Finding Ways to Work on Yemen: A Plea for Engaged Scholarship

By Marina de Regt
Submitted to Session P5224 (Anthropology in War-torn Yemen: Challenges, Dilemmas, and Alternative Methodologies, 2018 Annual Meeting
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Should we discard anthropological research because fieldwork is no longer possible? In this paper I want to present and discuss the various ways in which I continue to conduct anthropological research about Yemen. Reflecting on these different methods I discern a gradual shift, which I attribute to the responsibility I feel as a scholar to engage with my field, even when it has become inaccessible. I make a plea for an engaged scholarship, in which we use our expertise and knowledge to fight injustice, bring about change and work towards peace. I argue that anthropologists have the responsibility to use their understanding to contextualize political analyses, human rights reports, newspaper articles and the like in order to show that the everyday experiences, hardships and struggles of ordinary Yemenis matter within the larger framework of geopolitical interests, regional, national and local conflicts, and military strategies (see Robben 2010: 5).
In my own research I distinguish five “strategies” for continuing to do research about Yemen, namely: 1) a geographical shift to Ethiopia, which still relates to my prior work on gender and mobility in Yemen, 2) a historical shift toward studying the relations between Yemen and the Horn of Africa, 3) writing about friends in Yemen, and the impact of the war on their daily lives, 4) taking up engaged scholarship, in which I use my knowledge about Yemen to raise awareness and influence public debates in the Netherlands, 5) collecting data at a distance in collaboration with Yemeni women. I will briefly describe these five strategies and in particular focus on the last one, a recent research project about gender, resilience and peacebuilding. In this project we use story-telling as a method to support Yemeni women, protect them and their families from violence, promote their participation in peace negotiations, and document and bring to justice gender based violence. Projects like this are examples of engaged scholarship in which anthropologists can put their knowledge and expertise at use in order to lessen violence and suffering and encourage social and political change.