GIGA Doctoral Researcher Dastan Jasim is currently conducting field research in the Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria, using both quantiative as well as qualitative approaches. Learn more about Dastan’s experiences and her tips for planning field research in this interview.
Dastan is a Doctoral Researcher at the GIGA and is currently conducting field research in the Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria. Her methodological approach is quantitative as well as qualitative. In this interview, Dastan tells us more about her experiences in the field and how her plans changed due to the pandemic.
How was your field research planned before the pandemic began?
I started my GIGA application process just two months before the pandemic began and started the PhD in October 2020 so from the start, I was sure that things were not going to go as planned. Therefore, I used the data that is available, which is for my case the World Values Survey and Arab Barometer data and planned to expand that data with an online survey of Kurds in Syria. From the beginning I started with the “worst case” scenario: No access to the field, lockdown, no meetings no trips. However, as the vaccination campaign continued and the world learned dealing with the pandemic as much as they could in 2021, I also slowly started to expand my possibilities and planned to collect data from Syria via an online survey as planned, but from Iraqi Kurds with a randomized in-person survey as well. All in all, the journey has therefore been from most pessimistic to most optimistic research design, if you will.
What are your tips for other researchers who want to conduct a field research in times of a pandemic? And what tips and advice would you give other Doctoral Researchers who plan to conduct field research?
I would suggest you to be as pessimistic and realistic as possible, as much as that might sound weird. Whatever you plan, ask yourself: What technical, human or personal issue could come in the way? What if I become sick? What if my planned model does not work with the data? What if people simply do not answer my questions? It is stressful and quite frankly mentally challenging to have this mindset but for me this approach has so far worked out very well, especially in a country like Iraq and in the Kurdistan Region where you permanently must face challenges. Also ask yourself about your social position in the field. In the end we are not only researchers but humans that have a position in a regional and even global setting of how societies are constructed. As a woman who originates from this region but is born in Germany, I am for example first perceived as a local but then perceived as a stranger as well, when I introduce myself as a PhD researcher from Germany. How can I introduce myself in a way in which both these aspects are read in a positive way? As a white person you might also have access and privileges, but you also might provoke a specific bias in respondents. As a woman people might look at you differently as well. Reflect these things and maybe interact with locals before the actual field research to test the waters, language capabilities, etc. In my case I had to reflect many such settings. And most importantly: Take care of your security and your respondents’ security. First of all: get a good idea of the health infrastructure in the worst case, how you’re insured, where you can get medical help. Also make sure that your research does not raise suspicion. Get a clear idea for what you must do to do ethical research in these regions. Is there a federal law on research that involves human subjects? What are the regulations? Is there an official process where you can also get local clearance, aside from the GIGA process that we have? When I collect data: How do I make the process safe? Is the survey encrypted? Is the internet connection safe? Could anyone access the data? Can the data be traced back to the respondents? How can the respondents have the maximum transparency in order to understand what they are actually part of? How do I travel around? Do I need a residency permit after a specific time? What internet connection do I use on the road? These details matter.
What are you currently doing on site and how are things going?
Right now, I have managed the process of getting the local authority’s clearance of my fieldwork on top of the GIGA ethical clearance, setting up my questionnaire on an app which is also encrypted, finding a research assistant who will join me during the in-person fieldwork in Iraq, get funding for this person as well (please pay the people that work for you) and finding multiplicators for the online survey in Syria. I have also had to manage issues of my residency because a last minute change of residency law has given me quite some problems, I have recently battled Omicron because – of course – I had to get my first Corona infection just before my in-person fieldwork, and I have chosen the strata for my survey in Iraq in which I will have a random selection of places I will visit to ask the questions. Things are going well but it is a lot of work and I have to find a way to sometimes unwind between all these different tasks. That is another advise that I must give people who do fieldwork abroad: You are in a different environment far away from the places and activities that you normally connect to unwinding and relaxing. Find new activities in the location of your fieldwork that help you relax in between the work periods.