I had the pleasure of catching up with the 2014 Graduate Fellows as they prepare to embark on their fieldwork in Dagestan, Cameroon, Hawaii, Japan, DRC, Philippines, South Africa, India, Senegal, and the borderlands of Colombia and Ecuador and Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
What motivated you to choose this research for your AC4 Fellowship?
My research project aims to explore the political role of Sufi Islam and the Sufi-Salafi conflict in the North Caucasus. In the North Caucasus, Sufi Islam is considered to be “traditional” and enjoys official support from the Russian state. In contrast, followers of Salafi Islam are treated as potential terrorists and are suppressed by the state. My research focuses on the understudied links between religion and politics, the differential impact of religious ideology and organization, and, finally, internal conflicts within Islam. All these elements have profound influence on everyday life and political processes in the North Caucasus and in many other regions, including Central Asia, Turkey, Western Africa and South Asia.
It has been exciting to be on the ground and really spending time talking with individuals, hearing their perspectives not only on geothermal energy and its potentials, but their ideas about conflict--where it stems from, if it might be solved, and how. I chose AC4 because it was a clear match for the research--conflict theory is needed, to think about the variety of factors always at play in a situation where market, science, and religion meet to discuss the potential "good" of extracting a natural resource to ostensibly benefit the earth, and its people.
Chelsea (Costa Rica & Nicaragua):
The people that I met during my preliminary research were my motivation to return and conduct a year long study. I found their histories, stories and perspectives on the rapid changes taking place in the border region to be very intriguing. Their accounts started to depict some of the social and human dynamics of a very political border conflict. I am grateful for their honesty, opinions, and for allowing me into their homes and lives.
Mary Ann (India):
I am studying the Student Police Cadet program, a youth development and citizenship training program designed by the Police for schools in the South Indian state of Kerala. Before choosing this study I explored the options of conducting my research in NYC and in other parts of India such as Mumbai or Delhi. But during a pre-dissertation trip to India I realized the value of cultural intuition and of knowing a language in the conducting of ethnography. This project both troubles me—what are the police doing in schools in Kerala?—and offers me the opportunity to conduct my study in a context that is not alien to me and in a language I am familiar with. This research is affording me an opportunity to “re-search” my state (Kerala), its people, its history, its politics, and its pretentions. It is, thus, for me a personal journey into myself.
: The proliferation of industrial agriculture across tropical forest landscapes drastically alters land use and access, fostering a cascade of impacts on human livelihoods and their interactions with wildlife in a manner that generates conflict. When I discovered that industrial palm oil companies were planning to develop plantations in Southwest Cameroon, a region with a number of protected areas harboring rich biodiversity in addition to smallholder and state-owned palm oil plantations, I was determined to research existing human-wildlife conflict in the form of crop raiding on smallholder farms for my Masters thesis. Given that the majority of people in the region are engaged in farming within a forested mosaic landscape, farms are the primary arena for conflict with wildlife. Through my work, I hope to better understand how this conflict might change once industrial plantations are realized to better inform land use planning and conservation management.
Yuki & Yumiko (Japan)
: We both had personal connections to the areas affected by the past disasters in Japan; Yuki directly experienced the earthquake in Kobe, Japan in 1995 and also worked as a social work intern in Ishinomaki, Japan after the earthquake and tsunami hit the area in 2011, and Yumiko had been involved in a musical outreach project in Rikuzentakata-city, Japan since long before the disaster in 2011.
What are you doing, or have you done, to prepare for your project?
Purchasing a substantial amount of mosquito spray was first on my list. I've just made my way to the Eastern DRC where I prepped for the trip by identifying the relevant actors and collecting publicly available data on the strategic use of violence during the conflict. Over the next few weeks, I'll be conducting interviews with key informants.
Diana (Colombia & Ecuador):
During my pilot study I was able to verify the relevance of my observation and interview protocols. I realized that I couldn’t use some words such as “guerrilla” and “narcotraffickers”, and worked on rephrasing some of my key questions. I also had the opportunity to spend time with community members, and to visit places I hadn’t planned to visit, such as Real Cuembí, a thirty-family community where three clandestine FARC bases were allegedly settled. These experiences have prepared me for the challenges of conducting fieldwork in such environments.
: I will be traveling to Manila and parts of Mindanao in the Philippines to interview individuals actively engaged in the peace process as well as social and economic development initiatives in conflict-affected communities. Many NGOs, aid agencies, researchers, and journalists are devoting immense effort and valuable resources to helping communities escape the cycle of conflict and underdevelopment; I am excited to learn directly from these dedicated activists and researchers. While the dissertation is not directly about the work of these actors, the information gleaned from these interviews will inform a future data collection project designed to enable empirical testing of various hypotheses related to the local politics of rebel-controlled territory, especially related to rebels' accountability to civilians at the local level.
Please share any stories or tidbits that you have experienced thus far.
To date, I've spent a bit of time with the Congolese National Army (FARDC) to better understand how they target and engage rebel groups. The Congolese Army isn't known for it's cohesion or efficacy and when I asked one official what he thought the difference between the FARDC and rebel group is, he responded "only the uniform".
Kaggie (South Africa)
: While putting out my recording devices in the morning I have had beautiful visuals of a male lion, a leopard, hyenas and other nocturnal wildlife. There is nothing like being out in the middle of the bush in the dark and hearing hyenas call right next to you! During the day I have been also helping out with an ‘Endangered Wildlife Trust' study of roadkill, which has allowed me to get some great data and visuals of cheetahs and other animals along the fence-line.
Diana (Colombia & Ecuador)
: To extend my observations beyond the classroom, I participated in local festivities and events. At one school festivity, I offered my help to the teachers. They accepted my offer and asked me to give them a hand “preparing” the pig, Bachita. What I didn’t know is that they wanted me to help them torch the pig’s skin and wash the pig’s guts. That afternoon saw me holding the rigid pig’s leg and asking the school’s janitor to torch it. Later, I helped them season, roast, and eat Bachita. While it was definitely not one of the most pleasant experiences I have ever had, I’m very grateful to the teachers for opening a space for me and inviting me to engage in their daily lives.
: My current research about language encounters and their role in community development has brought me to learn more about the early history of the Comptoirs in Senegal, when “French” challenged the language of commercial authority. So I’m going from today to… 1637… and back! Knowing the past to imagine a different future. I’ve also had to inquire into the commercial and intellectual routes that went through Timbuktu (Mali), and its fascinating legacy of writing in so many disciplines, long before the landing of western colonial languages and education.
The AC4 Monthly Newsletter and interviews are organized by Research Coordinator, Nathanael Andreini. Please direct any comments, inquiries, and/or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org