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Fieldwork in “Restrictive” Environments: Contrasting Methodologies

Case
By: Cyanne E. Loyle, Alyson Smith & Haley J. Swedlund Published: 2019 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases in Political Science and International Relations
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Abstract

In this research methods case, we focus on the challenges facing researchers who conduct fieldwork in restrictive environments; that is, contexts where researchers often face constraints on freedom of research and information. In such environments, the threat (or perceived threat) of encroachment on academic freedom can considerably affect both research design and data collection. We consider how researchers can vary methodologies to circumvent some of the major challenges of working in restrictive environments. To do so, we draw on our collective experiences with different methodological approaches, including elite and non-elite interviews, focus groups, and surveys, while conducting fieldwork in post-genocide Rwanda. We compare the trade-offs faced by these alternative approaches in a restrictive environment and offer advice for researchers embarking on research in this context. Our goal is to provide creative and savvy suggestions to assist junior scholars in designing and conducting research in challenging political climates.

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