Fearful Fieldwork: De-colonializing the Discipline Begins with Confronting our Imaginings of Safety and Risk in the ‘Dark Continent’

Authors: Dacia Douhaibi*, York University
Topics: Qualitative Methods, Field Methods, Africa
Keywords: methodology; decolonization; politics; knowledge creation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Balcony M, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As scholars, they way that we describe, interpret and define our fields of inquiry has implications for how peoples and places are understood. While we understand that colonialization and re-colonization projects are not dead but manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including the knowledge that academics produce and circulate, much work remains to be done to dismantle current strategies of information gathering that contribute to contemporary imaginings of violent ‘others.’ In charting my personal experience of conducting fieldwork, I build the case for academic study as an ethico-political project that has immanent within it the orthodoxies of exclusion, division and ‘othering.’ I argue that the politics of research is becoming increasingly constrained by western understandings of risk and safety, particularly for female researchers, limiting the power and privilege of knowledge production to male scholars, and contributing to the reification of Africa as the ‘dark continent.’ While there is a longitudinal, structural violence that has created challenges to studying events in South Sudan, there is also a lot of misunderstanding of what is taking place, producing South Sudan as a site of exclusion in terms of study and analysis. Through a reflexive analysis of my own methodological approach, and my efforts to gather stories from South Sudanese people, I present the complicated progression of my research after access to my field sites was abruptly barred due to concerns over risk and I consider the broader implications for academic inquiry and analysis for those studying challenging sites.

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