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Researching Violent Societies Workshop

The Role and Function of action Research in the Management of Violent Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in Nigeria
Dr. Isaac Olawale Albert

In addition to my work as a Lecturer at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, I serve as the Research and Intervention Officer to Academic Associate PeaceWorks in Lagos, Nigeria. This non-governmental organisation has vast experience in the area of managing violent ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria. The organisation has contributed immensely to the de-escalation of the violent conflicts in Zango-Kataf, Wukari, Tafawa Balewa, lgbo-Ora, Ugep and is currently working on the Ife-Modakeke crisis in lle-Ife with grants provided by the British Council and the United States Agency for International Development. All these conflicts, except the ones in Ugep and lgbo-Ora, were widely publicised by the international news media [most especially the CNNI though our intervention works are usually done "in the closets" for obvious reasons. Before we physically intervene in any conflict situation, we usually carry out an "action research" in the affected community. Such research programmes are sometimes carried out in manners different from how the mainstream researches are done. The researcher takes more time to get at the needs of the parties to the conflict as different from their positions and interests while at the same time avoiding being seen as a party to the violent conflict or a biased assessor of the situation.

My proposed paper will discuss how action or pro-active research, which is actually necessary for informing sound conflict management, is different from mainstream academic research. The paper will discuss how AAPW has been carrying out its action researches - how the research teams are constituted; the kind of data the researchers go after; their interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary methods of data collection; the ethical considerations of the fieldwork; how the researchers analyse their data and how the research is reported. I shall also discuss how the research report is "processed, repackaged and digested" during a conflict analysis seminar attended by a technical team, usually consisting members of the Nigeria Corps of Mediators and Consultants of AAPW. Such a seminar is usually a first step to determining the issues and shadow figures in the conflict; it is also meant for determining the social credentials of those to intervene in the conflict and what intervention methods would produce the best results under the prevalent situations. To what extent has this pragmatic approach to conflict management been productive in the unique Nigerian situations?

I expect both students of Peace and Conflict Studies as well as conflict managers around the world to benefit from the content of this paper. It is therefore necessary for me to ask some fundamental questions. One of such questions have to do with how the action researcher is trained. To what extent have Departments of Peace and Conflict Studies realised that their students require formal lessons in field methods, data analysis and report writing than they normally get from their essay supervisors?

War Trauma Research - Their Benefit or Mine?
Pam Bell

This paper addresses some of the ethical questions encountered when doing clinical research involving a severely psychologically traumatised population, in an unstable society under chaotic conditions. The project involves civilian women from Bosnia; victims of the ethnic cleansing, mass rape policy and the four year siege of Sarajevo.

  • These people are psychologically, socially and politically vulnerable. Many live in refugee settlements, with their future still on the negotiating table. Without immediate and tangible value to them, research can be seen as taking advantage of a weakened population.
  • Those having experienced extreme trauma are exposed to situations that could reactivate their traumatic experiences.
  • In a post-war society with a ruined economy, research is considered a luxury - arguably, material needs have far greater priority.
  • Local professionals performing research have to rely on international partnerships for funding. The outside partners inevitably have the greatest influence over the projects.
  • Research control such as ethical approval, is inadequate due to non-existent or not fully functioning regulatory bodies.

Given the considerable restrictions on research in such circumstances, the validity of results can be disputed. This poses the question: Should research be embarked upon if it is not performed in accordance with mainstream standards.

Research for empowerment in a divided Cambodia
Helen Jenks Clarke

Although Cambodia is ethnically homogenous, during the past 30 years almost continuous war and political tensions have divided the country. The genocide of the Khmer Rouge period followed a five-year civil war. Continuing conflicts between various ruling factions and Khmer Rouge remnants over the 20 years since the defeat of the KR have deepened the divisions within Cambodian society, continuing to disempower the population. The paper looks at a number of common assumptions about the nature of contemporary Cambodia deriving from the civil war, the KR revolution, and post-war experiences. Research projects on Socio-Cultural Vulnerabilities and Coping Strategies (SCVCS), on Local Capacities for Nonviolence (LCN), and on the concept of community in Cambodia examine the basis of contemporary community violence and challenge common assumptions made about war-torn societies. In the context of work on community based security, this research may help Cambodians to reclaim their knowledge and empower them to take effective action. The roles and functions of research identified include research to establish social knowledge (or in some cases to re-establish this knowledge), to reconstruct history and research to provide a basis for taking action.

