fieldwork

Free book! Research, Ethics and Risk in the Authoritarian Field

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Tweak on a book
Guest cat on the blog… Say hello to Tweak, who may (or may not) be reading Research, Ethics and Risk in the Authoritarian Field 

I’m delighted to recommend a new book by Dr Adele del Sordi and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam called Research, Ethics and Risk in the Authoritarian Field.

This is a much needed book – indeed, the first of its kind – to support researchers exploring a range of issues in the field in authoritarian settings.

Dr Del Sordi has experience doing research in Kazakhstan, which adds a welcome Central Asian flavour to much of the book’s content.

The book achieves two equally useful tasks, being divided into sections that enable the authors to reflect on their individual experiences as well as offering advice and guidance to other researchers. Bear in mind that it’s mainly written from the perspective of ‘western’ researchers, although I think the authors do a good job of making clear the limits and scope involved in an endeavour such as this one. I liked this nugget, for example:

…as western researchers we may too easily read authoritarianism into such requirements, and forget the often draconian procedures of our own authorities vis-à-vis non-residents (p.22)

The book is carefully referenced, offering a number of extra readings that bring together reports (such as the Central Eurasian Studies Society‘s widely read Taskforce on Field Safety, 2016) and the limited number of academic reflections on these issues.

A neat addition to the book – which, by the way, you can download for free are a series of cartoons illustrating some of the issues raised in the book. That is a really cool touch! You can find the cartoons on the authors’ institutional website.

Here’s the official blurb:

This Open Access book offers a synthetic reflection on the authors’ fieldwork experiences in seven countries within the framework of ‘Authoritarianism in a Global Age’, a major comparative research project. It responds to the demand for increased attention to methodological rigor and transparency in qualitative research, and seeks to advance and practically support field research in authoritarian contexts. Without reducing the conundrums of authoritarian field research to a simple how-to guide, the book systematically reflects and reports on the authors’ combined experiences in (i) getting access to the field, (ii) assessing risk, (iii) navigating ‘red lines’, (iv) building relations with local collaborators and respondents, (v) handling the psychological pressures on field researchers, and (vi) balancing transparency and prudence in publishing research. It offers unique insights into this particularly challenging area of field research, makes explicit how the authors handled methodological challenges and ethical dilemmas, and offers recommendations where appropriate.

So there you have it. Download and enjoy!

A summer of learning: Fieldwork, conferences, and more in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

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It’s been rather quiet on the blog of late.

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A sneak preview of a new addition to my Central Asian university photo gallery. This beauty is the Kyrgyz State Technical University, formerly the Polytechnic Institute.

Don’t worry – I haven’t run out of ideas to keep the blog going. On the contrary, I probably now have too many. I also have a LOT of new photos of universities to add to my photo gallery (see the bottom right part of the homepage). Bet you can’t wait for that!

The reason for the lower than usual level of activity is that I’ve been doing fieldwork for my PhD thesis over the last two months.

This has involved meeting with over 30 wonderful academics in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and spending a time with each of them discussing their personal experiences of working in higher education since the late Soviet period.

I have learned so much from my respondents and am incredibly grateful to each of them, not just for their time, but also for their willingness to share their own stories with me. Once I am back in Canada next month, I will need to spend time reflecting on these interviews and making sure I do justice to the rich data I have been able to gather.

All the interviews have been anonymised so I can’t thank people publicly – but they know who they are. Thank you. Спасибо.

In addition to doing these interviews, I’ve also been selected to present at three conferences, one in each country.

At the joint ESCAS-CESS conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in June, I organized a panel on The shifting landscapes of post-Soviet higher education, presenting the paper Conceptualizing change in post-Soviet higher education. I also convened a roundtable on to discuss the future for higher education in the post-Soviet space. Read more about the conference here.

In July, I was invited to present at a conference on Tradition and change in a contemporary world in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. This is a very fitting theme for my thesis work on change (and stability), although at the request of the conference organizer, the paper I presented drew on my earlier comparative work on the UK and Canada and was entitled Connecting history with contemporary identity in higher education. The article that this paper is based on can be found here.

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Presenting at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, August 2017

Finally, here in Astana, Kazakhstan, I am pleased to have presented today (19 August) at the first annual conference of the Graduate School of Public Policy at Nazarbayev University.

My paper was Public policy and higher education reform in Central Asia, which discusses how the world-class university has become a global public policy strategy for higher education.

Although this is an excellent example of policy convergence, I argue that Kazakhstan’s strategy in creating Nazarbayev University offers a creative shift to this world-class university model: one that embraces the dominant global university model whilst at the same time transforming it to be useful and applicable for other purposes. You can read my related article on this subject here.

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Nazarbayev University, impressive as heck.

The conference was themed around good governance and attracted a diverse array of international presenters. Each of the presentations I was able to see added something new to my understanding of governance and public policy, from thinking about the state as a supplier of institutions for economic diversification in Kazakhstan (by Zhanat Murzakulova) to learning more about the implications of informal institutions for post-Soviet education systems (by Dr Dina Sharipova), and a lot more in between.

 

And last but not least, in amongst all the interviews and conferences and photographing university buildings, it’s been absolutely wonderful to catch up with family and friends. Being dispersed so globally can have its downsides, so it makes the moments of being together even more special.

What a great summer.