Fieldwork Challenges of Genocide Studies Research: Cambodia, Rwanda and Rohingya Case Studies
Fieldwork is a crucial part of genocide scholarship research, and it comes with very particular challenges. Studying genocide sites and interviewing survivors form a key part of empirical research carried out by genocide scholars and are a crucial contributor to the in-depth analysis that scholars make. Empirical research takes many forms, but in genocide studies may include interviewing victims and/or perpetrators, assessing museum sources, or analysing court proceedings. What barriers exist for researchers seeking to undertake fieldwork at genocide sites or with genocide survivors or perpetrators? Embarking on such research is an incredibly complex logistical process, which may involve acquiring government permissions, obtaining interpreters, making local contacts, finding interview subjects, accessing museums or archives, and much more- often in a foreign country where the researcher may not speak the local language. This panel will explore the practical challenges of fieldwork in genocide studies. This panel presents the experiences of three female scholars in three different countries: Cambodia, Rwanda and Bangladesh. Each presenter will reflect on their theoretical and practical approach to fieldwork, and the challenges they have faced in organising and undertaking their fieldwork. Taken together, the panel will draw out challenges faced by researchers across the board, but also highlight differences experienced in different locations. The case studies chosen enable the panel to compare fieldwork challenges in the context of a historical genocide (Cambodia), a more recent genocide (Rwanda), and an ongoing genocide (Rohingya), thereby contrasting tests faced by researchers depending on the recentness of the genocide under study. Presenters will cover issues including cultural dynamics, gender concerns (for researchers and participants), fieldwork logistics, personal safety, local collaborations, political considerations, power differentials, and self-reflexivity as a researcher. The chair of this panel will also serve as a discussant.
Presentations of the Symposium
Practice, Positionality and Partnership: Reflections on Fieldwork in Cambodia
In this presentation I reflect on my nine years’ experience of conducting qualitative research in Cambodia. Throughout my career thus far, I have been motivated by Kieran McEvoy’s ‘transitional justice from below’ perspective, which draws attention to the frequent marginalisation of victims’ voices and prioritisation of elite actors in processes of transition. As a result, my work has often been centred around engagement with victims and survivors of genocide. Yet as a white western researcher I am also an ‘elite actor’, meaning power dynamics and positionality inevitably shape my practice of fieldwork. In this presentation I aim to reflect on these dynamics, as well as on the particular and additional dynamics that can arise when working with a local partner organisation. Based on my fieldwork experience, at a minimum I argue in favour of a self-reflective and reflexive approach to working with victims and survivors, and for the pursuit of genuinely collaborative (not extractive) relationships with local partners.
The Practicalities of Building a Flashlight: Fieldwork in Rwanda
My talk will reflect on my experiences working and conducting research in Rwanda. I first traveled to Rwanda in 2004, and years later I was fortunate to conduct my doctoral work there. As I set out to better understand the role of women during the genocide, I was deeply influenced by Cynthia Enloe’s likening of concepts to flashlights and set about building a flashlight that would illuminate the corners of my intended area of study. While some of my efforts were successful, I still faced many challenges implementing this method. In this talk, I will discuss my effort to conduct fieldwork that went beyond “add women and stir” and how I navigated the unique and intersecting practical, personal, and political considerations of this research. From logistics to identity-based power differentials to the ever-developing political landscape in Rwanda, I look forward to an engaging discussion about how we approach fieldwork across our discipline.
Researching an Ongoing Genocide: Interviewing Rohingya Refugees
This paper will discuss the logistical challenges facing a researcher looking to research an ongoing genocide, using the case study of the Rohingya genocide. The presentation will detail the author’s experience undertaking fieldwork in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, outlining the extraordinary logistical challenges faced to undertake such fieldwork. This will include preparatory stages and on-the-ground challenges, from paperwork to cultural considerations, and discussion of specific research challenges for women. I undertake my research from a feminist theoretical perspective, using a do-no-harm, victim-centred approach, seeking to give voice to women. This paper will also take an intersectional feminist theoretical reflection on the challenges of fieldwork. This will include critique of Western ethics requirements and how these are not necessarily fit for empirical research with genocide survivors, and discussion of the gendered nature of empirical research logistics. The paper seeks to start discussion of how the various hurdles can be overcome to enable a smoother fieldwork research process for genocide scholars, particularly women.