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Abstract

Despite more than two decades of critical scholarly engagement, “development” is far from shedding its hierarchical, patriarchal, and colonial underpinnings. In academic research and teaching, power relations are continuously perpetuated – both implicitly and explicitly. Grounding our arguments on post- and decolonial critiques and our own experiences, we contend that how, why, and by whom “development” research is carried out must remain under constant scrutiny. We propose a reflexive and sociopolitically conscious approach of “knowledge co-construction”. Thus, we seek to decouple the myths of objective production of knowledge around “development” and provide (especially) students and early career researchers with a critical gaze.
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Canadian Journal of Development Studies / Revue
canadienne d'études du développement
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Why positionalities matter: reflections on power,
hierarchy, and knowledges in “development”
research
Arda Bilgen , Aftab Nasir & Julia Schöneberg
To cite this article: Arda Bilgen , Aftab Nasir & Julia Schöneberg (2021): Why positionalities
matter: reflections on power, hierarchy, and knowledges in “development” research, Canadian
Journal of Development Studies / Revue canadienne d'études du développement
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/02255189.2021.1871593
Published online: 18 Jan 2021.
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Why positionalities matter: reections on power, hierarchy,
and knowledges in developmentresearch
Arda Bilgen
a
, Aftab Nasir
b
and Julia Schöneberg
c
a
Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, Clark University, Worcester, MA,
USA;
b
Department of Sociology, Forman Christian College University, Lahore, Pakistan;
c
Department for
Development and Postcolonial Studies, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
ABSTRACT
Despite more than two decades of critical scholarly engagement,
developmentis far from shedding its hierarchical, patriarchal,
and colonial underpinnings. In academic research and teaching,
power relations are continuously perpetuated both implicitly
and explicitly. Grounding our arguments on post- and decolonial
critiques and our own experiences, we contend that how, why,
and by whom developmentresearch is carried out must remain
under constant scrutiny. We propose a reexive and socio-
politically conscious approach of knowledge co-construction.
Thus, we seek to decouple the myths of objective production of
knowledge around developmentand provide (especially)
students and early career researchers with a critical gaze.
RÉSUMÉ
En dépit de plus de vingt ans dengagement académique et
critique, la discipline du « développement » est encore loin de
sêtre défait de ses fondements hiérarchiques, patriarcaux et
coloniaux. Dans la recherche et lenseignement académiques, les
rapports de pouvoir sont sans cesse perpétuées de façon
implicite et explicite. Basant notre argument sur une critique
post-coloniale et décoloniale, ainsi que sur nos expériences
personnelles, nous postulons que les stratégies, les motifs, et les
acteurs de la recherche sur le « développement » doivent
toujours être mis à lépreuve et réévalués. Nous proposons une
approche réexive, qui prend en compte les facteurs socio-
politiques de la « co-construction du savoir ». Pour ce faire, notre
objectif est de dissocier la discipline du « développement » du
mythe dune production de savoir objective, et dorir un regard
critique sur la situation, plus particulièrement pour les étudiants
et les chercheurs en début de carrière.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 7 April 2020
Accepted 11 December 2020
KEYWORDS
Development; power;
positionality; reexivity;
postcolonialism
Once upon a time, an old man used to travel between two countries on a donkey. The guards
at the border control thought that he was a smuggler, so they always checked him carefully
for any smuggling goods. Every time they searched him from head to toe, but could not nd
anything on him. This became a routine and the guards started getting frustrated upon
nding nothing on him week after week. After almost six months of thorough checking, agi-
tation, and curiosity, they gave up and explained the whole scenario to the old man. They
© 2021 Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID)
CONTACT Arda Bilgen abilgen@clarku.edu
CANADIAN JOURNAL OF DEVELOPMENT STUDIES
REVUE CANADIENNE DÉTUDES DU DÉVELOPPEMENT
https://doi.org/10.1080/02255189.2021.1871593
asked him if he actually smuggled goods, and how he managed to do it. The old man listened
to them carefully, and then told them his secret. He explained that what he smuggled had
always been right in front of them, but they could not see. He asked them if they had
ever noticed that he always travelled with a dierent donkey every week. It was these
donkeys that he smuggled. This was his secret. (A tale from the Middle East)
Introduction
The year 2020 marks the 25th anniversary not only of Power of Development by Jonathan
Crush (1995), one of the most powerful (edited) books that has challenged the power
structures embedded in development
1
thinking and practice, but also of Encountering
Development by Arturo Escobar (1995), a seminal work on the production of knowledge
and power in the eld of development. Since 1995, and indeed before, there has been a
growing concern with examining the linkages between developmentand power as well
as the discursive, non-material dimensions of development(see Escobar 1995; Fergu-
son 1994; Hall 1992; Kothari and Minogue 2002;Li2007; Matthews 2004; McGregor
2009; Petras 2003; Rahnema and Bawtree 1997; Rist 1997; Sachs 1992; Ziai 2016). Critical
approaches that challenge the dominant developmentthinking, such as post-develop-
ment, post-colonialism, and anti-development perspectives, have become more popular
and acceptable, even in the curricula of mainstream research and education institutions
in Western Europe and North America. These approaches, or at least some of their key
components, have found a greater place in the syllabi of more and more undergraduate-
and graduate-level courses on development, resulting in a rise in the number of
masters and PhD theses written through the lens of the power-development nexus.
Similar changes can be observed in the practice of developmentas well. Once con-
sidered innovative and progressive for acknowledging the power relations between pro-
viders and recipients of development, concepts such as alternative developmentand
buzzwords like participationor empowermenthave become incorporated into the
mainstream. Practically, however, asymmetrical power relations within and among the
actors and supposed beneciaries of developmentremain dominant. Development
as a concept, a practice, and a eld of study is far from having shed its hierarchical, patri-
archal, and colonial underpinnings.
