Under suspicious eyes: surveillance states, security zones and ethnographic fieldwork
Martin Sökefeld (LMU Munich)
Sabine Strasser (University of Bern)
Start time:
1 August, 2014 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This workshop invites papers dealing with research in sites that provokes suspicion and surveillance during fieldwork, and aims at discussing and theorizing ethical, methodological and political implications.

Long abstract:

Time and again, ethnographic fieldwork has taken place in contexts of suspicion and surveillance. Yet anthropological interest in security zones and areas of heightened control has increased, raising once more questions of control, collaboration and moral practices in precarious research sites. Governments are often suspicious of investigation and try to monitor research through their bureaucratic institutions or secret police. In addition, studies of large companies, power plants, asylum camps, fertility clinics or illicit trafficking are frequently guarded by security agencies. Anthropologists thus have to come to terms with the fact that not only researchers observe and ask questions but also are simultaneously under quite obvious observation and surveillance. This has a number of significant ethical, political as well as methodological consequences, since control and suspicion affect our relations with our partners and interlocutors in the field. They may be pressurized not to interact with or to report on researchers. Participation in fieldwork may incur significant "costs" on our research partners, and mutual trust - possibly the most important "resource" for fieldwork - is often affected or destroyed. In addition, these circumstances may influence options of what can be published.

If we do not want to completely abandon fieldwork in such surveillance states and security zones, we have to seriously deal with the ethical, political and methodological issues arising from suspicion and surveillance. The workshop invites papers that share such fieldwork experiences and discuss their implications.