Assessing the viability of War-torn Society Project (WSP). Participatory action research in a stateless situation: the case of the WSP Somali programme.
Ahmed Yusuf Farah

In spite of the fact that War-torn Societies Project methodology was directly derived from some of the basic ideas and experiences of PAR, what makes WSP methodology different and unique is that it represents a quantum leap from a research methodology designed to be implemented at the micro level to implementation at the macro level, addressing broad issues by providing a neutral space and involving a variety of actors, internal and external, who play key roles at the macro level. Four years (1994-1998) of participatory action-research carried out by the War-torn Societies Project (WSP) in four carefully selected countries (Eritrea, Mozambique, Guatemala and Somalia) have produced innovative and practical projects, the operational experience and an overview of the project have been produced.

Being the last of the country projects the WSP Somali Programme will last longer than its predecessors. The main research phase is winding up in Puntland and the Somaliland project is now fully operational. Assessments of the approach and achievements of the Somali Programme contained in the WSP research products is thus necessarily provisional, and must refer mainly to the first crucial phase of the first sub-national project in Puntland.

This paper will examine methodological issues highlighting distinctive and innovative elements in the WSP global project and the viability of the decentralised approach adopted by the WSP Somali program in its research activities in the relatively stable de facto political entities of Puntland and Somaliland. Moreover, the lessons learned from the WSP global project in the application of PAR as tool for rebuilding will also be examined in the context of the WSP Somali Program. In spite of these methodological issues, the paper will also explore ethical issues pertaining to the application of participatory action research in a stateless situation.

'Whatever you say, say nothing' - systematically distorted communication and interview-based
research in Northern Ireland

Andrew Finlay

One of the most important sociological contributions to our understanding of Northern Irish society is the identification of the phenomenon of 'Telling' (Burton, 1978 and Harris, 1972). 'Telling' refers to what happens when indigenous strangers meet in Northern Ireland. Typically, they draw on a series of signs and cues to 'tell' each other's religious affiliation. Having successfully 'told', the strangers then enter into what Habermas has called systematically distorted communication' . Despite the salience of Burton (1978) and Harris (1972) in the canon of work on Northern Ireland, little thought has been given to the implications of the phenomenon of 'Telling' for interview-based research on conflict by indigenous social scientists (Brewer, 1994 and Donnan and McFarlane 1983 are partial exceptions). The proposed paper draws on selected material from research that the author conducted on sectarianism and trade unionism in the Derry shirt Industry to illustrate both the difficulties posed for indigenous researchers by the phenomenon of 'Telling' and the virtues of reflexivity as a means of dealing with these difficulties.

Researching Sri Lankan and Kashmiri guerrilla movements - Personal Reflections
Rohan Gunaratna

Dynamics of armed conflicts can be best understood by researching both the state and the non-state actors participating in a conflict. Often insurgent groups are hard to study because most successful groups observe the strictest rules of secrecy. Lack of good case studies on insurgent groups have impeded efforts by national and international policymakers to end armed conflicts. Even the few researchers engaged in studying these groups at an empirical level face difficulties because research methods are either not well developed or not known to the researcher on the ground.

The bulk of researchers study these groups without visiting the theaters of conflict and draw their information either from media reports or literature released by the insurgents, their sponsors, governments or human rights/humanitarian NGOs. Insurgent leadership, organisation, operations, motivation, technology, strategies and tactics are best studied by interviewing serving and former members of these groups as well as group specialists in governments responsible either for attriting or supporting these groups. The researcher's point of view will often determine the level of access to the principal protagonists.

This paper delineates the research methods adopted to document Sri Lankan and Kashmiri guerrilla movements and the ethical issues arising by the study of these groups.