In this article, we focus on the question as to why, despite all the reform, repackaging,
and rebranding of development, the power asymmetries and inequalities that trouble
the subject continue to prevail. We focus specically on the workings of power in devel-
opmentresearch. Drawing on post- and decolonial critiques, we argue that reexivity in
research processes can serve as a tool to dismantle embedded power hierarchies. In a
reexive manner, we are grounding our argument on personal research and practical
experiences, rst as PhD students at a university-aliated think tank in Germany, and
later on as lecturers and researchers at universities in Germany, Pakistan, and the
United States (US). We contend that the dominant forms of knowledge production,
which itself is a contested term, should be problematised in every context. Relatedly,
we maintain that who researches developmenthow, why, where, and when must be
constantly questioned. We assert that research that overlooks the power dynamics in
developmentmust be replaced with a power-sensitive and socio-politically conscious
2A. BILGEN ET AL.
approach of knowledge co-construction, which acknowledges, engages, and draws on
non-hierarchical ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies.
In addition to taking reexivity as our guiding principle, we take a discursive approach
in what follows. Discourses can serve as powerful tools of practice. Inevitably, the use and
repetition of a certain language inuences the frames of theory, policy, and practice of
development(Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013). The common practice of writing about the
theory of power inequalities dictates that we tackle this question with more theory,
but this is what we position ourselves against. This, however, does not mandate us to
invent the wheel anew either. The most obvious answer to this question comes from
the decolonial literature (Bhabha 2012; Fanon 1995) that contests the phenomenon of
white colonial gaze. Through experiential data, we nd that the white colonial gaze not
only works in discourse, but also imprints itself on the bodies of the researcher.
As developmentresearchers, we do not claim to speak for the whole of our pro-
fession. We acknowledge that our analyses are inevitably subjective, shaped by our posi-
tionalities in terms of race, gender, class, education, and upbringing in three very
dierent social, geographical, and political contexts. However, despite of, or maybe
even because of, this subjectivity, we believe that our experiences and struggles relate
to that of many of our colleagues. We purposefully do not suggest a universally applicable
solution. The tendency to t all the intricate, even contradictory human experiences
under the same umbrella as well as to universalise the concepts, words, and ideas is
exactly the problem with the way knowledge (about development) is produced.
Instead, by using our subjective lens, we aim to contribute towards pluriversal dialogues
and decouple the myths of neutral and objective production of knowledge of and around
development.
Below, we frame our understanding of the concept of development. Following this,
without limiting our analysis to the critique of a single institution or a university struc-
ture in a specic country, we discuss the details of how we have been instructed to
research developmentand unearth the underlying discourses of power dynamics
that end up producing and perpetuating its practices. Here, the consciousness of
entangled positionalities is central to what we think can be done dierently in order to
make the production of developmentknowledge symmetrical and, eventually, pluriver-
sal. We conclude by emphasising that any research on developmentmust inevitably be
a re-search of power.
Development: a powerful discourse
Developmentis a highly contested term. As a eld of study, it seeks to understand and
explain the interconnections of global, national, regional, and local processes of change
within social, political, economic, technological, cultural, environmental, and gendered
spheres (EADI 2017). It is a multi-, inter- or even trans-disciplinary eld that incorpor-
ates a wide array of disciplines that range from economics, to engineering, political
science, sociology, anthropology, and linguistics. As a practice, it refers to an innite
number of actions and processes: infrastructure construction, economic growth,
womens empowerment, institution building, and many more. As an arena of policy,
developmentseeks to save whole continents (e.g. Africa), regions (e.g. Southeast
Asia), countries (e.g. Malawi) from poverty and transform whole societies (e.g. from
CJDS / LA REVUE 3
traditional to modern social organisations), communities (e.g. from passivesubjects to
activeagents of change), and people (e.g. from consumers to entrepreneurs). The mul-
tiplicity of references attributed to developmenthas made the concept an amoeba-like
term (Esteva 1992), an empty signier shaped according to the most vocal and powerful
voices (Ziai 2009).
The implications of such understandings and policies are so powerful that states and
international institutions have placed a broad array of diagnoses, prescriptions, practices,
and projects under the umbrella of development, as materialised in the United Nations
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Despite its obvious failings and detrimental
social and environmental impacts, developmentcontinues to be considered norma-
tively good and universally desirable. Any negative implications are explained with meth-
odological shortcomings that require technical xes rather than fundamental
epistemological contestation or political debate. The assumption is that interventions
simply need to be carried out more eective, inclusive, just, participatory, and sustainable
to work. Not less, but more developmentin dierent guises is oered as a remedy for
policy failures and shortcomings.
Post- and decolonial scholarship has contested such normative assumptions of devel-
opment, exposing the colonial legacy and continuity of development. Post- and deco-
lonial critique uncovers the power structures inherent in the production of knowledges
and the control of peoples, places, and spaces that are all measured against the yardstick
of European modernity (Dabashi 2015; Kothari 2006; Pailey 2019; Ziai 2016). Develop-
mentis deconstructed as a discourse of hegemony that legitimises the control of the
West over the Rest, establishing binary divides of modern vs. traditional, developed
vs. underdeveloped that stand in immediate colonial continuation of civilised vs. unciv-
ilised dichotomies (Escobar 1995). Arguably for this reason, developmentinevitably
requires intervention into peoples lives regardless of whether they agree or not with
the instructions and prescriptions provided to them. Since state ocials and inter-
national and national developmentexperts speak from a position of power, their rela-
tional capacity to negotiate and enforce has not been equal, but superior to, the
beneciaries of development. Despite the introduction of participation in develop-
ment, the idea that the push for change has to come exogenously persists, cementing
a binary worldview that locates problems in one half the world, and solutions in the
other.
The most inuential developmentthinking remains within the contours of neoclas-
sical economics and major tenets of modernisation theories (Kothari and Minogue 2002,
7). In its mainstream discourse, developmentthinking is a continuist paradigm that
believes in the linearity of relationships among concepts, institutions, states, and
similar entities. It leaves no room for breaks, cracks or ssures thereof (Rockhill
2017). It does not take into account the tumultuous nature of the social reality that
does not necessarily follow neatly carved pathways, but rather takes many unbeknownst
turns, thereby making the processes of predictions all the more dicult, albeit irrelevant.
