Theorizing Risk and Research: Methodological Constraints and Their Consequences
By Geoffrey Swenson, University of London and Kate Roll, University College of London
Conflict, postconflict settings, and other risky research sites are important with wide-ranging policy implications. Microlevel, field-based research lends critical insights to how conflicts work and the mechanisms behind macrolevel correlations that underpin quantitative political science. This article identifies how the risks associated with conflict and postconflict contexts influence researchers’ choices by theorizing the existence of distinct adaptive strategies. Specifically, researchers facing elevated risk generally manage it through three main strategies: outsourcing risk, avoiding risk, and internalizing risk. We argue that these strategies systematically shape and circumscribe outputs. We conclude by discussing how the relationship between risky fieldwork and what we know about conflict is poorly acknowledged. Thinking about how we manage risk should play a larger role in both our preparation for and interpretation of research, particularly in conflict and postconflict contexts.