The Praxis of Resistance in Research on/with Palestine

By Chandni Desai
Submitted to Session Individual Submission, 2016 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper examines the challenges of conducting “militant ethnography” (Juris, 2007) on the question of Palestine in the era of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I reflect on the complexities, ethical and principal challenges I encountered as a researcher and scholar-activist that uses an alternative research method and political praxis to produce anti-colonial knowledge on Palestine. I share and analyze various challenges that emerged for me during three stages of my doctoral research journey – (1) securing researching funding (2) data collection and (3) writing – which posed moral and ethical difficulties during the research process.

First, as a researcher that engages in principled solidarity with the Palestinian people and adheres to their demands for justice, I was faced with the challenge of securing research funding that was not connected to Israeli state institutions. In the neoliberal academy in North America, universities are increasingly relying on research money attained through institutional partnerships with corporations (including Israeli weapons companies), or donors/donor organizations whose mandate support the Zionist settler colonial, occupation and apartheid system in Palestine. Second, during the data collection phase, I encountered challenges entering Israel as the state surveils, prohibits the entry and controls the movement of those who engage in collaborative work (including research) with Palestinians. Third, during the writing phase of the research, I was constantly advised to censor political perspectives that are outlined by my Palestinian participants, as doing so could hinder my success at attaining an academic position (a post-doctoral fellowship, or a tenure track job) in a North American University whose administrations, departments and faculties are often heavily influenced by the Israel lobby.

This paper reflects on what it means for junior scholars and researchers doing critical work on Palestine, to have their academic freedom persistently violated during a precarious time in the neoliberal academy where academic jobs are scarce. The paper asks why the academic freedom of some is privileged over the academic freedom of others. I conclude this paper by drawing from my experiential and embodied knowledge, in offering a praxis of resistance for conducting research and producing knowledge on Palestine, as a form of anti-colonial agency. I outline how this praxis of resistance enables the researcher to negotiate the neoliberal, and in some instances the settler colonial academy that frequently rewards scholarship that builds upon the violence, oppression and pain of others.