In order to run a smoother ow, the practice of developmentfollows teleological and
deterministic approaches that take refuge in centralised, universalising, and homogenis-
ing tendencies. While these practices are developed in specic socio-historic contexts,
their universalising nature necessitates that they are to be implemented across various
socio-cultural backgrounds in a standardised manner. The dierences, divergences,
4A. BILGEN ET AL.
and uidities thus become too chaotic, irrational, and uncertain to control; therefore,
they are factored out of the equationsof development.
In terms of methodology, developmentresearch draws on various approaches that
range from inductive methods grounded in the observation of eld reality to deductive
approaches that test theory-based models empirically(EADI 2017). For years, the
approaches inspired by positivism have emphasised the cruciality of staying neutral
and impartial in any kind of scientic inquiry in order to produce universally acceptable
knowledge. Researchers are expected to make a clear separation not only between their
normaland researcherselves, but also between themselves and their research partici-
pants. As if in a controlled experiment in a laboratory, they are expected to leave behind
their identities, beliefs, and values even when dealing with sensitive issues with strong
political and social ramications such as global poverty or systemic inequality. The per-
sonal biographies of researchers are perceived as obstacles against ensuring objectivity
and hence quality research (England 1994, 242). For developmentresearchers,
however, engaging in reexivity to unearth the grids of positional power relations is par-
ticularly critical because we cannot remove ourselves from the machinations of power
and authority that are articulated by the projects of colonialism and/or development
as a whole(Kothari 2006, 134). This inevitable interwovenness is often pushed aside
through claims of objectivity in the mechanisms of knowledge construction. This is
where the inherent nature of human experience and complex mixture of all socio-histori-
cal, cultural, and political forces manifests itself. We explore this in-betweenness, posi-
tionality, further in the next section.
Reections on positionality
In recent decades, an increasing number of qualitative researchers, from critical, feminist,
post-structural, and postmodern perspectives, have challenged the idea of excluding the
self from research and employed reexivity as a methodological tool in their works
(Pillow 2003, 176). Reexivity can be simply dened as self-critical sympathetic intro-
spection and the self-conscious analytical scrutiny of the self as researcher(England
1994, 244, emphasis original). By taking a reexive stance, researchers acknowledge
their positionalities and how their characteristics aect both substantive and practical
aspects of the research process from the nature of questions that are asked, through
data collection, analysis and writing, to how ndings are received(Carling, Erdal, and
Ezzati 2014, 37). They become aware of what kind of roles their multiple positionalities
in terms of their age, class, ethnicity, gender, language, marital status, nationality, par-
ental status, profession, and religious beliefs play throughout the research process
(Ergun and Erdemir 2010,1819). Thus, they become sensible of the risk of constructing
or reinforcing hierarchical power relations in the research setting (Bott 2010, 159160).
As Farhana Sultana states, being reexive about their positionality allows researchers to
see where they are located in the grids of power relations and how that inuences
methods, interpretations, and knowledge production(2007, 376).
The positionality of a researcher is more of a political problem than a technical one.
According to Stuart Hall, [t]heres no enunciation without positionality. You have to
position yourself somewhere in order to say anything at all(1990, 18). In ethnographic
research, the position of a researcher has been traditionally reduced to being either an
CJDS / LA REVUE 5
insider or an outsider. In this dichotomy, insiders are seen as those who study a group
with whom they share similar racial, ethnic, language, and gender characteristics
whereas outsiders are those who study a group to whom they do not belong ethnically,
culturally or socioeconomically (Mullings 1999, 340). Generally, insiders are assumed to
have easier access to, and larger understanding of, the culture being studied. In a reverse
logic, outsiders are believed to have greater interest in learning about the unfamiliar and
more objectivityin the eyes of research participants (Merriam et al. 2001, 411). As each
position is praised for allowing researchers to collect more reliable data, the pros of one
position can be seen as the cons of the other position. Recently, though, critical
approaches have increasingly acknowledged that the insidernessor outsidernessof
researchers is not xed and frozen, but rather uid and context-dependent. Accordingly,
there is no guarantee that researchers will be treated as insiders in their own communities
or as outsiders in an unfamiliar setting based solely on their characteristics (Ergun and
Erdemir 2010, 34; Kusow 2003, 593). In other words, researchers can be insiders, outsi-
ders, both or neither simultaneously (see Breen 2007; Mullings 1999; Sultana 2007; Till
2001).
At this point, we would like to reect on our journeys through development
research. We were in the same cohort in the same interdisciplinary doctoral programme
of a university-aliated research centre in Germany. From outside, we three were
similar. We were just any three PhD students in the group of students who came to
our institution from all over the world to study development. When looked closely,
however, we had signicant dierences that shaped our identities and made us who
we really were in addition to being PhD students.
Arda is a male from Turkey, Aftab is a male from Pakistan, and Julia is a female from
Germany. We grew up in dierent countries that could be labelled as developed, devel-
oping, and underdeveloped according to oversimplied classications. We come from
families that can be categorised as upper-middle, middle, and lower-middle classes in
the contexts of our home countries. Related to this, the power of our passports, which
have a signicant inuence on conference participation and academic mobility, dier
disproportionally. Under the same circumstances, German, Turkish, and Pakistani citi-
zens are allowed to visit 189, 111, and 32 countries without a visa, respectively (Henley
and Partners 2020). Our educational backgrounds and research interests widely dier as
well. Arda holds a BA in International Relations and an MA in International Aairs/
International Security Studies. He has focused on the dynamics of technicisation and
depoliticisation in developmentin his PhD dissertation. Aftab holds BA and MPhil
degrees in Psychology, and has concentrated on the role and psycho-social impacts of
language in developmentin his PhD work. Julia holds a BA in Socio-Economics and
an MA in Peace Studies. She has worked on the mechanisms and implications of devel-
opmentpartnerships in her PhD project.
Even though eld researchis a problematic concept with many postcolonial impli-
cations, it is an essential part in almost all PhD programmes in developmentstudies.
