Fieldwork in conflict, conflict in fieldwork: methodological and ethical challenges in researching African warzones
Maria Eriksson Baaz (The Nordic Africa Institute)
Mats Utas (The Nordic Africa Institute)
Judith Verweijen (Utrecht University)
Start time:
29 June, 2013 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel addresses methodological and ethical pitfalls of conducting field based research in African warzones. The papers can take the form of "stories of fieldwork", or more theoretically informed reflections based on observations on how fieldwork in warzones is conducted and reported.

Long abstract:

The proliferation of conflict studies departments over the last decade has led to a boom of field-based research in "dangerous fields". However, systematic attention to and reflections on the methodological and ethical challenges of fieldwork in conflict zones has lagged behind. For instance, few methodological discussions engage in serious reflection on epistemic violence and the positionality of the researcher, ignoring how academic representations of conflict zones, as well as interaction in the field, are informed by post-colonial discourses and unequal power-relations. Furthermore, attention to the complexity of "building rapport" when dealing with perpetrators and armed actors has been limited, despite the immense ethical challenges this can imply, sometimes with far-reaching consequences not only for the researcher, but importantly, for those "researched upon". In addition, the voices of the assistants, fixers and interpreters who often play a key role in enabling this type of research are often glaringly absent. The papers in the panel can take the form of "stories of field-work", or more theoretically informed reflections based on observations on how field-work in warzones is conducted and reported. The papers should engage somehow with some of the following themes: Positionality and the politics of representation and interaction as shaped in a post-colonial context; The problems and dilemmas in assessing risks; The roles and vulnerabilities of local "intermediaries"; The ethical challenges of being identified, as well as identifying with, perpetrators of violence; The ethics and dilemmas of interactions with foreign actors in the research context ( e.g. humanitarians, diplomats and military).