The ‘Tribal Politics’ of Field Research: A Reflection on Power and Partiality in 21st-Century Warzones

Can fieldwork still be done in today’s most violent warzones? We contend that long-held methodological principles about power and impartiality do not hold in today’s conflict-ridden environments. Research of this kind can still be pursued, but only if the scholar’s place is reconceived as one of limited power and unavoidable partiality. We argue that those still able to do fieldwork in sites of increasing danger do so by virtue of building their own ‘tribes,’ forming and joining different social micro-systems to collect data and, in some cases, survive. Field research must, therefore, be recognized as its own form of foreign intervention. In considering the future of political science research in the most challenging war-torn settings, we examine the risks and opportunities that accompany ‘tribal politics’ of this kind and underline the importance of reflecting on our own positionality in the process of knowledge production.

To cite this article: Romain Malejacq and Dipali Mukhopadhyay (2016), “The ‘Tribal Politics’ of Field Research: A Reflection on Power and Partiality in 21st-Century Warzones,” Perspectives on Politics  14:4: 1011-1028, DOI: 10.1017/S1537592716002899

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About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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