Our programme was no exception in this regard. As in many other research programmes
in Western Europe and North America, students were given green light to do their eld
research only after they passed a complex of interdisciplinary and disciplinary course-
work, exams, and research proposal presentations as well as received ethical clearance
from the research ethics committee. Arda would do his eld research in his home
6A. BILGEN ET AL.
country Turkey. Aftab would do the same in his home country Pakistan. Julia, however,
would not do her eldwork in her home country Germany. Instead, she would go to
Haiti. This was not a single case, but rather an unspoken rule of the institution: students
from the global South were expected to research their own or other global South
countries while students from the global North had the liberty to choose any (non-
global North) country they would conduct research about. For this reason, most of
our Western European friends, including Julia, did their research on African, Asian,
and Latin American countries, mainly without prior knowledge of, or connection
with, the respective countries. After all, they would be accompanied by research assist-
ants, translators, and gatekeepers to make up for this lack. In other words, while students
from the global South were expected to go to their native countries for their insider
positions, students from the developedworld were expected, even encouraged to go
to the global South for their outsiderpositions (see Ziai 2020, 244 for a similar critique).
For us, this (not so) small dierence was one early sign of the dichotomous thinking that
separated the West and the Rest, making the underdevelopment of the latter a research
topic for the former in a problematic way. It prompted us to reect on the entanglements
of relationality and positionality as well as on the questions of knowledge production and
the authority of dierent knowledges.
Asymmetries of power became even more obvious to us when we started to learn more
about the workings of NorthSouth research collaborations or partnerships, especially
in the European research landscape. Despite the egalitarian connotations of the word
partnership, it was the northern partner who had the power to set the agenda for
research and decided whether to provide nances for research projects, which had to
be designed in the way northern partners wanted southern partners to design them
(Grieve and Mitchell 2020, 515). In most partnerships, principal investigators were pre-
dominantly northern-based academics controlling disproportionate amounts of
resources in terms of access to funds and knowledge regarded as legitimate(Gunase-
kara 2020, 504). Their collaborators, on the other hand, often lacked such resources.
For this reason, they were conned to the position of research beneciariesor assistants
instead of being seen as legitimate voices in the production of knowledges. Researchers
from the North travelled to the South to minedata in a setting where they assumed the
tasks of research design, analysis, writing, and publishing whereas their southern partners
acted like data muleswho gather[ed] data that [was] deemed relevant by people who
[might] not (for the most part) be too familiar with the physical, political and cultural
space in which the research [was] conducted(Gunasekara 2020, 505). In a way, these
outsider researchers were parachutinginto a community, spending some time
within that community, and disappearing forever once the data needed was collected
(Breen 2007, 163). Also, research grants were going mostly to the same small number
of elite institutions with strong and extensive networks and a cadre of western-educated
researchers, creating new exclusions in dierent forms (White 2020,492). Such factors
were indeed giving research a function of extractionand creating a hierarchy of knowl-
edge generation.
Just as many other research programmes in developmentstudies, our PhD pro-
gramme also aimed at producing development expertswho would return to their
native countries with the necessary skills and knowledge to increase the depth and
breadth of NorthSouth development cooperation. Even though all three of us were
CJDS / LA REVUE 7
lucky to have supervisors and tutors who encouraged us to critically contest and chal-
lenge the very idea of development, in general there was more interest in exploring ques-
tions such as: How can developmentbe made more ecient? How should
developmentbe better evaluated? What technical or social xes are necessary and ima-
ginable? More critical reections on how, why, and where developmenttheories and
concepts were invented and spread across the world were usually frowned upon. Simi-
larly, although strongly encouraged by some researchers including our supervisors and
tutors, reecting on our positionalities in our works was largely seen as a formality.
Obviously our personal studid not have a theoretical signicance or global reach.
For that, we had to refer to Michel Foucaults power analysis, Pierre Bourdieus
habitus, Antonio Gramscis hegemony, or similar universally acceptedconcepts
invented by big names, most of whom were white males from the West. Even though
this stuwas deemed irrelevant or found unscientic, it was in fact an essential
part of our work. It contained and revealed delicate information on how our positional-
ity, particularly the Western and/or colonial baggagewe carried due to either being
from the West or having been educated in the West, in fact shaped dierent aspects of
our research processes. The examples below illustrate this point better.
Between 2013 and 2014, Arda collected data about Turkeys Southeastern Anatolia
Project (Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi, GAP), one of the most comprehensive regional
developmentprojects implemented in the world (see Bilgen 2018b). His research
was considered sensitive for two major reasons. First, perceived or real, there was a
link between GAP and Turkeys long-standing Kurdish conict, which led to the
killing of more than 40,000 people and displacement of more than a million (Bilgen
2018a). Secondly, in Turkey, the [w]orks that challenge the ocial state narratives on
the issues like Kurdish, Cyprus, Armenian problems are seen as dangerous elds
where one is discouraged from working(Alpman 2018,85). In order to better under-
stand the projects characteristics, rationales, and mechanisms in light of a depoliticisa-
tion framework, he conducted elite-level interviews with dozens of politicians,
bureaucrats, and experts in Ankara and Şanlıurfa. Initially, he naively thought that he
was an insiderand his insidernesswould make the research process less complicated.
However, it did not take long for him to realise that coming to Turkey to complete
eldwork was quite dierent than coming home(see Sultana 2007; Till 2001). One sig-
nicant factor for this disappointment turned out to be his aliation with the West, both
within and outside Turkey. As someone born, raised, and socialised in the urban settings
of western and southern Turkey, his insiderposition reached its limits in the countrys
predominantly Kurdish and socioeconomically challenged southeast. He was found too
Turkishto understand the lived political and social realities of the Kurds. He was not
Kurdish enoughto see through their eyes the Kurdish region. As a Western Turk, he was
not just a researcher, but a symbolic representative of the sovereign that carried
unfavourable connotations due to the past (and ongoing) practices associated with the
politics of denial, oppression, and assimilation (see Bilgen 2018a, 101101). As
someone who had the chance and privilege to be educated at an English-speaking
high school and university in Turkey and later on in the US and Germany, his insider-
nessreached other limits in his conversations with the Turks too. This time, he was
found too foreignor not Turkish enoughto understand the development policies
of dierent political parties or the project-related viewpoints of various bureaucratic
8A. BILGEN ET AL.
bodies, agencies, and departments. It was unfortunate that most of the interviewees
thought of him as a mouthpieceof the West due to the political context where
western countries were seen as the dark foreign powersaiming to weaken and
divide Turkey. Numerous times he was asked why he reallycame all the way from
thereto here, and was advised to make sure his research serve the interests of the
Turkish state, not its enemies. In the midst of such implications, it required painstaking
patience to maintain the role of a reliable researcher and avoid biting the hand that fed
him(Adams 1999, 353). In other words, the negative connotations of the West in the
eyes of the elites at a national level, and of laypersons at a local level, led to sudden
changes and uidities in identities and power relations during the research process.
