Researching American Muslims: A Case Study of Surveillance and Racialized State Control

Researching American Muslims: A Case Study of Surveillance and Racialized State Control

By Hajer Al-Faham, University of Pennsylvania

How does surveillance shape political science research in the United States? In comparative and international politics, there is a rich literature concerning the conduct of research amid conditions of conflict and state repression. As this literature locates “the field” in distant contexts “over there,” the United States continues to be saturated with various forms of state control. What this portends for American politics research has thus far been examined by a limited selection of scholars. Expanding on their insights, I situate “the field” in the United States and examine surveillance of American Muslims, an understudied case of racialized state control. Drawing on qualitative data from a case study of sixty-nine interviews with Arab and Black American Muslims, I argue that surveillance operated as a two-stage political mechanism that mapped onto research methodologically and substantively. In the first stage, surveillance reconfigured the researcher-researchee dynamic, hindered recruitment and access, and limited data-collection. In the second stage, surveillance colored the self-perceptions, political attitudes, and civic engagement of respondents, thereby indicating a political socialization unfolding among Muslims. The implications of this study suggest that researchers can mitigate against some, but not all, of the challenges presented by surveillance and concomitant forms of state control.