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.

2 Responses to Field Research

  1. Dipali Mukhopadhyay says:

    Hi R, very excited to see that you are going to be posting about fieldwork in Afghanistan. Those of us who do research in Afghanistan tend to focus on our hypotheses, theories, and findings; we spend less time talking about the mechanics of the work. And, yet, the numerous challenges that exist on the ground constrain and bias our work in many ways that ought to be part of the larger conversation. In my own doctoral fieldwork, I found myself constrained geographically as well as financially. These barriers to entry, however, created a number of opportunities for me to innovate and improvise in ways that added richness to my experience and gave me greater insight into the society I was studying. I cultivated deep friendships with my Afghan translators, fixers, and interviewees, who were incredibly generous with their time and advice and helped me to interpret what I was hearing (and saying) in more sophisticated ways. I also began to absorb everything around me as “data” rather than only focus on the analysis of my subjects. I paid attention to their use of language, their mannerisms, the physical environs in which we met, the social dynamics that surrounded our conversations. And, yet, a number of questions (some very basic) remain that I hope you might tackle in this series of posts: How do you know when someone is telling you the truth? How do you best accommodate the existence of conflicting and competing explanations in your analysis? What are creative ways to get people talking about that which they do not wish to discuss? Can you, as a foreign researcher, truly be an observer or are you altering the dynamic simply by watching it? What do you owe those who take time from their busy lives to teach you? Look forward to reading more! Cheers, Dipali

  2. Afghanopoly says:

    Thanks for the kind word D. It’s good to have fellow researchers giving their opinions here. That’s also what the blog is for after all! Answering all your questions is a daunting task, but I’ll try to address some, I promise. You’ve helped me so much over the years, I’m not sure I will ever be able to solve problems you couldn’t solve yourself, but I’ll do my best. It’s always good to share our experiences and talk about the constraints and challenges of doing research here in Afghanistan. I already have some thoughts about some of your questions, but it’s getting late here in Kabul. We’ll have to discuss those some other time. To be continued…

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