For this reason, he spent so much energy on constantly negotiating his positionality
insider, outsider, or both depending on the context to deal with the asymmetries of
power, which were sometimes in, and sometimes against his favour. He learned the
hard way that power [was] a slippery thing in research relationships(Adams 1999,
339) and that research was not following a linear path, contra textbook denitions and
standardised research guides.
Aftab experienced similar dilemmas when he collected data about the use and misuse
of language as a tool of control in post-colonial Pakistan in Pattoki, Lahore, and Sargodha
from the educational and judicial sectors between 2013 and 2014 (see Nasir 2020). When
Aftab was a child, he never knew he was living in a small village of a developing country.
It was only in his teen years that he came to know the complexities of belonging to a
nation that was seen worldwide as a liability instead of an asset. Just as Arda, whenever
he wanted to visit the US or a Western European country, he always faced visa problems.
He had to complete a whole lot of documents, give all kind of guarantees that he would
not run away, and prove that he would come back to his home country. What made a
country developed and what rendered another underdeveloped? Over the period of
time, it became clear that it had less to do with the way people associated with their
countries and more with how other countries perceived them. Before he began his
PhD, Aftab thought he knew his society, history, and culture as a lived experience.
During his doctoral coursework, however, the rst ssure happened when he was
taughtthat he had to unlearn his associations and be an objective observer; an outsider
to his own social reality and research it as if he did not know the phenomenon and the
eld he was working in. In other words, he was told that he had to be someone else for the
sake of good, authentic empirical research. While nothing seemed problematic back then,
later on it became a serious challenge of knowledge production on development. This
practice of being objective inadvertently meant diminishing his lived experience as a
citizen of Pakistani society and putting on the lenses of already generated, often misun-
derstood, and deeply problematic discourses of power, distinctions, and inequalities.
Moreover, it meant that he had to subscribe to the value set of Western thinkers if he
wanted to publish his works within the academic world far and beyond the institution
he was associated with. Upon his arrival for eld researchin Pakistan, he received a
mixed response of suspicion and appreciation. A section of his sample imagined that
he had a hidden agenda behind seemingly harmless research since he was working in
a country (Germany) that generated data and used it for ulterior motives or political
gains. He tried to shatter this myth by disclosing all his research protocols, methods,
and questions. Still, he found resistance on the part of many participants who did not
CJDS / LA REVUE 9
trust him. While he considered himself an insider, the mere perception of the locals of
him being an outsideralways stood in his way. The appreciation came from a dierent
segment, and was reminiscent of the colonial history of Pakistan. Since the time of British
rule, there developed a certain sense of being welcoming and submissive to anyone or
anything that was foreign, mostly related to Europe. Since he was aliated with an insti-
tution in Germany, it meant that he was associated with the superior culture and society.
Thus, the appreciation he received was actually directed toward the link with all that was
white in a more symbolic sense. It represented a post-colonial reality where the colonial
power might have left the country, but the existing structures and development schemes
still had remnants of inequality, deeply embedded in the functioning of development
research. However, for Aftab, the dilemma of being either an insider or an outsider,
both or none, remained unresolved, a fact that intersects through his research ndings
and that thickens the debate on positionalities emphasised in the article.
Being aware of the colonial implications of eld researchand feeling uncomfortable
with the institutional expectations, Julia focused on the development apparatusand
looked at the machinery rather than at the people to be developed. She focused on
the partnerships of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with local
groups and movements and spent several months in Haiti between 2012 and 2014 (see
Schöneberg 2016,2017). Her experiences were dierent to the experiences of Arda
and Aftab for three reasons: As a German in Haiti, she was white, she was female, and
she was a complete outsider. After reading up on the literature on Haiti, nalising
her research proposal (i.e. checking all the boxes required by the PhD programme),
and booking her ight to Port-au-Prince, Julia assumed she was ready for the eld.
However, upon her arrival, she was convinced not only that her presence and desire
to do research in Haiti was completely misled, but also that there was nothing meaningful
she would be able to contribute. In an instant she was (made) aware of her whiteness,
something that had been too easy to be ignorant of before. In a country where white
was associated with rich businesspeople, powerful diplomats, well-earning NGO
expatsand, above all, a history and legacy of brutal colonial rule and exploitation, it
was impossible to remain as ignorant. She went through several phases attempting to
deal with the feeling of guilt of being white.Atrst, she attempted to make herself invis-
ible and play the role of a neutral observer from the detached space of an outsider, failing.
Stepping out to the streets in urban areas or visiting communities in rural areas, she was
constantly addressed with dierent (nick)names, referring to her whiteness.Hey Blan!,
meaning white person or foreigner in Haitian Kreyol, she was often called. Every day, and
everywhere, she was continuously reminded of her position as the Selfin sharp contrast
to the Other. It reminded her of her (white) privilege and of her being part of the West
that has intervened the Restin so many destructive and unjust ways. The names she
was called primarily made a reference to her whiteness or foreignness, but they were in
fact not just simple descriptions. They held all the implications of violent white supre-
macy rule, colonial histories and colonial present, and developmentprojects to civilise
the uncivilizedor to develop the underdeveloped. This visibility was present regardless
of how hard she tried (and failed) to be invisible as a blan. In the next phase, she tried to
mingle and blend in, become a somewhat insider. Sharing everyday chores and daily life
in the communities, she helped preparing food, swept courtyards, fetched water from the
river, and chatted. However, even though people expressed their interest, respect, and
10 A. BILGEN ET AL.
established rapport, inevitably she remained an outsider. In the third phase, she felt the
best she could do was to move rather too close to a cultural relativist analysis of every-
thing she experienced. All these failures not only increased the depth of the limbo, but
also shook the legitimacy of her presence in the eld. After all, she thought, she
would get her rewards in the forms of academic degrees and recognition, but what
benet did her endeavours provide for the people who so readily shared their lives
and spent time with her? Did she represent their voices correctly? Would she ever be
able to give back? Was she not at all interested in what the subaltern was eating (see Syl-
vester 1999), but interested just in an abstract and theoretical analysis of discourses, rep-
resentations, and positions of power and knowledge? In other words, during and after
her presence in Haiti, she constantly questioned in what ways her humble eorts
could make meaningful scientic, intellectual, and most importantly, practical contri-
butions to people, if at all.
