A Decolonial Feminist Politics of Fieldwork: Centering Community, Reflexivity, and Loving Accountability (Laura J. Shepherd and Colleagues)
International Studies scholarship has benefitted from insights from Anthropology, Peace and Conflict Studies, Geography, and other disciplines to craft a thoughtful set of reflections and considerations that researchers take with them ‘into the field’ when they embark on ‘fieldwork’. In this essay, we map out a history of critical approaches to fieldwork, starting with the politically engaged encounters that initially encouraged reflection on the positionality of the researcher and the power dynamics embedded in, and structuring, research. Building primarily but not exclusively on decolonial feminist scholarship, which traverses and challenges disciplinary boundaries, we go on to show how a foundational commitment to reflexive practice ‘in the field’ has developed further, through a commitment to reflection on the self as a researcher and on ‘the field’ as a construct. This ethical and political commitment necessitates critical interrogation on associated constructs of research, including ‘the researcher’, ‘the research participant’ (or ‘population’), ‘expertise’, and the distinction between ‘the research site’ and ‘the research institution’. We thus argue that a more recent turn in critical fieldwork is grounded in feminist and decolonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist politics; its proponents are committed not just to reflecting critically on ‘the field’ and the interactions of the researcher within it but also to challenging the divisions, exclusions, and structures of oppression that sustain the separations between ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘researcher’ and ‘researched’, ‘knower’ and ‘known’. This includes challenging the hierarchies of the academy, and the complex entanglements of power and privilege that hold us not only in research relationships in ‘the field’ but also ‘at home’.
Alba Boer Rosa Cueva (she/her/hers) is a PhD candidate in the School of Social Sciences at UNSW-Sydney. Situating herself within feminist peace research and adopting a decolonial feminist approach, her research focus is on theorisations of women’s empowerment and (in)security across international studies, as well as policy frameworks in development, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction. While she specifically focuses on Colombia, her broader aim is to bring about more meaningful, transdisciplinary, co-created analyses of peace, violence, and conflict.
Keshab Giri (he/him/his) is a Lecturer in International Relations at The University of Sydney. Dr Giri’s research has been published in International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, and Global Studies Quarterly. His PhD thesis titled, ‘Experiences of Female Ex-Combatants in the Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: Endless Battles and Resistance.’ received the 2022 Thelma Hunter Gender and Politics PhD Prize from the Australian Political Science Studies Association (APSA). His research interests include women in political violence, intersectionality, gender and war, violent extremism, leftist-insurgencies, critical security studies, rebel governance, governance of intimacy in rebel group, armed conflicts in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His monograph, 'Intersectionality and Experiences of Female Combatants' is coming out in 2023.
Caitlin Hamilton is a researcher, writer, and editor. She holds a doctorate in International Relations and has industry experience across law, education, publishing, not-for-profit, and government. Cait is also the founder of Hamilton Editorial, which offers writing and editorial services to academics, not-for-profit organisations and government. Her publications include The Everyday Artefacts of World Politics (2021), Civil Society, Care Labour, and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (co-authored with Anu Mundkur and Laura J. Shepherd, 2021) and Popular Culture and World Politics: Theories, Methods, Pedagogies (co-edited with Federica Caso, 2015).
Laura J. Shepherd is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her primary research focuses on the United Nations Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security agenda, and attendant dynamics of gender, violence, and security governance. Laura is author/editor of many journal articles and several books, including, most recently Narrating the Women, Peace and Security Agenda: Logics of Global Governance (2021), and New Directions in Women, Peace and Security (edited with Soumita Basu and Paul Kirby, 2020). She spends too much time on Twitter, where she tweets from @drljshepherd.
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