The second episode of our podcast series on Research at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy features Rebecca Tapscott, an Ambizione Fellow at the Centre, who recently published her new book Arbitrary States: Social Control and Modern Authoritarianism in Museveni’s Uganda.
In this episode, Tapscott discusses with Anastasia Shesterinina, Lecturer in International Politics at Sheffield University, the challenges of field intensive research on contemporary armed conflict and states in transition.
Tapscott explains her research on informal security actors—such as vigilantes, militias, and community police—offered a window into how violent actors seek to institutionalize violence. She reflects that on one hand, these actors engage in sometimes illegal acts of violence and extraction—but at the same time, these “young men are extremely precariously employed, the demands to collect school fees, pay hospital bills, and put food on the table can make joining these initiatives seem like the best option. It becomes very difficult to weigh these decisions and subsequent actions against one another, which ones are right and wrong?” Shesterinina shares that the researcher’s “own experience of interviewing greatly impacts not just the dynamic of the interviews, but also the research results”.
In their conversation, they bring up the need to develop a strong understanding of the researchers positionality and relationality to the field and respondents, all the more so for work on highly sensitive issues in areas marked by conflict and violence. They also emphasize the researchers’ ongoing responsibility throughout the lifespan of the project from the research design all the way to publication.
For more on this topic and to interact with Rebecca Tapscott, please join us on 5 October at 18:30 for the online panel discussion that marks the launch of her book in the context of the 2021 edition of the Geneva Democracy Week.