Fieldwork in Challenging Circumstances



Organised by:

School of Anthropology & Conservation, University of Kent


David Henig, Andrew Sanchez, Martin Fotta, Glenn Bowman, Anna Waldstein


Intermediate (some prior knowledge)


Matthew Hodges,


View in Google Maps  (CT2 7NZ)


The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ


This one-day workshop addresses the key issues and obstacles which doctoral students face when preparing to conduct fieldwork in challenging circumstances – conflict zones, situations of criminality or violence where trust is difficult to establish, fieldsites afflicted by war or violent conflict, and other situations where human relations are disrupted and subject to destructive pressure. The workshop also addresses how ethnographers engage with their data and research sites after the completion of such fieldwork: most notably the process of writing and analysis; and the challenges associated with ongoing interactions with informants.

Students will have the opportunity to train with three anthropologists that possess significant research expertise on the challenges involved (Henig, Sanchez and Fotta). Two Kent social anthropologists will act as interlocutors for selected sessions: Glenn Bowman, Reader in Social Anthropology, with expertise in Palestine-Israel and the Former Yugoslavia; and Anna Waldstein, Lecturer in Medical Anthropology with expertise in fieldsites with pervasive use of ‘illegal’ substances.

Through participation in this intensive advanced workshop, students will obtain a range of insights and key skills relating to conducting fieldwork in challenging circumstances: from planning and logistics, to interaction in the field, to writing up and maintaining contacts post-fieldwork. Participants will have the opportunity to network with doctoral candidates working on related themes, and discuss their research with internationally-recognised Kent anthropologists with a range of relevant expertise.

Session I – Fieldwork Realism in (Post)conflict Circumstances
Dr. David Henig
This workshop considers the methodological, logistical, security and ethical questions for conducting ethnographic fieldwork in (post)conflict circumstances. It proposes ‘fieldwork realism’ as a way to effectively operationalise ethnographic research under such circumstances. It focuses on three interconnected aspects of the research process. These are i) Realistic planning and what it entails (i.e. the feasibility of the research project, imagining scenarios and contingency plans); ii) 'Being there' and how to go about it (i.e. security strategies, 'informed consent' under such circumstances, what/when to collect data), and how to elicit data while 'away' due to various access restrictions; iii) Ethics and the post-fieldwork period.

Session II – Trust and the Ethnographic Method
Dr. Andrew Sanchez
Ethnographers have traditionally sought to build trusting relationships with their research participants through lengthy periods of fieldwork. During data collection, this method secures access to topics that may be sensitive. Analytically, the method allows one to better interpret data that is often subjective. However, the ethnographic use of trust requires careful consideration in research contexts where fieldwork is conducted among aggressors, criminals and people whose interlocutors assume them to be socially destructive.

This session considers the methodological and ethical questions of how one negotiates an assumption of criminality, violence and misrepresentation on the part of key informants, and conversely how one gains the trust of others in environments of heightened cynicism and anxiety.

Session III – Writing about Violence and the Problem of Distance
Dr. Martin Fotta
Producing a narrative (e.g. PhD thesis) that addresses violent acts or suffering, raises important questions about ethnographic representation. Acknowledging popular Western fascination with violence forces one to recognise the potential for anthropologists to slip into a voyeuristic gaze. A key danger is that the writing process may become a means of pleasing one’s own, largely unconscious, culturally conditioned fantasies (about violence, transgression, disorder, and the Other) – even when driven by ethnographic curiosity. Describing acts of violence must also be carefully balanced with analysis of structural causes of such activity, which may be challenging when detailing a perpetrator’s cultural justification for their acts. And while empathy may seem like the only authentic means of engaging with people who suffer violence, cultivating detachment might be the only effective way of responding as an activist and/or a scholar.

This session explores problems with ethnographic representations of violence that arise in the process of writing. It addresses the analysis of ethnographic data brought from one’s fieldwork; deconstructs cultural and disciplinary biases that might inform one’s focus; and highlights limitations of different written formats and writing styles.

Programme for the Day
09:00: Welcome and Coffee
09:15-11:15 – Session I – David Henig
11.15-11.45 – Coffee
11.45-13.45 – Session II – Andrew Sanchez
13.45-14.45 – Lunch
14:45-16:45 – Session III – Martin Fotta
16:45-17:00 – Break
17:00-18:00 – Discussion – Chaired by Glenn Bowman / Anna Waldstein
19:00 – Drinks and Dinner in a Canterbury Bar for those available


£0 for all UK PhD students

Website and registration:


South East


Frameworks for Research and Research Designs, Data Collection, Data Quality and Data Management , Research Skills, Communication and Dissemination

Related publications and presentations:

Frameworks for Research and Research Designs
Data Collection
Data Quality and Data Management
Research Skills, Communication and Dissemination

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