Positionality and knowledge production
What does this debate on positionalities have to do with knowledge production, one
might wonder. Despite our obviously dierent, but nevertheless similar experiences,
there is one tension that lies at the heart of it: the white colonial gaze. We conceive of
the world in binaries (Pailey 2019, 734), taking the white colonial gaze for granted.
Indeed, race has been an elephant in the (development) room for long. Gurminder
Bhambra has poignantly coined the term methodological whitenessto describe a
way of reecting on the world that fails to acknowledge the role played by race in the
very structuring of that world, and of the ways in which knowledge is constructed and
legitimated within it(2017). The colonial gaze is implicated in the circumstances of
going to the eldand the way researchers are taught to extract knowledge, only think-
ing of it in the singular. At the core lies the question of who gets to be an expert and what
kind of knowledge is considered relevant, i.e. academic. For instance, for many PhD stu-
dents, the process of legitimisation starts earlier in their projects when they start learning
how to unlearn and re-learn. This is done in practice through the colonial gaze that turns
these researchers into question marks. The gaze bifurcates them, and creates what Homi
Bhabha calls a split between soul and the whole(2012, 107). It means that researchers
enter a reection mode where they re-search themselves and try to nd qualiers that will
make them acceptable, relatable, and adaptable in new academic, socio-cultural, and
psychological environments. Researchers are left with limited options other than
abiding by the rules of the neoliberal, Western-dominated academy. The random mass
of mists”–researchers who come from various countries, especially outside the
West go through the processes of legitimisation by shedding their (black) skins and
learning to wear new (white) masks as the gaze politelyimplies (see Fanon 1995).
Therefore, it is the discourse of whiteness, of knowing more and more authors from
the West that makes researchers t for pursuing their academic goals with legitimacy.
This gaze forces researchers to look at themselves in newfound enlightenedways, i.e.
of producing knowledges, and at their research in the way that looks objective, scientic
(read: positivist), and above all apolitical. The universalising process becomes complete
when researchers convince their peers and seniors that they, too, have the skills to
conduct research like they do and that they, too, can see through their eyes through
CJDS / LA REVUE 11
this over-arching, all-encompassing gaze that primarily installs and cements the hierar-
chies and asymmetries of power.
The above-mentioned universalising tendency lies at the root of all academic research,
training, and practice happening in the eld of development. First and foremost, as
Dipesh Chakrabarty puts it, scholars
who shape the nature of social science have produced theories that embrace the entirety of
humanity. [However], these statements have been produced in relative, and sometimes
absolute, ignorance of the majority of humankind that is, those living in non-Western cul-
tures. (1992,3)
Relatedly, researchers are generally trained to take concepts like power, empowerment,
and order as a given and to focus primarily on the general behavioural patterns or
trendsof these concepts. They are tasked to apply these concepts in their work, validate
these ndings through empirical data, and disregard the deviations. They are also
encouraged, especially by the funding agencies, to think of research as an ordered, rational
process that should progress in a linear fashion in clearly dened steps and with sensible
hypotheses and feasible objectives(Fraser 2012, 292). In such a research setting, position-
alities are of crucial importance to prevent the overpowering universal from suocating
the particular. Otherwise, the monoculture of knowledgewould produce non-existence
by turning scientic knowledge into the only criterion of truth (Santos 2004, 238239).
Similarly, the monoculture of the universal and the globalwould produce non-existence
by rendering the local and particular as an inferior, noncredible alternative to what exists
globally and universally (Santos 2004, 238239). When research is conducted in this uni-
versalised fashion, the end result becomes a market-oriented, sellable product that must
attract the gaze of a potential buyer. Interpreted this way, producing a thesis or an
article becomes hardly dierent from any other practice of modern-day neoliberal econ-
omics. The commercialisation of research, accompanied and reinforced by the publish-
or-perish culture that has permeated the increasingly precarious academy, makes
researchers voluntarilyleave their intuitive knowledge behind and rely on the real,
legitimate, and universalknowledge to be counted.
Bottom-up perspectives are made less visible or less accurate through similar mechan-
isms. As our stories show, the data we generate do not simply exist out there, [but] are a
product of the relationship between the researcher and her informants(Adams 1999,
360). Researchers are the ones who write up the results and way forwardsections of
their studies. However, none or only a tiny percentage of research participants can
access these studies. Even if these works are published and distributed in the native
languages of participants instead of English, most of these people are not literate,
let alone formally educated. Even if the participants are educated, these works are pub-
lished in expensive books and paywalled journals, a situation that turns a collective good
into a commercial asset (White 2020, 500). If participants wrote their own narratives,
these narratives would be quite dierent. Their emphasis would probably not full the
specic guidelines of scientic research. What if, for instance, power is not at all anything
as Foucault foresaw it to the farmer who enjoys his work in the eld and likes the fact that
he is a part of a natural order in which his relation to the mother earth is closer and more
direct than any economic gains he might have by exploiting it most? How shall we quan-
tify these experiences? Similarly, what if todays mantra of social construction of reality is
12 A. BILGEN ET AL.
actually a socially conditioned response to a very specic socio-historical context of
modern and post-modern experiences of a Western society? Researchers do the laborious
work of wrapping such practices in appropriate and catchy academic phrases that
appease the participantsdoubts, serving the purpose of knowledge production centres
that are most of the time located in the North. Power structures leave little or no
space for researchers to let things present themselves openly, chaotically, and randomly.
