Scientific article

Navigating an inconvenient difference in antagonistic contexts: Doing fieldwork in Aceh, Indonesia

Published inSingapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 34, no. 3
Publication date2013

This article discusses the challenges of doing fieldwork in an antagonistic context. Such an antagonistic context can emerge when a non-Muslim researcher conducts fieldwork in a Muslim country that experiences humanitarian intervention and reconstruction efforts after natural disasters or the end of conflict. This particular setting can create a conflation of Islamic and Western (liberal) values while a political settlement is about to be consolidated. The case discussed in this article is located in the province of Aceh in Indonesia, where a political settlement of a conflict which lasted more than 25 years converged with a massive influx of foreign aid for disaster mitigation vis-à-vis the desire to apply Islamic Law (shari'a). The combined effects of reconstruction efforts and political and armed conflict, forged a problematic co-presence of Western and non-Western values, which affected the relations between the (Western) researcher and (non-Western) researched by creating tension or even hostility between the two. The article argues that methodological dilemmas stemming from such a setting require a relational approach drawing on empathy, sameness and the personal, thereby taking into account emotions when conducting fieldwork. For this particular case I suggest an approach based on teamwork crossing cultures and gender among the research team members. To deal with constraints in such a setting, the article proposes to contextualize any potential difference between the researcher and researched, and to explore various relational elements drawing on psychoanalytical approaches and/or cross-cultural positioning through and in teamwork.

  • Fieldwork
  • Difference
  • Aceh
  • Psychoanalytical approaches
  • Positionality
  • Cross-cultural collaboration
  • Swiss National Science Foundation - Marie-Heim-Vögtlin
Citation (ISO format)
SCHENK, Christine Giulia. Navigating an inconvenient difference in antagonistic contexts: Doing fieldwork in Aceh, Indonesia. In: Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 2013, vol. 34, n° 3. doi: 10.1111/sjtg.12036
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Article (Accepted version)

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