Colin Coulter, Contemporary Northern Irish Society: An Introduction, London: Pluto Press, 1999, £45.00 (£14.99 pbk), 286 pp. (ISBN 0-7453-1244-6)
Graham Ellison and Jim Smyth, The Crowned Harp: Policing Northern Ireland, London: Pluto Press, 2000, £45.00 (£14.99 pbk), xix+218 pp. (ISBN 0-7453-1393-0)
Eamonn Slater and Michel Peillon (eds.), Memories of the Present: A Sociological Chronicle of Ireland 1997-1998, Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 2000, IR£19.00, 268 pp. (ISBN 1-9024-4829-4)
Two common-sense phrases, widely used in everyday language, sum up the sociological paradox of Northern Ireland – ‘unless you're from the place you can't begin to understand it’, and ‘anyone who isn't confused here doesn't know what's going on’. That is, Northern Ireland is believed to be both unique and unintelligible. This is paradoxical for two reasons. Sociologists have long sought to render Northern Ireland intelligible and to locate it in a comparative framework with similar societies elsewhere. They have done so to the point where, along with other social scientists, they have made it one of the world's most researched societies. In his book on contemporary Northern Irish society, Coulter describes it as proportionately the most studied place on the planet.