Shaped by the Field- Shaping the Field: On how political, ethical and personal dilemmas of doing ‘fieldwork under fire’ shape/ deform scholarly knowledge

By Anne De Jong
Submitted to Session P4520 (Conflicting Fieldwork in the Middle East: Feelings, obligations, trauma and theory, 2016 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Shaped by the Field- Shaping the Field:
On how political, ethical and personal dilemmas of doing ‘fieldwork under fire’ shape/ deform scholarly knowledge

Based on 19 months of fieldwork research in Palestine, this paper critically explores how risks (Nordstrom& Robben 1995), emotions and practical considerations (Deeb, & Winegar 2015) and political ethical dilemmas (De Jong 2012) influence our ethnographic data and how this concurrently shapes the scholarly body of knowledge about conflict areas.

As part of a regional panel, this paper will first briefly introduce both the actual field (Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel) and the theoretical field (doing ‘fieldwork under fire’) through three exemplifying ethnographic descriptions. The paper will concurrently focus on the less discussed but crucial aspect of how this myriad of considerations has direct theoretical consequences. While consciously presented as open-ended and purposefully controversial questions rather than answers, this discussion is structured in two parts.

First, the questions, choices and dilemmas that a researcher in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem or Israel will face during fieldwork are centralized. Because of access and perceptions of risks, the West Bank is a more likely place for fieldwork research than Gaza. But how does this shape our knowledge of the area? How does it play into the politically enforced perception of Gaza as more extreme and more dangerous? Does it unwittingly reinforce the power filled discourse of Palestine as fragmented?

Second, the practical political surrounding of researching and teaching Palestine-Israel (before and after fieldwork) will be critically explored in regards to the kind of scholarship that is/is not produced. With the practise of ‘denied entry stamps’ to academics by Israeli border officials growing more regular, stated purpose and research questions are adapted accordingly. But how does this self-censorship shapes or even deforms an entire field of knowledge? Forced to consider funding bodies, which language is used/reproduced and which critical subjects are left untouched as a bargaining deal in order to keep or retain access? Equally contentious, how does the call for BDS and accusations of normalization force artificial separation of subjects , phenomena and interlocutors?

This paper does not aim to oppose more personals approaches to feelings, politics and ethics in fieldwork research. On the contrary, through the critical questions it will raise, it strongly poses that such questions are inherently intertwined with the theory we do/do not produce and should be appreciated and discussed as such.