The impermeable identity wall: the study of violent conflicts by "insiders"
Tamar S Herman

This presentation is meant to define and analyze several dilemmas inherent in the conduct of empirical research of inter-communal conflict by social scientists who are themselves on one side of the conflict. Based on the presenter's recent experience in leading a research team that examined Jewish Israeli peace groups and peace activity carried out jointly by Israelis and Palestinians, it is suggested here that the specific identity of the researchers is an ever-present intervening factor, and that it has its pros and cons in different stages of the research. Researchers who belong to one of the sides of the conflict are apparently best qualified for conducting the data collection, at least on their own side. They are often more proficient in the language than researchers from the outside, are more familiar with the cultural context, have better access to primary resources and informants, and are somewhat less susceptible to manipulation by their interviewees. On the other hand, being involved, and even if they are highly critical of their own side of the conflict (which is often the case), they are less capable than "outsiders" in getting through to the other side. Moreover, when they do get through, the interaction often replicates the power relations between the two sides to the conflict. The identity of the "insiders" turns out to be particularly problematic at the analysis stage of the study: unlike "outsiders" they are inescapably caught between psychological and social demands to take the side of their community in the conflict on the one hand, and their professional obligation to academic impartiality on the other. In their effort to resolve this dilemma, they often tend to be either overly or insufficiently critical of their community's role in the conflict. Last but not least, insiders' deep familiarity with the details of the case makes it very difficult for them to see the overall picture objectively. They therefore tend to over-emphasize the case's unique aspects while understating its comparable ones. This tendency reduces their ability to make the most of the data they so successfully collected on the theoretical level.

The Light Weapons Argument: Logic Dictates but Data Talks
David Meddings

Widespread availability of small arms and light weapons is believed by some to be an important factor contributing to regional instability, obstructed development, and a blurring border between military insurgency and criminality. Establishing the descriptive epidemiology of patterns of injury observed in heavily militarised settings is a research approach that can usefully examine this assertion. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provides assistance to victims of armed conflict. This involvement, which often occurs over years or even decades, has provided the occasion to develop and implement some simple data collection instruments. At times these have been employed in unique, focused studies while in others they have been part of an institutional effort to collect data on people injured by weapons and cared for under the auspices of the ICRC. Examples of both of these will be briefly discussed, with emphasis on common constraints, potential limitations and biases, and their effects on interpretation of results.

Being a Prophet in whose Land?
Pablo Mendez

The present paper is dedicated to giving an insight of the motivations underlying the researcher who is working in violent/divided societies. How our conflictive humanness is inevitably linked to the subject; and how our prejudices, therefore, can affect the research itself. The hermeneutic phenomenological approach is here considered the most appropriate for human science research, for it serves to establish a human relationship with the Other of the research - dealing with the methodological and ethical aspects of it. The author brings up the relationship between the problematic question -nationalism- and his personal motivations. Presented as a metaphoric pilgrimage, he faces some problematic aspects (like foreignness, language, identity) and the researcher position regarding human research - always from his own personal experience.

Accessing the people for psychiatric biological research in Bosnia and Herzegovina during and after the war
Lilijana Oruc

This presentation will mainly focus on personal experience in accessing people for psychiatric biological research with emphasis on psychiatric genetics. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the whole scientific and research system collapsed and implementation of research projects was impossible. On one side were researchers left on their own without any scientific or material support and all projects were carried out practically thanks to the enthusiasm of a few people. On the other side were highly traumatized population with minimal social and political support, which make them suspicious and noncooperative. Researchers were faced with the two main difficulties accessing the people for researcher purposes and accessing the people from abroad for international cooperation. After the war, the main obstacle for linkage and association genetics studies in complex psychiatric disorders are also big demographic changes since almost every family is disrupted. At the same time, outside collaborators are not interested in setting up this kind of research projects. To cope with all these difficulties it would be very important to establish network of researchers who used to work or are working in divided societies in order to exchange experience and knowledge.

Researching for the People
Narcisse Rwagasana

At the end of the 20th century which is characterised by many more fierce conflicts all around the globe, researching into the root of the matter appears more than ever to be at the core of any possible solution to the crisis.

