Surviving Field Research: Working in Violent and Difficult Situations, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Surviving Field Research

Working in Violent and Difficult Situations, 1st Edition

Edited by Chandra Lekha Sriram, John C. King, Julie A. Mertus, Olga Martin-Ortega, Johanna Herman


280 pages

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In recent decades there has been increasing attention to mass atrocities such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other gross human rights violations. At the same time, there has been a vast increase in the number of academics and researchers seeking to analyze the causes of, and offer practical responses to, these atrocities. Yet there remains insufficient discussion of the practical and ethical challenges surrounding research into serious abuses and dealing with vulnerable populations.

The aim of this edited volume is to guide 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, behaviour.

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.


'Research on civil war and peacebuilding has grown substantially in the past decade, but there is as yet little guidance for those willing to go to the field in the special conditions of conflict zones. This volume of case studies provides a wealth of ethnographic information about what to expect and extremely useful advice from those who have done it. Practitioners as well as students will find it immensely welcome.' - Susan L. Woodward, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA

'This sensitive guide to the ethical and practical issues that accompany the conduct of field research in conflict and post-conflict settings is an absolute must for those who care about the safety and well being of those among whom they work. Gracefully written, this collection of the reflections of remarkably talented scholars should make a major impact on thinking about the responsibilities of the field researcher in situations where their questions and conclusions can pose threats to the subjects of their research and to themselves.' - William Reno, Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University, USA

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Surviving Research Julie Mertus 2. Demystifying field research John C. King Part 1: Ethics 3. Exceeding Scholarly Responsibility: IRBs and Political Constraints Judy Hemming 4. Methods and Ethics with Research Teams and NGOs: Comparing Experiences Across the Border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo Elizabeth Levy Paluck 5. Maintenance of Standards of Protection during Writeup and Publication Chandra Lekha Sriram Part 2: Access 6. Got Trust? The Challenge of Gaining Access in Conflict Zones Julie Norman 7. From Cell Phones to Coffee: Issues of Access in Egypt Courtney Radsch 8. "That is not what we authorised you to do…": Access and Government Interference in Highly Politicised Research Environments Susan Thomson Part 3: Veracity 9. Researching Repellent Groups: Some Methodological Considerations on How to Represent Militants, Radicals, and Other Belligerents Carolyn Gallaher 10. Interpreting Truth and Lies in Stories of Conflict and Violence Lee Ann Fujii Part 4: Security 11. Maintenance of Personal Security: Ethical and Operational Issues Julie Mertus 12. Impact on Research of Security Seeking Behaviour Amy Ross Part 5: Identity, Objectivity, Behaviour 13. Fieldwork, Objectivity, and the Academic Enterprise Marie-Joelle Zahar 14. Dilemmas of Self-Representation and Conduct in the Field Stephen Brown 15. There and Back: Surviving Research in Violent and Difficult Situations Olga Martin-Ortega and Johanna Herman

About the Editors

Chandra Lekha Sriram is Professor of Human Rights and Director of the Centre on Human Rights in Conflict at the University of East London, UK.

John C. King is scholar-in-residence at the American University, USA.

Julie A. Mertus is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the MA program in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs at the American University, USA.

Olga Martin-Ortega is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Human Rights in Conflict at the University of East London, UK.

Johanna Herman is Research Fellow at the Centre on Human Rights in Conflict at the University of East London, UK.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / International