In Belfast Imaginary: Art and Urban Reinvention, Katharine Keenan argues for the reimagining of place in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit. This deeply researched ethnography depicts the work of artists and policy makers as they imagine and perform a new urban identity for Belfast in the liminal time between the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit.
Katharine Keenan is director of Foundation and Corporate Relations at Carthage College.
Chapter 1: In Medias Res
Chapter 2: Third Way Art – Policy and Process
Chapter 3: The Painting on the Wall
Chapter 4: Performing Diversity
Chapter 5: Stopping in the Street
Conclusion: Belfast in the Meantime
The Belfast Imaginary provides a timely and important review of how artists, in concert with public officials, have pioneered what Katharine Keenan calls ‘third way art’ in the imagining and construction of a new Belfast. Keenan shows that we can all take heart that a city, so torn by decades of violent conflict and years of post-conflict liminality, can still imagine itself as a space of creativity and peace. The Belfast Imaginary may very well serve as a blueprint of similar imaginings in places geographically distant but close in spirit to this rapidly evolving global city.
The Belfast Imaginary is a much-needed addition to social scientific literature on Northern Ireland. While many book-length treatments have dwelt squarely on ethnonationalism and the infamous sectarian divide, Keenan‘s richly ethnographic work seeks to shift our attention to the social predicaments of Belfast in the years and decades following the Good Friday Agreement. By unpacking the frictions and contradictions that inhere in how ‘history’ and ‘tradition’ are defined and managed, materialized and performed in and for a post-Troubles era, Katherine Keenan succeeds brilliantly in untethering the anthropology of Northern Ireland from its longstanding moorings in the semiotics of binary social difference. In so doing, this book redresses a significant lacuna in ethnographic analysis of Northern Ireland and is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand how Belfast’s people organize and navigate the uncertain symbolism and politics of the region today.