Quite ironically, the habitus of critical thinking is structured in a way that it leaves no
room to think critically about the concepts like habitus in the rst place. For such
reasons, it is actually necessary to rethink our perceptions and reect on our positional-
ities in every phase of our social scientic inquiries.
Conclusion
Developmentis never neutral, and always political. Power relations continue to shape
the way developmentis understood, implemented, and researched. The problematisa-
tion of, and the reection on, these structures has once again demonstrated that our posi-
tionalities as well as our privileges, values, beliefs, interests, and experiences inuence the
process of how we perceive the reality and study developmental issues. As researchers, we
play the role of data-churning midwives. We give birth to a baby created of data. We
cut its umbilical cord from its mother, the context, and slowly baptise it with the holy
waters of theoretical knowledge and sanctify it in a specic technical and/or disciplinary
language. The truth is then rather imposed upon it instead of organically emanating from
it, but the optics are designed to give an impression of an organic spectacle. As research-
ers, we become the catalysts that enhance the process of data production. We are
entrusted with a task that makes us responsible for keeping the links, or rather enforcing
the links, onto the data generated around a certain topic. However, the way we approach
these tasks and the tools we turn to guide us are much dependent on our positionalities.
Indeed, becoming aware of our positionalities requires the willingness to encounter
discomfort and the courage to reect this in the words we write down as academic con-
tributions. However, having such an awareness (about the self) is an essential step
towards reconceptualizing research as a co-constructionof knowledge as well as con-
ducting research with, rather than onor abouta group or area of interest (see Breen
2007, 164). This awareness is crucial especially when we seek to understand, and propose
solutions to, the issues that involve political, social, and humanitarian elements. Failing
to acknowledge these intricacies means to commit to the acts of epistemic violence and
perpetuate the injustices with regard to the acknowledgement of diverse knowledges, cos-
movisions, and epistemologies that reach far beyond a (Western) positivist stance of
research.
Despite the bleak analysis of the status quo, not all is lost. There are pockets of resist-
ance, communities, and movements that are already challenging the white colonial gaze
of development. For example, according to Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2013), relational
accountability asks the following questions at the outset of every research process:
Whose research is it? Who owns it? Whose interests does it serve? Who will benet from it?
Who has designed its questions and framed its scope? Who will carry it out? Who will write
it up? How will its results be disseminated?
CJDS / LA REVUE 13
There remains the question of how to go about. For any research that involves inter-
action with people, including and exclusively developmentresearch, the aspects of
positionality, relationality, and reciprocity should be fullled. Developmentresearch
cannot be legitimate if one of them is neglected, because it inevitably means that
power asymmetries are glossed over and that power hierarchies are accepted, and
even perpetuated.
Similarly, decolonial thinking and black feminism teach us that knowledges are
always contextual, relational, and intersectional. Keya Khandaker and Lata Narayanas-
wamy (2020) demand that without action on structural inequality, we will forever be
tinkering around the edges of the intersectional challenges both created and nurtured
by how we frame development, which is intrinsically both a gendered and a racialised
construct. Walter Mignolo (2011) proposes the decolonial option, an option that
calls to question the structures and institutions, the coloniality of power that is
inherent in developmentto try to break the structures of epistemic injustices by lis-
tening to voices beyond established realms, to acknowledge their contestations and
resistances, to acknowledge the continuation of colonial structures still present, of
which, as researchers and human beings, far from being neutral, we are part,
whether we like it or not. Such an understanding requires an epistemological shift
to acknowledge the value of non-positivist traditions of knowledge production, a
methodological shift to see people as co-researchers rather than mines of information
to be extracted, and a lexicon shift to construct a language that is comprehensible for
many instead of a few.
Another helpful frame for resisting, contesting, and even subverting this gaze is pro-
vided by the concept of pluriverse. In contrast to Euro-modern universality, the Zapa-
tistas famously pledged to seek a world in which many worlds t. Arturo Escobar
(2016, 15) has put forward that the crises we face are foremost of a particular set of
world-making practices [] that we usually refer to as the dominant form of Euro-
modernity (capitalist, rationalist, liberal, secular, patriarchal, white, or what have
you). Pluriverse requires us to transcend borders both geographically and mentally
beyond narrow disciplinary connements, while paying respect and giving recognition
to diversity and otherness. A thought-provoking example is provided by the edited
volume Pluriverse (Kothari et al. 2019) which oers a wealth of concepts, cosmovisions,
and practices showcasing the utopia of a world in which many worlds tin contrast
to the Western monoculture. While the alternatives described source from all over the
world, they share fundamental commonalities as to what a good life and well-being
entail: the unity of human and non-human, community and interdependence, sover-
eignty and self-government. All of them critique the logic and impact of the Anthropo-
cene, (neo-)extractivism, and uncritical belief in Euro-modernist ideologies of progress
and growth.
In hindsight, we wish we could more overtly challenge the structures that produced
and implemented inequalities and injustices, the apparatus that was doing the develop-
ing, and the historical traces on which it was built. This article can be read as an eort to
make up for our past neglect of the critical gaze. We hope that current and future PhD
students as well as early career researchers take inspiration from the ideas presented here.
It is promising to see that an increasing number of researchers engage in reexivity today.
More and more books, theses, and articles explain in detail, or at least briey mention,
14 A. BILGEN ET AL.
how the positionality of the researcher inuences the research process (see Acar, Moss,
and Uluğ2020; Baser et al. 2018; Crabtree 2019; Idahosa and Bradbury 2020; Millora,
Maimunah, and Still 2020). We also hope that a greater number of higher education insti-
tutions that control nancial, human, and other resources become more aware and sen-
sitive of the structural problems in this eld and take action, at least by preparing the next
generation of researchers to face and negotiate the issues of power throughout their
research processes, especially if the research takes place in delicate environments such
as postcolonial settings or traumatised places. This is crucial to avoid exploitative
research or perpetuation of relations of domination and controland, hence, for
ethical research (Sultana 2007, 375).
