Power dynamics and the politics of fieldwork under Sudan's prolonged conflicts

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter

7 Scopus citations


Sudan, like many African countries, has been ravaged by prolonged wars since independence. War was the most important subject of my study when I conducted research for my doctorate in anthropology in South Sudan (1993–5), yet it was a subject that was both poorly understood and extremely complex. There existed varied and poor analyses of war-induced shifts in the social order of Sudan, yet few studies accurately traced the historical trajectory of the root causes of the wars in Sudan (for a notable exception see Johnson 2003). Little attention was paid to the effects of food insecurity, poor health, and destruction of infrastructure in people’s everyday lives and how these upheavals in turn became factors in the next phase of the war. For me as a researcher and an insider, understanding these rapidly changing social systems was crucial for the design of culturally appropriate humanitarian and human rights interventions. Yet obtaining this information was also extremely daunting because of the complex and multilayered nature of war zones. Since the early 1990s, my fieldwork in South Sudan has included ethnographies of political violence, slavery, and the racial and religious bases of Sudan’s political violence. Research in South Sudan then and now involves security risks, issues of access, and logistical challenges. It also entails ethical dilemmas, given that the subject matter includes war-induced poverty, hunger, dying, gender-based sexual violence, and power-based sexual blackmail. My experiences have taught me that issues of gender inequality, militarism, reproductive health, and overall family health are central to building an equitable society, and as such they remain touchstones for my research. In this chapter, I explore how such issues can be studied in war zones when one is both an insider and an outsider in a complex web of politics, ethical dilemmas, logistical challenges, and security risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationResearch Methods in Conflict Settings
Subtitle of host publicationA View from Below
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781139811910
ISBN (Print)9781107038103
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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