Expect the Unexpected: Navigating the Challenges of Conducting Fieldwork in a Fragile State

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by Kirsten Van Houten, Ph.D. Candidate, School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa

Between February and May of 2016 I conducted my doctoral fieldwork in South Kivu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). While I was there, I embedded myself within three local civil society organizations in order to observe the ways in which they contribute to peacebuilding processes where I also conducted open-ended qualitative interviews with leaders, employees, beneficiaries and external partners of the organizations. Conducting my research in this way allowed me to examine how individual actors perceived their own contributions as well as how the organizations operated on an everyday basis. Although the research component of this trip was successful and presented many opportunities to learn about how local Congolese actors contribute to peace, the challenges to living and working in a region that has been in conflict for more than twenty years complicated the realization of my initial goals. This piece explores the tension between collecting innovative new data and my personal experience as a researcher in a challenging context. Continue reading “Expect the Unexpected: Navigating the Challenges of Conducting Fieldwork in a Fragile State”