of Lords, while other faith groups occupy more marginal positions in the political structure. Furthermore, individuals may suffer the additional pressures of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination.

Responding to these key social tensions and concerns, this case-study drew on focus group research with three faith communities in Leeds (Christian, Muslim, and Jewish) as well as with atheist groups to explore these issues in depth. By using various gatekeepers in different subsections of the religious communities, the research explored both inter- and intra-faith relations, while focusing primarily on tensions between atheist groups and various faith communities. The results of this research have been disseminated at various conferences and through the publication of journal articles.

The second case study focused on the tensions between Pro-life and pro-choice groups, looking at spaces of conflict around a moral issue in the UK and Poland.

This project investigated conflict between groups that were both religious and secular in nature regarding the topic of abortion policy and access to reproductive healthcare.  Specifically the research looked at the tension between pro-life and pro-choice activism in contemporary British society. Debates around abortion can become a significant tension when reform of the abortion law is proposed or debated. However, on an everyday basis it may be a dormant tension that is not acknowledged, but is rather at the fringe of the public imagination. Yet in the last two years there has been increased media attention to these debates, including efforts by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries’ to ammend the Health and Social Care Bill, as well as new forms of activism such as “vigils” outside abortion clinics and web-based campaigning using social media. The UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has also voiced his personal opinion over cutting the current UK abortion limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, resulting in a number of online responses. Most often, the debate has centred on the question of when human life begins, and the implications of this for determining whether and when abortions can be allowed.

 The project therefore utilised both primary and secondary research methods to investigate these particular issues. The primary element included informal interviews with key informants, for example leaders of NGO’s and charities, community group leaders, and protest and activist groups and campaigners in different sites. Observational and participatory methods were also employed within the context of spaces of conflict involved with this issue. This particular method was utilised to look at the way in which pro-life and pro-choice groups occupied and took up space, and the tactics that were involved in such campaigning. The secondary data collection element involved investigating sources such as local media and the internet (as well as connections to national media). This allowed us to assess the way in which the online sphere facilitated public, political and social debates.  In connection with this media analysis, the project was also interested in how the conflicting groups were represented in the media (and how they represented themselves through new media such as the internet) to address the spaces within which the tensions have been occurring as well as the flow of information around these debates between specific groups and the general population.

Further, the project investigated the wider ramifications of these tensions and looked at how these tensions were being managed or contained as well as the nature and outcome of any attempts to resolve them. These themes have also been investigated in the context of Poland by Kasia Narkowicz. Finally, the historical context of this conflict was seen as a vital element in understanding the contemporary situation. Therefore, the positioning of each group and their relationships to wider histories (for example in connection with feminist rights activists and movements) and the specific ways that inter-group tensions are represented as historically grounded were important points of focus within this project.

The analysis of the case study material generated knowledge and understanding about the causes of group tensions. The data collected from project C enabled the research team to identify strategies for the prevention, management and resolution of such spatial and social tensions. The results of this research have been disseminated at a number of international conferences across the social science disciplines and academic papers have been prepared for publication (see publications list).

Related publications

  • Published papers

Andersson, J. and Valentine, G2014. Picturing the poor: fundraising and the depoliticisation of homelessness, Social and Cultural Geography, doi10.1080/14649365.2014.950688

Jackson, L. and Valentine, G. 2014. Emotion and politics in a mediated public sphere: Questioning democracy, responsibility and ethics in a computer mediated worldGeoforum, 52, 193-202.

Andersson, J., Sadgrove, J. and Valentine, G. 2012. Consuming campus: geographies of encounter at a British universitySocial & Cultural Geography, 13, 5, 501-515.

  • Book chapters

Valentine, G. 2012. Spaces of proximity and encounter: towards an understanding of cities as sites of difference, in A. Cancellieri and G. Scandurra (eds). Tracce Urbane. Alla Ricerca Della Città, Milano: Franco Angeli, 314-324. ISBN: 9788856848427

  • Book chapters in press

Gawlewicz, A. and Narkowicz, K. (in press) Islamophobia on the move: circulation of anti-Muslim prejudice between Poland and the UK, in Y. Suleiman (ed.) Muslims in the UK and Europe Cambridge: University of Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies

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