Separate to unite
: the paradox of education in deeply divided societies

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis evaluates the political function of formal education in deeply divided societies, and highlights constraints and opportunities for education reform in jurisdictions that adopt consociational power-sharing to manage violent identitybased conflicts. It compares education reforms in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia since the Taif Agreement (1989), the Belfast Agreement (1998) and the Ohrid Agreement (2001). These three agreements are similar in that they established consociational power-sharing to regulate Lebanon’s civil war, Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” and Macedonia’s conflict, respectively. All three presented schools as important instruments for furthering long-term peace, in particular through curricular reforms in history education, citizenship education and languages, as well as initiatives for contact among children of different ethnic, religious and national backgrounds. 
In four separate chapters, this thesis compares reforms in the areas of history education, citizenship education and languages of instruction, as well as in the overall structure of compulsory education, in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia. Each chapter evaluates the extent to which the principles and practices of consociation influence and constrain education policy. Two additional chapters provide the essential historical and theoretical background to the comparative analysis. The analysis is based on over 75 interviews, official data and documents as well as a variety of secondary sources. 
This thesis contributes to theories of conflict regulation by showing that formal education, while furthering the short-term stability of power-sharing by reproducing its core narratives and hierarchies, may also plant the seeds of future conflicts. It concludes that consociations may generate consociational education systems, which help reproduce the basic building blocks of political consociations: mutually exclusive confessional, ethnic, national and political communities. A paradox characterises consociational education systems. Initiatives that promote unity and integration in schools tend to generate backlashes against assimilation. To further social cohesion and transition out of conflict, education reforms need to accommodate the separate institutions and mutually exclusive identity-forming narratives of the local communities in question.
Date of Award1 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Kerr (Supervisor) & Rory Miller (Supervisor)

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