This paper is based on a personal journey of starting a long-term sociological research project in a conflict zone: the research was to be carried out in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The question posed is: what sort of problems and concerns arise for researchers and ethnographers who work with traditionally marginal communities in violently divided societies? In an attempt to provide an answer, I focus here on such issues as: the social constructions of fears and dangers in what are perceived to be dangerous places; difficulties of access to traditionally underrepresented and marginal social groups; useful methodological and ethical precepts for doing research in risky environments; as well as the advantages of working with, rather than on communities. Moreover, I suggest that conducting research in politically and socially unstable contexts puts into stark relief the advantages of conducting participatory and collaborative research. Such approaches provide researchers with networks of trusted local protagonists, offer more in-depth insights into traditionally marginalized and frequently misrepresented social groups, whilst also generating knowledge that may facilitate beneficial social changes for local communities.
I am indebted to the Fulbright Scholar Program for the Middle East, North Africa, Central and South Asia Regional Research Program (grantee no. G48413539), the Fulbright Specialist Program (grantee no. 88100362), and the National Science Foundation (award no. 1152322) for research support. I like to thank Thaddeus Müller for encouraging me to write this paper for the session on “Doing Field Research in Dangerous Situations” held at The European Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction: “Conflict, Cooperation and Transformation in Everyday Life”, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands, July 4–6, 2012. I am also grateful to Stefan Ziegler, Richard Kiely, and Oren Yiftachel for discussions and engagements that inspired me to rethink the role of the social sciences in conflict zones.
Leuenberger, C. (2015), "Knowledge-Making and its Politics in Conflict Regions: Doing Research in Israel/Palestine", Contributions from European Symbolic Interactionists: Reflections on Methods (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 44), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 19-41. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0163-239620150000044003
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