4. Understand your perception and positioning within the context
Research partners and staff occupy a certain political and social position in the research context (see Lühe 2018). In a context where one ethnic group holds power, for instance, choosing to work with a research institute that is led by members of the same group may produce research results that are less critical towards the government or state institutions. Consequently, research results and the research process as such could fuel drivers of conflict as they may benefit exclusively those in power, and the research may be considered biased.
Questions about your position and perception
- How is the positioning of your research (state/non-state, local/international, academic/policy-oriented) perceived by local partners, donors, authorities and local communities?
- Is research positively or negatively connoted and what are the consequences for everyone involved?
- How are you and your research partners perceived by different actors? Are you associated with NGOs, state officials or security forces? How does this affect research relations? Who within the research team is best placed to ask specific questions, speak with particular people?
- How is the behavior of the research team perceived (where you stay, how you travel, level of security)?
- What values or beliefs may be carried through a research project?
- Make your research intentions explicit to avoid misunderstandings; consider this when framing survey and interview questions.
- Find out about the different perceptions of your research team in terms of gender, age, nationality and further identity markers (see Yacob-Haliso 2018, 'Intersectionality'). Their personal or institutional affiliations might affect the research.
- Aim for a balanced representation; consider research partners that are able to reach out to different social groups and neglected minority groups – this could also create or strengthen ties across conflict lines. All partners need to be informed early on, of who else is involved.
“Your own position influences your research, it may facilitate or hinder access. Research can be seen as intelligence. Gender stereotypes allow for easier access, in a context where women are not perceived as threatening or taken seriously.”
“In the context I worked in, researchers are considered a threat, people are suspicious. Out of previous experiences that did not go well, practitioners and academics do not always have a good relationship.”