Fieldwork in IR


Project 1

‘Fields’ of IR | Epistemic Violence, Real-Life Encounters and Methodologies


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Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life and a secret life, Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez once told his biographer Gerald Martin. International Relations (IR) as a discipline has long entertained a public life of its own that connects both to western imperialism and the fashioning of global politics. Against these premises, critical (poststructuralist, feminist, non-western, decolonial etc.) scholarship has emerged with the goal of confronting – and changing – the racial, gendered, and elitist power imbalances that continue to pervade the study of IR and related fields. By the same token, an increasing number of IR scholars engage in different forms of ‘fieldwork’ across the world, researching sites marked by similar global inequalities, violences, and dangers.

In doing so, students, researchers and professors have aimed to bring the ‘reality on the ground’ to the forefront of their analytical work on war, peace, terrorism, globalization, commerce, migration, fragile states and the like. Despite the ethical and political difficulties of work of this kind, surprisingly little attention has been focused on the private, secret and other ‘lives’ of the countless individuals – researchers, brokers, assistants, informants, and organizations alike – who populate the ‘fields’ of IR. By concealing details of the mistakes we make, the tricks we use, the emotions we spare, and the things we learn, these ‘secret’ parts of fieldwork rarely, if at all, become part of the more ‘public’, scientific processes of publishing, presenting and teaching.

The aim of this workshop is to bring our shared expertise to bear on emerging discussions on how we research world politics: to interrogate our moral, discursive and material ‘fieldwork’ practices from a creative, interdisciplinary and critical lens, and to explore novel perspectives that help bringing forward increasingly diverse outlooks into IR. We thus invite both junior and senior scholars from a range of disciplinary traditions, working in different regions of the world and utilizing a variety of methodological tools to address the growing interest in the practicalities, ethics, and ‘sensitivities’ of conducting, understanding, challenging and writing about ‘fieldwork’. We strongly encourage scholars to cover topics rooted in their own real-life experiences as they engage critically with conflict-prone environments, societal conflict, epistemic violence, power dynamics and so on.

The workshop welcomes (but does not limit) submissions on the following questions:

– Beyond ethics, how can we develop a common research ethos?

– How can we engage methodological issues of defining ‘the field/fieldwork’ as a disciplinary-constrained, and historically-constructed process in order to tend to ethical concerns, valorization of situated and located knowledge production and violent processes of “othering”? Should we even do fieldwork at all?

– What can ethnographic, visual, writing styles and other creative methodologies bring to the study of both real-world (material, discursive, visual, emotional) experiences and ‘grand theorizing’ in IR? How may these methodologies help theorize linkages between ordinary, micro-experiences and broader, international politics?

– What practices should we nurture to ensure research brokers, assistants, and informants receive the care

and respect they deserve? How do we deal with loss or trauma? Far worse: how do we deal with causing loss and trauma?

– How do we write about situatedness and self-reflexivity in productive ways that avoid issues of ‘navelgazing’?

Get the abstract’s PDF here.

Send your questions and concerns to:

Stéphanie Perazzone; Janine Bressmer; and for general queries about EWIS:

Project 2

“Disrupting” Fieldwork | Interrogating Current Methodological Perspectives in the Study of IR



Dr. Péclard, senior lecturer at the University of Geneva, and myself have invited submissions to Section 11 Section on “Disrupting” Fieldwork at the EISA’s 13th Pan-European Conference on International Relations (11-14 September 2019 in Sofia, Bulgaria).

