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Conflicting Fields | Real-World Dilemmas of Collecting Data in Difficult Circumstances
A PUBLIC DISCUSSION
As part of the “Researching Conflict: Doing Fieldwork in Divisive and Violent Contexts”, this event seeks to trigger provoking thoughts and critical stands on what it means to conduct fieldwork in conflict-prone environments, based on the experiences and expertise of Dennis Rodgers, Research Professor in Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Geneva & Peace Medie, Senior Lecturer in Gender and International Studies at the University of Bristol.
What do we understand the meaning of conflict-prone, violent, divisive, risky, or difficult fields to be? How does research in divisive and violent contexts present new methodological challenges and require different approaches than traditional fieldwork settings?
More attention than ever has been directed to critical questioning of how we conduct research and its implication for those with whom we work with/on. Such critical introspection would appear to require even greater reflection for scholars conducting fieldwork in a context marked by violent conflict and authoritarian regimes whose fieldsites arguably pose heightened challenges for doing fieldwork.
Many scholars maintain however, that systematic attention to and reflections on the methodological and ethical challenges of researching and conducting fieldwork in conflict zones continues to lag behind.
Where: Auditorium A2, Maison de la Paix.
When: June 5th, 2019, 18.30-20.00
“Disrupting” Fieldwork: Interrogating Current Methodological Perspectives in the Study of IR
EISA PEC 2019 SECTION | CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS IS OPEN
Exciting news! Dr. Péclard, senior lecturer at the University of Geneva, and myself are inviting submissions to the Section on “Disrupting” Fieldwork at the EISA’s 13th Pan-European Conference on International Relations (11-14 September 2019 in Sofia, Bulgaria).
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?
The section welcomes panels, roundtables and papers on the following (but not limited to) themes – feel free to submit novel ideas:
- Positionality, Ethics and Challenges of Doing Fieldwork in violent and societal conflict
- Visual Methods, Technology and Data Production
- The Limits and Potentials of Critical Ethnography in IR
- Navigating Gendered Fieldworks
- Writing the Lives of Others
Submission guidelines can be found here and the deadline is 28 February. For any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact me (email@example.com) or Didier (didier.péclard@unige.ch).
International Conference | University of Geneva & the Swiss Association of African Studies present
Civil Wars and State Formation | Africa in Comparative Perspective
Geneva, November 15-17th
Update 2019: A summary (in French) is now available in the Swiss Society for African Studies newsletter.
This conference seeks to debate the social construction of order and legitimacy during and after violent conflict. It focuses on political orders put in place by armed groups, their strategies to legitimise their very existence as movements as well as their claim to power, and on the extent to which they strive and manage to institutionalise their military power and transform it into political domination.
Full programme here.
‘Shouldn’t you be teaching me’ | State Mimicry in the Congo
Drawing from alternative views on (African) statehood via the notion of “mimicry” in [post]colonial settings, this article investigates the transformational dynamics of routinized micro-interactions between street-level bureaucrats and ordinary citizens in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Goma. It is argued that while conventional analyses of “state weakness” may construe the Congolese state as needing better imitation of the western registers of modernity, ethnographic and historical explorations of state-society interactions in the Congo reveal a different story. In particular, it will be shown that the various forms of “state-mimicry” at work in the Congo result in fact—via the “state effect”—in a local “hyperreality” of the Congolese state in which “copy” and “model” entertain an ambivalent but constitutive relationship.
THESIS RESEARCH DISSEMINATION
The IHEID research page features a short interview about my PhD monograph “Congo | A State Ecosystem”.
Some bits and pieces:
How did you come to choose your research topic?
As a child I grew up in Kinshasa, the capital-city of the DRC. My family had been there for decades, and the history of colonialism and the place of privilege I come from always played a role in how pressing it felt that research be conducted in different ways so that we can contribute to producing alternative narratives about the lives, struggles and politics of those who live in places like the Congo. Always connected to a “Heart of Darkness” through the tropes of barbarism and reified readings of its cultural contributions and political and historical dynamics, the postcolonial African worlds, and the DR Congo in particular, are still “stuck” between lingering Afropessimism and over-optimistic (and fallacious) discourses of “emergence”. Precisely because issues of poverty, conflict and political order in postcolonial Africa often revolve around the issue of “the state” – and, in general, its failures and fragilities – I endeavoured to deconstruct and reconstruct what state-society relations look like and what governing might mean, not merely from various theoretical standpoints across academia, but through the real-worldexperiences of those who continue to make and unmake the state at an ordinary, everyday level.
For more, visit the IHEID page here.
EWIS 2018 | Groningen
Click here for the list of participants and full programme.
Over 20 participants from a variety of disciplinary and professional presented their work, and Jonathan Austin, Rune Saugmann and myself are now working on a Special Issue proposal to be submitted within the next couple months. More soon!
Invitation to Apply! Heterogeneous Infrastructures in African Cities.
“Scholars and practitioners are increasingly grappling with alternative modes of infrastructural provision. This is motivated by scholarly interest in everyday infrastructural practices and politics as well as concerns about the economic, environmental, social and political viability of universal, uniform infrastructure networks. In theory and practice, this is resulting in challenges to existing urban theorization, political agendas and infrastructure provision.
