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Book Summaries | Conflict Field Research
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Book Summaries

Book Summaries

Höglund, Kristine and Magnus Oberg, eds (2011). Understanding Peace Research: Methods and Challenges. London: Routledge.

Research on conflict-ridden societies carries special challenges for the collection and evaluation of information about the conflict and its actors. First, due to the nature of information emerging, incentives to misrepresent and propaganda is common. News coverage is sometimes poor and reporting is often incomplete, selective and biased. Second, the sensitivity of the topic and the questions posed in peace and conflict research means that access to and the security of informants can be a problem. This book provides a comprehensive overview of different methods and sources of information-gathering for students and researchers, as well as the challenges presented by such work.


Huggins, Martha K. and Marie-Louise Glebbeek, eds. (2009). Women Fielding Danger: Negotiating Ethnographic Identities in Field Research. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 

Women Fielding Danger shows how identity performances can facilitate or block field research outcomes. Focusing on ethnographic research across a wide range of disciplines and world regions, this deeply informed book presents practical “to-dos” and technical research strategies. In addition, it offers unique illustrations of how the political, geographic, and organizational realities of field sites shape identity negotiations and research outcomes. Understanding these dynamics, the authors show, is key to surviving the ethnographic field.


Nordstrom, Carolyn and Antonius C.G.M. Robben, eds. (1996). Fieldwork Under Fire: Contemporary Studies of Violence and Culture. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Fieldwork Under Fire is a path-breaking collection of essays written by anthropologists who have experienced the unpredictability and trauma of political violence firsthand. These essays combine theoretical, ethnographic, and methodological points of view to illuminate the processes and solutions that characterize life in dangerous places. They describe the first, often harrowing, experience of violence, the personal and professional problems that arise as troubles escalate, and the often surprising creative strategies people use to survive.


Robben, Antonius C.G.M. and Jeffrey Sluka, eds. (2012). Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader, 2nd edition. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader, 2nd edition provides readers with a picture of the breadth, variation, and complexity of fieldwork. The updated selections offer insight into the ethnographer’s experience of gathering and analyzing data, and a richer understanding of the conflicts, hazards and ethical challenges of pursuing fieldwork around the globe.


Robben, Antonius C.G.M. ed. (2010). Iraq at a Distance: What Anthropologists Can Teach Us About the War. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

The volume is a bold attempt by six distinguished anthropologists to study a war zone too dangerous for fieldwork. They break new ground by using their ethnographic imagination as a research tool to analyze the Iraq War through insightful comparisons with previous and current armed conflicts in Cambodia, Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Argentina. This innovative approach extends the book’s relevance beyond a critical understanding of the devastating war in Iraq. More and more parts of the world of long-standing ethnographic interest are becoming off-limits to researchers because of the war on terror. This book serves as a model for the study of other inaccessible regions, and it shows that the impossibility of conducting ethnographic fieldwork does not condemn anthropologists to silence.


Schatz, Edward, ed (2009). Political Ethnography: What Immersion Adds to the Study of Power Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Scholars of politics have sought in recent years to make the discipline more hospitable to qualitative methods of research. Lauding the results of this effort and highlighting its potential for the future,  Political Ethnography makes a compelling case for one such method in particular. Ethnography, the contributors amply demonstrate in a wide range of original essays, is uniquely suited for illuminating the study of politics.


Schrag, Zachary M. (2010) Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965-2009. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. 

Schrag draws on original research and interviews with the key shapers of the institutional review board regime to raise important points about the effect of the IRB process on scholarship. He explores the origins and the application of these regulations and analyzes how the rules—initially crafted to protect the health and privacy of the human subjects of medical experiments—can limit even casual scholarly interactions such as a humanist interviewing a poet about his or her writing. In assessing the issue, Schrag argues that biomedical researchers and bioethicists repeatedly excluded social scientists from rule making and ignored the existing ethical traditions in nonmedical fields. Ultimately, he contends, IRBs not only threaten to polarize medical and social scientists, they also create an atmosphere wherein certain types of academics can impede and even silence others.


This edited volume guides researchers in identifying and addressing challenges in conducting qualitative research in difficult circumstances, such as conducting research in autocratic or uncooperative regimes, with governmental or non-governmental officials, and perhaps most importantly, with reluctant respondents such as victims of genocide or (on the other side of the coin) war criminals. The volume proceeds in five substantive sections, each addressing a different challenge of conducting field research in conflict-affected or repressive situations: ethics, access, veracity, security, identity, objectivity, and behavior. This important text will be vital reading for students, scholars, and researchers in the areas of research methods, international relations, anthropology, and human rights. It will also be of keen interest to policy practioners and NGOs, and especially relevant for those working in the regions of Africa, Latin America, and Asia.


Thomson, SusanAn Ansoms and Jude Murison, eds (2013) Emotional and Ethical Challenges for Field Research in Africa: The Story Behind the Findings. London: Routledge.

Academic literature rarely gives an account of the ethical and emotional challenges the researcher is confronted with before, during and after being in the field. Nonetheless, they deserve proper attention, to help fathom the inevitable bias in the researchers’ position in the field and to assess the quality of the research findings. In addition, they can show that the façade of ‘scientific validity and neutrality’ often hides a pragmatic approach that shapes the research process. Presenting their personal accounts, a variety of researchers who have done field research in the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa explore the challenges faced when engaging in local-level research in difficult situations.