Category Archives: Field Research

Students like to hear stories. It makes learning more fun and less abstract I guess. Although I try to share as much as possible about “the trickiness of conducting research in war zone” with my students, I know there is only so much I have time to talk about in class. Here I will try to share some of my own personal experience on doing research in a place such as Afghanistan: from the logistical difficulties of being on my own and working with an interpreter, to safety issues and the ethical dimension of doing research in a war zone. This new section is for my former students, my future ones, as well as for those who ask me for advice on how to do research in Afghanistan.

Don’t Forget the Veranda

Afghanistan is at a crossroads. With the departure of American forces scheduled for 2014, no one really denies the fact that things are going to change. It seems like the country’s future is at stake. Right now, policy-makers, analysts, US … Continue reading

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Violence and Insurgency in Afghanistan: A Somali Perspective, by William Reno (Northwestern University)

This is a guest post that offers a different approach. Will Reno and I are working on a project that looks at armed groups in comparative perspective. His extensive knowledge and experience in Sub-Saharan Africa provide a different basis for … Continue reading

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Remember Saigon…

It has been too long since I last came to Kabul. In the past two years, young Afghans have become more westernized: burqas have become (little) sparser and make-up more apparent. Once in a blue moon, the careful observer might … Continue reading

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First Impression

Last week, I was invited with two of my friends to speak at a high school, here in Illinois. I was asked to talk about the rise of the Taliban; they shared their experience as counterinsurgents. The idea really was … Continue reading

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The Rabbit-Hole Matrix

Each time I mention the fact I do field research in Afghanistan, and hang out with “warlords” and commanders, the same questions systematically pop up: What’s doing field research in Afghanistan like? What do you do all day? How do you get in touch with these guys? And each time, I kind of draw blank. I don’t really know what to say. I find myself saying things like: “I don’t know, I make some phone calls, schedule interviews, grab a cab, and that’s it you know.” Well, apparently “that’s it,” doesn’t quite describe what it’s like. Continue reading

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Meeting with a Warlord

Ismail Khan is widely known as the warlord of Western Afghanistan. A former Jihadi fighter, he once controlled Herat and the surrounding provinces. He was then imprisoned by the Taliban, escaped, flew to Iran, and was eventually appointed governor of … Continue reading

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

After one month of striding along the muddy streets of Kabul, it is about time to reflect on the benefits of doing field research in Afghanistan. I have been coming here for almost four years and it has always been … Continue reading

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Suicide Attacks!

Not that I am obsessed with safety issues but I have to admit that suicide attacks are also part of doing research in Afghanistan. And as much as I would like to ignore it, spending time in a war zone … Continue reading

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Let’s get this party started!

Field research theoretically requires planning and organization skills. One is supposed to schedule meetings well in advance, get all the logistics in order and hit the ground running. If you want to do research in Afghanistan, just forget about all … Continue reading

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