Governance as dialogue: Working across divided communities
Schwabenland, Christina (2010)

By Christina Schwabenland, London Metropolitan University

This paper will describe some preliminary analysis of a pilot study of voluntary organisations working across religious and communal divides in three countries; India, Israel / Palestine and Ireland. The purpose of the study is to explore the ways in which voluntary organisations have constructed institutional responses to the challenges facing their societies and to identify any shared learning.

Tensions between communities of identity, whether the main focus is on a religious, cultural or ethnic affiliation, are a significant, and in many areas a growing element in contemporary societies and understanding of how to manage these tensions is limited. Voluntary organisations may represent a particularly fruitful focus for pursuing such understanding because of their expertise in developing forms of organising that embody their values. Many of these organisations are founded out of a feeling that traditional forms of organising and political activity are insufficient or even detrimental to the ongoing need to promote dialogue and shared understanding across divided communities.

This paper will concentrate particularly on how the organisations studied in this pilot have responded to the governance issues that are presented by working in areas where conflicts in values are at the heart of their mission. I will also draw on work by Cockburn (1998) and Payes (2005) to identify some of the underlying difficulties presented in working in areas where the organisations may find their own conceptualisation of governance issues to be in conflict with those of the political regimes of the nations in which they are based.

Cockburn, C. (1998) The Space Between Us: Negotiating Gender and National Identities in Conflict London: Zed Books.

Payes, S. (2005) Palestinian NGOs in Israel: The Politics of Civil Society London: Tauris Academic Studies.

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