Comparative Politics

B05 - Fieldwork, Ethics, and Concepts

Date: Jun 12 | Time: 03:30pm to 05:00pm | Location:

Crossing Borders, Thinking Borders: Knowledge Production in and from the (Post)Colony: Tka Pinnock (York University)
Abstract: Caribbean feminist scholarship reminds us of the importance of a host of ethical concerns in conducting research in (post)colonial settings, specifically, that our research must be concerned with which lives our work construct, how we undertake that construction and for what and whose purpose (DeShong and Kempadoo, 2021). In these ways, knowledge production is an ongoing intellectual and political project for Caribbean/feminist scholars across a range of disciplines, with resonance for those who study politics. Aligned with the CPSA conference theme, drawing on my fieldnotes reflecting on participant observation and open-ended interviews with craft vendors in Jamaica, this paper offers critical commentary on ethnographic practice in postcolonial contexts and what it means for knowledge production in the discipline [of political science], particularly in the field of comparative politics where qualitative research techniques take center stage (Mahoney, 2007). Grounded in a conception of ethnography as an exploration and crossing of borders (Pachirat, 2018), I pursue the following three themes: first, the ‘ethnographic self’ as border traveller [and crosser], and its generative potential in knowledge production. As Shehata (2013) claims the researcher’s ‘ethnographic self’ is a conduit of research. Secondly, I explore the theme of conducting research in and producing knowledge about the (post)colony as a diasporic subject. Thirdly, borrowing from Mignolo’s ‘border thinking’ (2000), I delve into knowledge production from the (post)colony and its implications for disciplinary boundaries. In dialogue with broader scholarship in critical methodologies, I pursue these themes to argue that a decolonial ethnographic practice may allow political scientists deeper insight into central concepts of interest, and a rethink of the roles of power, language and ethics in qualitative research. 

Digital fieldworks: making a virtue out of necessity or building a well-thought-out and legitimate methodology?: Manon Laurent (Collège de France)
Abstract: For around ten years, I have been carrying out a “patchwork survey” (Watanabe, Varma and Günel, 2020) on the political and educational strategies of Chinese urban middle-class parents. Mixing in situ and online empirical field sessions, I immersed myself in the real and virtual world of parents in China. Although the online sessions were often imposed by external constraints (financial, temporal, family or regulatory), they made it possible to explore virtual spaces invested daily by parents and to enrich the understanding of the competitive environment and solidarity networks that support parental practices. This article questions whether digital fieldwork is first and foremost making a virtue out of necessity when external conditions force the scholar to cancel on-site fieldwork or whether it can be consider a well-thought-out methodological design from the start. I argue that digital fieldwork can be a legitimate methodological design and has the power to renew the analysis on any research object; however conducting digital fieldwork requires prior conditions. In this article, I draw lessons from my personal experiences conducting digital fieldworks on parenting practices in China and from exchanges with students and scholars. Conducting digital fieldwork should not be the prerogative of young and inexperienced scholars who lack the resources to conduct on-site fieldwork. Scholars often need prior on-site experience to make the best out of data collected online. This is especially true in areal studies, when scholars study national contexts far from their own personal environment. To conclude, I call for senior scholars in political science to produce and teach stronger methodological and ethical protocol to conduct digital fieldwork.

Is that Enough for You? The Poverty of Exaggerated Concepts in Political Science: Phil Triadafilopoulos (University of Toronto)
Abstract: This paper takes issue with concept exaggeration in political science, through a critique of “wicked” and (worse still) “super-wicked problems" and “superdiversity.” I argue that all three concepts are essentially redundant, reflecting a tendency in political science to adopt or invent concepts for the sake of performative innovation. In practical terms, the paper synthesizes the many powerful critiques of these concepts and in so doing (and, let it be said, in full awareness of the irony of doing so), develops a definition/theory of exaggerated concepts which highlights their similarities, explains why they succeed, and offers arguments against their use.

Fieldwork Closure and Failure: Engaging with Family Politics, the Street and the State in Algeria: Hiba Zerrougui (McGill University), Juan Wang (McGill University)
Abstract: As I embarked on my fieldwork in Algeria to study authoritarian governance in contexts where protests were common occurrence, I was not surprised that despite my preparation, I encountered intimidation and violence. What took me aback was my inability—and later, my unwillingness—to overcome, circumvent, or endure these challenges despite my preparation. At first, I understood my experience as a failure. I—a Canadian-Algerian researcher fluent in both French and Algerian dialect, with ties with several local communities, sensitized to the context of my “native” country—was unable to “adapt” and resolve what I experienced as a series of insurmountable situations. With time, I attempted to theorize this discomfort and my refusal to work around it. I found that the literature aiming at making fieldwork practices safer for researchers is perpetuating problematic assumptions. In this paper, I draw lessons from my field experiences, notably the need to theorize systematically how positionality, private/family life, and emotional labor matter for knowledge production. These altered my relationship with the field, made me question my assumed individuality as a researcher, and blurred the lines between private and professional contexts, as well as between what was individual and a collective endeavor. Instead of finding ways to overcome or push back against barriers, I opted for a reflexive review of my own assumptions about what fieldwork in Algeria should look like, what constitutes valid sources of knowledge, and legitimate spaces for data collection. In doing so, I embraced research ethics centered around “care” and “refusal.”