Academics in the Midst of War

The work of researchers in conflict zones has never been more important—or more challenging.

Armed conflicts are rising around the world and the global number of refugees is at an all-time high. Much like photojournalists, academic researchers in conflict zones face a range of ethical, professional, and security challenges as they struggle to provide insights. Should I intervene when a life is on the line? How do I gain access to people in high-conflict zones? How do I get my hands on trustworthy data? How do I navigate kidnapping risks?

A Syrian man carries a carpet through a devastated part of the town of Palmyra. (Photo: AP)
A Syrian man carries a carpet through a devastated part of the town of Palmyra. (Photo: AP)

“It’s obviously much more difficult to get reliable information in conflict zones as you might find archives destroyed or people afraid to talk,” said Séverine Autesserre, an associate professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University. “There is certainly a concern about data quality, but you can still get the data in other ways.”

Researchers participating in a discussion on “Research in Wars and Conflict Zones” at a recent conference in Doha agreed on the need  for a broad set of tools and research methodology. While doing research in Iraq, a researcher at the University of South Australia, Fatin Shabber, developed a story-telling technique to encourage Iraqi women to answer her questions, which she found more useful than just running . . .