However it is not simply enough to conduct research, rather, the way in which it is conducted is very important - both ethical issues and the methods used are crucial to the good outcome of the research. Examples abound, especially in the rwandese historical context of research studies and researchers who contributed to the escalation of the violence, and thus deteriorated the already precarious situation of the people on whose behalf the researchers were supposed to work - allegedly for the betterment of their socio-political condition. A look into the case history of Rwanda will better illustrate the importance of accountability and democratisation of the research, for after all, researching in violent societies ought to be men-centred and allow room for the research community to search for a solution to their problems. The researcher's reaction must not supplant the people's opinion. Therefore the researcher must like contacts, be interested in the people's way of living, their concerns, their joy and hope for the future - not just be interested in the research itself. This is the best way for a researcher to identify with the community being researched, and thus become accountable to them. In my paper I recommend a pre-field study of the community under research, and will develop the qualities that are required from a researcher, plus some techniques used in the media to report in certain circumstances, as well as giving some examples and applications from life in Rwanda.

One Size Fits All? - Focused Comparison and Policy-Relevant Research of Violent Societies
Albrecht Schnabel

The paper/presentation argues for the need to research violent societies through a 'focused comparative' approach. This is crucial if research is to transcend academic discussions and lead to policies at nonstate, state and interstate levels directed at the appeasement of, and eventual peacebuilding processes in, violent societies. International organisations and NGOs are particularly important consumers of research and subsequent actors in peacebuilding activities: While the former tends to develop near-universal mechanisms and approaches to address violent societies region- or world-wide, the latter tends to operate in the context of local environments. Nevertheless, both need to focus on general approaches within a local context. In co-operation, they can address common challenges of divided societies as well as the specifics conditioned by each society's particular political, economic and socio-cultural fabric. Thus, as the analyst of a specific society and the informant of internal and external security providers, the researcher needs to focus in his/her work on both the particularities of specific case studies and general characteristics of violent and divided societies elsewhere. Such "focused comparison" produces knowledge that distinguishes the general from the particular - crucial information for the development of effective responses by external and local actors.

Dilemmas of accountability and participation in an action research project in Northern Ireland
Marie Smyth

This paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of using a participatory model of action research in terms of how such a model renders the researcher accountable ethically and practically to the researched population. The model of participation used in a project designed to investigate the experience and effects of armed conflict on a population is described. The model involved members of the researched population (from both sides of the conflict) in the management of the project. The operational logistics and issues of implementing such a model are outlined in terms of the demands on the research team, and the impact on researcher accountability is evaluated. Particular reference is made to the effect on forms of consent used in the project, to issues of ownership of data and to the way research dissemination and publication was influenced by the structure of the project. The value of involving those with personal expertise, rather than research expertise in project management is examined and lessons for this researcher's future research design, methodologies and ethical, legal and academic practice are suggested.

The Politics of Phenomenology: Research when nothing is neutral
Gregory Tillett

Researchers, particular those from academic institutions, tend to assume that what they are doing is simply describing phenomena - that is, they are recording accounts of what has happened or is happening. This paper explores some of the methodological problems inherent in attempting non-partisan research in divided and violent societies. In such situations, what would otherwise be regarded as basic questions of fact necessary to describe the phenomena, may have serious political connotations. The use of otherwise basic (apparently neutral) academic language can have political implications. The questions this paper seeks to address include: how can research be undertaken in settings in which no question (let alone any answer) is free from (apparently partisan) political implications ? how can research be reported when no statement of findings will not support (or conflict with) the political position of one side ? how can researchers asses the credibility of sources (documentary or oral) when (probably) there is no source which is not in some way politically partial ? how can sources be identified when information is given on the basis of assured confidentiality ? If everyone views the researcher as a potential ally (or, at least, as the source of a report potentially supporting their position), how can the researcher gather, assess and publish research findings ? and, if the findings are not to the liking of one (or any) parties, how can the researcher return to the field for further research ?

Meanings in conflict: conceptual transferability and comprehension in violent and divided societies.
Sue Williams

This presentation is the product, not only of my experience, but also of "rains of ideas" from other INCORE staff. It is intended to open discussion on the challenges of doing and presenting research in and about situations which are divided and conflicted. Translation of words is difficult enough, but how can concepts be conveyed across languages and cultures? There are usually disagreements about what to call the place and the events - is there a war in Northern Ireland, or troubles in the six counties? Even if a given concept exists across the divide, it may have very different nuances, experiences and emotions attached to it. Perhaps more basically, how do "research subjects" understand their role and ours, and what will be done with the results? Drawing on our experience and yours, this will be an invitation to observe your research from a distance and look for possible areas of misunderstanding.

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