Apart from encouraging creative and inter-disciplinary submissions, we are particularly pleased we have gathered the works of both junior and senior researchers through 4 panels and over 15 participants, who can speak to each other and discuss the changes that have affected methods and methodologies in IR in the recent past

Section abstract:

The study of IR has long employed epistemological standpoints that disseminate the hegemonic worldviews of a western political elite both within academia and policy circles. Unsurprisingly, the long-standing methodological bias towards powerful men, organizations and institutions, rule, formal documentation and policymaking has reproduced asymmetrical power relations along gender lines, between the so-called ‘West and the ‘Non-West’, and among higher-politics and ordinary citizens. Additionally, it has often failed, time and again, to move beyond crippling binaries that have pitted ‘structure’ against ‘agency’, the ‘local’ against the ‘global’, and qualitative against quantitative methods. As a result, a growing number of scholars has sought to address the numerous ethical, moral and political challenges these theoretical and methodological perspectives carry along with them. Focusing on the ‘practical’, theoretical and inter-disciplinary dimensions of ‘doing’ fieldwork in both documenting and producing (global) politics, this section aims to gather scholarly works that disrupt and interrogate the purposes, content and contours of international political inquiry, through a set of ‘disruptive’ approaches to gathering data ‘on the ground’.

In so doing, the panels address the following questions: How can we put in dialogue various disciplinary epistemologies and their different representations of ‘scientificity‘ within the social sciences? What are the concrete ethical and moral challenges pertaining to interviewing, visualizing and reporting on the lives of (sometimes subordinated) others? How do historical traces, colonial legacies and gender relations inform data-gathering processes ‘in the field’? Why might international political theory benefit from historicized, critical or ‘self-deprecating’ methodological approaches? How can these be implemented in both theoretical and methodological terms? How can IR make ‘the mundane matter’ (Enloe, 2011), and can inter-disciplinary perspectives change fieldworks and data analysis?

For more information, here is the full Section programme, and the EISA PEC online searchable conference programme can be found here.

Project 3

Researching Conflict | Doing Fieldwork in Divisive and Violent Contexts

Supported by the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding at the Graduate Institute, Geneva & the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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WORKSHOP SUMMARY                 

This workshop intends to bring together both junior and senior scholars from a range of professional backgrounds and disciplinary traditions, working in different regions of the world and utilizing a variety of methodological tools to address the growing interest in the practicalities, ethics, and ‘sensitivities’ of conducting fieldwork in divisive or violent contexts. The aim of the workshop is to not only bring our shared experiences and expertise to bear on emerging discussions and debates on the conduct of fieldwork in challenging environments but to rethink, and in the process, re-center, and interrogate current intellectual debates on how we research (societal) conflict from a critical and inter-disciplinary lens.

Although disparate, the topics covered during those two days are deeply interrelated and rooted in the ‘real-life’ experiences of the participants as they seek, and sometimes struggle to, understand, interrogate, document and analyze conflict and dynamics of violence in a diversity of contexts and societies. Three overarching themes connect the various panels and group discussions presented below. First, presenters are to reflect, critically, on the unequal relations of power that have structured the ‘researcher-researched’ interactions both within daily experiences through the problems of affect, race, privilege and researcher positionality, and within the broader field of academic institutional life. Second, the discussion will also revolve around grater methodological issues of defining ‘conflict’ and elaborating on ways to foster research sensitivity via ethical concerns and risk mitigation, and tend to long-term research schemes and histories. Finally, the workshop participants will turn to the various patterns and challenges of knowledge production as they may probe, encounter and observe [international] actors of conflict and post-conflict intervention and research ‘brokers’ in conflict and sensitive environments.

Prior to the workshop  (6-7th of June) a Public Discussion entitled “The Real World Dilemmas of Collecting Datat in Difficult Circumstances“, will be held on June 5th, with Peace Medie (University of Bristol) and Dennis Rodgers (The Graduate Institute, Geneva). You’ll find more information here, and you can register here.

Download the full programme here.


Peace Medie, University of Bristol

Dennis Rodgers,  The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Luisa Enria, University of Bath

Gauthier Marchais, Sussex University

Emery Kalema, Stellenbosch University

Henri Myrttinen, International Alert

Janine Bressmer, The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Alice Baroni, The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Martina Santschi, swisspeace

Ursina Bentele, swisspeace

Caitlin Ryan, University of Groningen

Jonathan Austin, The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Surer Mohamed, Cambridge University

Swati Parashar, University of Gothenburg

Didier Péclard, Université de Genève