Ethnography and the camp

Authors: Hanno Brankamp*, University of Oxford
Topics: Qualitative Methods, Political Geography, Africa
Keywords: ethnography, camp, refugees, qualitative research
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Considering the growing prominence that research on ‘the camp’ has gained among political geographers in recent years, methodologies of actually ‘doing’ research in and on camps have not been sufficiently examined. This paper offers some critical reflections on the implications of embodied camp research, in particular when involving long stints of fieldwork, postcolonial power hierarchies, and inter-personal encounters. Drawing on research in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, this paper explores three interrelated reflections arising from ethnographies in camps. First, the physical presence of researchers in camp spaces is often premised on their adherence to restrictions and the conditionality of access imposed by camp management and thus risks inadvertently adopting a ‘gaze of power’. Second, ethnographers tend to not only develop convivial relationships with subaltern encamped populations but also with those who represent institutionalised power, posing practical and ethical dilemmas for research. Third, despite these limitations, ethnography offers unique possibilities for capturing high-resolution images of ‘the camp’ in which the exceptional and the everyday can be reconciled.

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