Acts of union: Youth sub-culture and ethnic identity amongst Protestants in Northern Ireland

Bell, D.

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Bell, D. (1987). Acts of union: Youth sub-culture and ethnic identity amongst Protestants in Northern Ireland. The British Journal of Sociology, 38(2), 158–183.


Main finding
In Northern Ireland, young, working class Protestant males help sustain a Loyalist view of ethnic identity. The formal institutions of Orangeism and the youth culture on the street are linked by ‘blood and thunder’ marching bands. An autonomous milieu of Loyalist youth culture was found by researchers to be important in creating a positive view of Protestant identity. In marginalized urban areas in Britain, working class teenagers express communal and ethnic identities to create stylized hostility towards outsiders. Preservation and demarcation of Protestant territory and identity are major concerns to both the Loyalist youth and the parental culture it was born from. Youth work and education programs will continue to be ineffective if they fail to account for the way peer group associations and cultural practices form attitudes of youth in Northern Ireland.

Description of method used in the article
The researchers identified schools, youth clubs, and the street as places with different levels of institutional formality. Young people were questioned about their attitudes and activities. Semi-structured interviews with two youth clubs, a school-based questionnaire, and an ethnographic investigation into young people involved in Loyalist marching street activity were used to research to investigate attitudes and peer group activities. Four hundred and one students participated in the questionnaire, representing 72 percent of fourth years and 42 percent of fourth years from the three schools where research was conducted. The three schools chosen for study are the only secondary schools located in Londonderry. Over 80 percent of the school population identify as Protestant.

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