Studying active conflict zones in the 21st century is uniquely difficult. New forms of war and non-state armed actors blur the lines of the battlefield, and Westerners are increasingly targeted.
We have spent years researching the politics of warlords, rebels and foreign interventions in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Turkey-Syria borderland. These places have become increasingly perilous countries in which to work. But they remain of great concern for Western policymakers. And although innovative methods allow researchers to study certain elements of conflict from afar, fieldwork remains as important as ever. Without fine-grained, “on-the-ground” analysis, decision-makers may dangerously misunderstand the politics and players that shape the contours of war abroad.
So how can scholars conduct meaningful research in such challenging contexts?
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