Susanne Buckley-Zistel: Researching normalisation in/of armed conflict

Susanne Buckley-Zistel started her presentation, by characterising field research as a method, which is particular challenging as it means gathering data under conditions in which one gives up familiar levels of control. I. e. it involves confrontations with the unknown.

The “field” in conflict research is characterised by a highly levels of volatility. This is one of the major challenges to field research, but at the same time it is the main argument for conducting field research. As Carolyn Nordstrom pointed out, there is always “A different kind of war story” (1997) to tell. Buckley-Zistel emphasised that implicit in field research is an epistemological critique, because it challenges texts formulated in the ivory tower. Yet, even within field research, different voices can be found. Most important in this regard, this regard is the difference in perspective between officials and “private” people on the grassroots level.

Security is a core problem in field research on armed conflict. But involved here is not only the security of the researcher, but also the security of a the interviewees. In a conflict situation, a researcher can become an “intervener”, which changes the situation on the ground, which can put interviewees into danger. Buckley-Zistel pointed out that as a consequence, doing field research in a conflict zone the researcher must be ready to – if such a situation arises – abandon research.

Another important ethical question is how one can approach people to make them talk about difficult experiences and painful memories. This also implies a need for careful reflection of what one can expect of people in such interview situations.

A central question in the following discussion targeted the relationship between field research and theory. Some pointed out that understanding field research as a method which permits to disclose otherwise unheard voices entails the risk of research getting caught in the in the perspectives and world views of its objects. Counter to this argument, other emphasised that field research does not have to be devoid of theory, as the researcher comes to the field with some theoretical background. The point is that she/he is ready to re-consider initial conceptual frameworks in the light of the insights gained in the field.

Related Publications: Susanne Buckley-Zistel, “Ich bin dann mal weg. Feldforschung im Studium”, Zeitschrift Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (ZeFKo), Vol. 1, 2, 130-38

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