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Methodology Matters in Iran

Researching Social Movements in Authoritarian Contexts

Paola Rivetti

How can scholars conduct fieldwork in an authoritarian environment, engaging ‘dangerous’ topics such as social movements in Iran? How can they overcome the limitations imposed by the authoritarian state and win the trust of activists? This article reflects on the knowledge that scholars produce under such difficult circumstances, arguing that the deployment of non-mainstream research practices and methods can benefit the scholarship, exposing under-studied and overlooked aspects of the topic investigated. More specifically, the article elaborates on how methodological choices inform the knowledge we produce and how they can therefore be used to overcome structural limitations generating innovative and fairer scholarship.

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Courage and Obstinacy

Remembering a Frontrunner

Johanna Rolshoven

In German academic Volkskunde of the 1970s, scholar Ina-Maria Greverus was a pioneer in several realms. As a woman and feminist, she challenged the discipline’s gender order, including its hidden gendered epistemology; as an early reader of international cultural anthropology, she transgressed nationalistically confined horizons, and her methodological openness created space for new formats that challenged false assumption of scientific objectivity and neutrality.

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Paul Sillitoe

This is an introduction to indigenous or local knowledge (IK) in development. After discussing problems of definition, various models to represent relations between, and structure enquiries into, different knowledge traditions are outlined, including the continuum and sphere representations. This discussion includes a summary of points that justify why agencies should seek better to incorporate consideration of local knowledge into development programmes; and sketches the several methodological issues that we have to address to take this work forwards. Finally, this introduction concludes with some comments on the work of the Durham Anthropology in Development (AID) group.

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Chimiza Lamazhaa

This article discusses indigenous methodology in the context of Tuvan studies. Tuvan studies have a rich history, with significant contributions by local Tuvan researchers as well as Russian and foreign scholars. This article presents an overview of this research before, during, and after the Soviet period. The paper examines possible strengths and weaknesses of both “insider” (indigenous) and “outsider” research, with the consideration that these opposing categories are not so easily delineated. Through case studies describing the work and insights of the renowned Tuvan researcher Valentina Suzukei and the cultural “thesaurus” approach of Lukov and Lukov (2008), the article assesses the potential of indigenous methodology in the field of Tuvan studies.

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Aziz Choudry

This article seeks to explore the work of activist researchers located in social movements, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and people’s organisations with close relations to contemporary progressive grassroots struggles in a number of countries, mainly in the global South. Drawing from extensive interviews with these researchers on their processes and practice of research and knowledge production, located outside of academic institutions and partnerships, it documents their understandings about the theoretical frameworks and methodologies they employ. This article thus foregrounds articulations of actual research practices from the perspectives of activist researchers themselves. In doing so, it suggests that social movement scholars can learn more about the intellectual work within movements, including the relations between theoretical and methodological approaches and action, from a deeper engagement with the work of activist researchers outside of academia.

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Development research

Convergent or divergent approaches and understandings of poverty? An introduction

John R. Campbell and Jeremy Holland

Is it possible or indeed desirable to combine qualitative, participatory and quantitative research methods and approaches to better understand poverty? This special section of Focaal seeks to explore a number of contentious, inter-related issues that arise from multimethod research that is driven by growing international policy concerns to reduce global poverty. We seek to initiate an interdisciplinary dialog about the limits of methodological integration by examining existing research practice to better understand the strengths and limitations of combining methods which derive from different epistemological premises. We ask how methods might be combined to better address issues of causality, and whether the concept of triangulation offers a possible way forward. In examining existing research we find little in the way of shared understanding about poverty and, due to the dominance of econometrics and its insistence on using household surveys, very little middle ground where other disciplines might collaborate to rethink key conceptual and methodological issues.

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Soheila Shahshahani

This article refers to the methodology of this eld as a viable way of being in a very complex (personal, institutional, research) situation of existence at different levels over a long period of time. The author uses ‘distancing’, putting in abeyance her personal reactions in order to comprehend and make evident what would otherwise have been difficult to go through. So participant observation not only deeply familiarises the researcher with a situation and culture, it also provides a standpoint of not personally getting involved in order to continue research.

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From a Blind Spot to a Nexus

Building on Existing Trends in Knowledge Production to Study the Copresence of Ecotourism and Extraction

Veronica Davidov

Ecotourism is primarily perceived and studied as an alternative to resource extraction, even though increasingly the two coexist side by side in a nexus. This article investigates how such instances of copresence are marginalized in literatures about ecotourism and extraction, constituting a “blind spot“ in academic literature. An extensive literature review focuses on the existing knowledge trends and paradigms in the production of knowledge about ecotourism and extraction, and analyzes whether they contribute to the “blind spot“ or can be mobilized by the nexus perspective. Finally, the article briefly outlines two methodological approaches for studying ecotourism and extraction as a nexus.

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Is anthropology legal?

Earthquakes, blitzkrieg, and ethical futures

Edward Simpson

This article is a contribution to the growing literature that suggests that the methodological and writing practices of anthropology are out of kilter with the times. The processual structures and regulative mechanisms that produce anthropological knowledge were formed when objection and engagement were not the almost-inevitable consequence of publication. Those who inform anthropological research now frequently object to the ways they are represented. My argument here focuses particularly on the relationship between the ethical structures of anthropology and the nature of objection. Thus far, the consistent response from anthropologists has been to explain away objections as differences in epistemology. In this light, I draw on an objection to my own research on postdisaster reconstruction in India to ask why there should not be disagreement between anthropologists and those who inform research. I also illustrate why the epistemological explanation is now insufficient and why new structures of research and writing might be required to make the leap from an age of objection.

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Phil Tattersall

Conflict over natural resource usage has been ongoing in Tasmania for many years. There continues to be considerable community concern, disquiet and conflict over forestry management practices. In an analysis of his numerous community support projects the author saw an opportunity to involve community members in decisions relating to natural resource management. An interest in action research led him to propose a form of activism based on the ideas of post-normal science (PNS). The idea of the extended peer review aspect of post-normal science has been used in the development of a participative inquiry methodology known as community-based auditing (CBA). The contributions to theory and practice of PNS and environmental activism are thought to be significant. Several cases are briefly discussed.