Accepted paper:

Researchers come from abroad: Fieldwork and economy of strange(r)ness in Nigeria's Delta region


Babajide Ololajulo (University of Ibadan)

Paper short abstract:

This paper highlights certain cultural factors that tend to construct strange(r)ness into a capital for western academics conducting research in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

Paper long abstract:

It is not uncommon to hear faculties in Nigerian universities complain about western academics having easier access to government offices, traditional palaces, and important fieldwork sites that are otherwise closed on home-based scholars. Interestingly, fieldwork narratives, particularly those bordering on qualitative research, highlight the challenges the outsider or the insider-outsider faced in gaining access to the field-site or securing cooperation of informants. How is positionality and identity of Western scholars deployed for research access? And in what ways is the Western identity of scholars entwined with notion of authenticity of intellectual production? In this paper, I draw on my fieldwork experiences in Nigeria's Delta region to illustrate how ideas of strange(r)ness feed into questions of research access. I argue that scholars' position in relation to the field-site is structured not only by North-South asymmetries, but also by the social distance between the researcher and the field, and cultural constructions bordering on being strange. By strange(r)ness, I do not have in mind a notion of an 'objective outsider' advanced by colonial anthropology or the question of how postmodern anthropologists engage with their subjects. Rather, I show as important factors in the access Western scholars may have, cultural sentiments compelling assistance to strangers, positioning of the stranger vis-à-vis local power politics, notions of an economy of friendship forged with a stranger, and of fieldwork research as outsider driven.

panel Anth02
Hierarchies of knowledge production in academic collaborations between Africa and Europe [Panel of the Association for the Anthropology of Social Change and Development - APAD]