The multiplicity of infrastructures undoubtedly creates challenges for both our scholarly generalization and normative practices. While there has been a growth of scholarship, much of this is case-based and performative, usefully focused on what is there and how it works.”
More information on the Situated UPE Collective website. Send out your application by May 30th!
My latest publication ‘The Workings of ‘Soft’ Governance in Crisis: Ambiguities of the State in DR Congo‘ is now published on The Global.
2018, April 3-5. Exciting times at the International Studies Association Annual Meeting, San Fransisco. I will be part of two great workshop/working group.
- ‘Unsettling’ International Relations: Knowing and Unknowing the Settler Colonial Present.
Covenors: Magid Shihade, Sharri Plonski, Elian Weizman & James Eastwood.
- To develop and refine new, more acute analytical and theoretical tools for understanding contemporary settler colonial relations, across and between different cases
- To bring different cases and communities of researchers into conversation with one another – particularly those often left out of these discussions – using a range of disciplinary, empirical and methodological approaches to unravel how settler colonialism continues to operate in and define the contemporary world
- To develop a long-term research network, with the aim of developing collective outputs, shared public/online platforms and the capacity to reach across disciplines and share our work with a range of academic and non-academic audiences
Convenors: Jonathan Austin, Anna Leander.
How do we make visceral, real, and lived sense of the International? The World Political Compositions project draws together contributions around the concept of composition, in the aesthetic sense of the term, and the five traditional senses of human perception, in order to answer this question more creatively, affectively, and – so – ‘objectively’ than they have been before. The contributors to the project have been asked to reflect on how simple sounds, sights, touches, smells, and tastes form the core of world political phenomena in terms of their manifestation of scale, their construction of systems of signification, their working to ‘make things happen’ around us, and ultimately their standing as the main building blocks of both everyday and academic sensemaking.
2018, February 27. Once again, I am organizing the screening of Kristof Bilsen’s Elephant’s Dream at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. The film will be followed by an open discussion with Kristof Bilsen, the film director, Alan Doss Executive Director at the Kofi Annan Foundation, and Fred Bauma, Founder of La LUCHA, DR Congo. I will be moderating the discussion. The event is promoted and supported by the Center on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding as well as Ciné@IHEID.
Further information and trailer available here.
Share widely !
December 2017 – February 2018. My first field research photographs are featured on In The Long Run, the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) blog, at the University of Cambridge. Get more visuals and information at:
2017, February 23. I convened the panel entitled ‘L’Etat ni miye, l’Etat ni weye, l ‘Etat ni shiye bote’. Unheard Voices, Everyday Power and Social Organization in Urban DRC’ at the International Studies Association’s annual convention in Baltimore.
The panel was chaired by Professor Gilles Carbonnier (at the Graduate Institute, Geneva) and invited two discussants, Pierre Englebert (Pomona University, California) and Oliver Jütersonke (The Graduate Institute, Geneva), to comment on 4 panelists’ works. Karen Büscher (Ghent University) discussed issues of statebuilding in Congo’s ‘boomtowns’, Suda Perera (University of Birmingham) dissected the ‘legitimacy loophole’ found in international intervention schemes, Michel Thill (Ghent University) gave a fine-grained analysis on negotiating order in local markets in Bukavu, and mine, which provided analytical and ethnographic insights on what I termed the ‘composite state’.
The abstract of the panel read as follow:
‘Marked by a long history of violence, scholars and policy-makers alike have frequently portrayed the Democratic Republic of Congo as a ‘paradigmatic case of state failure’, the ‘Rape Capital of the World’, Africa’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ to name a few. However, many academics of various disciplinary backgrounds took on decidedly novel, bottom-up and multi-disciplinary approaches. These seek to theorize how diffuse micro-power relations among myriad of private and public actors, who interact daily as they craft socio-economic survival skills, claim political voice or negotiate access to public services, disrupt our conventional order/disorder, state/non-state, formal/informal, public/private analytical dyads. Left unquestioned, binary, linear thinking obscures other equally primordial multi-trajectory dynamics that affect societal change at all levels. As the title of this panel attests, ‘the State is me, the State is you, the State is all of us’, power interactions are nowhere and everywhere. Such problématiques prove particularly salient in growing Congolese cities where scarce state-controlled urbanization and the ‘architecture of fear’ affect complex patterns of micro and macro-social organizations whose contours and larger ramifications at the national and international levels remain largely unexplored. This panel thus hopes to promote alternative and original contributions from young scholars dedicated to these issues’.
2016, October 11. Organized the screening of Kristof Bilsen‘s documentary ‘Elephant’s Dream‘ followed by an open discussion with the producer and Professor Tom De Herdt (University of Antwerp, Belgium) at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The event was made possible thanks to the logistical help of PhD candidate Cyril Brandt at UvA’s Education and Development research group, and the financial and logistical support of Dennis Rodgers, professor of International Development Studies at UvA’s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.
About 60 students both undergraduates and graduates attended the even that night, ans many asked questions to Kristof Bilsen who kindly shared his personal experience working in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Additional information on the movie’s synopsis can be found here, and one of my blog posts commenting the documentary can be found here.