Going back to the tale of the old man told in the beginning of the article. As of 2020,
we still witness that, on any given day, there are many conferences arranged, workshops
held, and meetings convened on how to alleviate poverty, increase net enrolment, secure
food, and so on. These practices end up producing more conferences, workshops, and
meetings on how to achieve all the above-mentioned tasks. Developmentpractice is
the donkey in our story. Most of the time, what developmentexperts actually
succeed in developing are the practices of doing developmentat national, local, and
regional levels. The old mans secret was not to hide his goods, but to put them so up
front that no one would even notice them. This resembles how developmentis
being done, and the secret to its success: the very rampant, always present nature of
its object, power hierarchies, and asymmetries keep it away from the lens of an analysis
at any given point. This is partly the reason why developmentresearch, policy, and
practice are so much focused on xing developmentrather than contesting the very
concept and on nding alternatives of developmentrather than alternatives to devel-
opment.
2
As a contribution to these eorts, we repeat our call to challenge and disrupt
the universalising, homogenising, and colonising (material and non-material) practices
that are well-ingrained within and around development. Doing so is neither utopian
nor unrealistic, and it is never too late to do that.
Notes
1. The word, the concept, and the practice has been (ab)used for a broad variety of specic
agendas, all of them structured by the hierarchies and asymmetries of power. Depending
on fashionable fads, developmenthas come to be conceptualised as development-as-
growth, development-as-progress, and many more, becoming an amoebaterm that
lacks any real meaning (Esteva 1992). To highlight its contested and ambiguous nature,
we will use developmentin inverted commas throughout the text.
2. One recent eort to mitigate all of this on the level of knowledge production is the Convivial
Thinking Collective, which Julia and Aftab have founded in 2018 and Arda has been a sup-
porter ever since. The collective brings together a group of scholars who embrace post- and
decolonial approaches when thinking, speaking, and writing about developmentand
beyond (Convivial Thinking 2020). With creating space for convivial thinking, the collective
attempts to break the cycle of the binary constructions we have mentioned throughout this
article. According to the collective, the route towards knowing the unknowns cannot be
conned to traditional academic mediums. Therefore, it provides an open-source, decentra-
lised platform to initiate and enrich debates about developmentthrough more informal
mediums such as visual art pieces, poems, personal anecdotes, and opinion pieces that
would otherwise be lost in the hierarchical spaces of formal academic publications.
CJDS / LA REVUE 15
Acknowledgement
The authors thank the two anonymous referees for their helpful and constructive comments and
feedback.
Notes on contributors
Arda Bilgen is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of International Development, Community,
and Environment at Clark University. His research interests lie at the intersection of the politics of
natural resources, the politics of infrastructure, and the governance of development.
Aftab Nasir is an Assistant Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Sociology at Forman
Christian College University. His research interests are post-colonial epistemologies, sociolinguis-
tics, psychoanalysis, political sociology, and development studies.
Julia Schöneberg is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department for Development and Postcolo-
nial Studies at the University of Kassel. Her research focusses on practical Post-Development,
social movements and resistances, as well as decolonial approaches to knowledge co-creation
and pedagogy.
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18 A. BILGEN ET AL.
... • Finally, GN scholars might consider integrating a more re exive and introspective stance into their daily lives and academic works. A self-inspection as such would increase their awareness about their positionalities in general, and their privileges, biases, and assumptions in particular, and help them reposition themselves vis-a-vis GS scholars in a power-sensitive, non-binary, and non-hierarchical fashion (see Bilgen et al., 2021). ...
... Therefore as technology designers we need to embrace pluriversal design and "this implies a transition from One-World concepts such as 'globalization' and 'global studies' to concepts centered on the pluriverse as made up of a multiplicity of mutually-entangled and co-constituting but distinct worlds" [15, p.19]. The pluriverse notion challenges disciplinary confnements and broadens the horizon both geographically and mentally while paying respect and giving recognition to diversity and otherness [5]. We postulate, only through the inclusion of non-WEIRD people in the design of technologies from the onset, can we overcome legacy bias, investigate diferent approaches to interaction and attain pluriversal technologies and spaces encompassing many ways of thinking -and interacting with digital content in culturally, at times diferent, but personally meaningful ways. ...
... My research reflection neglected to analyse what my privileges were preventing me to capture, to understand and thus, miss out in findings. Self-examination here is key for challenging the dominance of a western view of development and how whiteness 'imprints itself on the bodies of the researcher' (Bilgen et al., 2021). ...
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This autoethnographic piece seeks to demonstrate the continuous reflexive journey of researchers in acknowledging and addressing their privileges. Through reflections on fieldnotes and a subsequent paper written during my own doctoral research, I will explore how my immersion within postcolonial scholarship forced me to address how my own positionality in the field has re-enacted colonial dynamics in the field of global education. Thus, the paper will argue that in the same vein that we call on learners and educators to reflect on their privileges and positionality through pedagogical practices, we too as researchers must consider how the privileges we hold impacts our epistemological and methodological approach to study.
... As well, we should note that revealing researcher positionality and identity is very different in fieldwork versus online surveys. As the researcher and participant are face-to-face during fieldwork, this brings the researcher's positionality and identity to the fore (see, e.g., Bilgen, Nasir, & Schöneberg, 2021). In online surveys, on the other hand, this is less prominent because researcher's positionality and identity may not be immediately seen or recognized by the participants. ...
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While researchers have long discussed the impact that ingroup-outgroup identities may have on participant-researcher dynamics, no previous study that we know of has investigated how these identities impact participants’ decisions to participate in research in conflict contexts. In this study, we aimed to examine participants’ perspectives on their decisions to participate in research and how those decisions may be related to both their and the researchers’ identities as well as other important dynamics, such as political ideology. We used the Turkish-Kurdish conflict as a case and examined participants’ perspectives on Turkish researchers in this conflict context. More specifically, we investigated (1) opinions and feelings about Turkish researchers; (2) reasons for (not) participating in research by Turkish researchers; (3) the ways Turkish researchers affect participants’ decisions; and (4) attitudes toward Kurdish researchers. We used a survey with open-ended questions to explore participants’ perspectives and analyzed the data from 137 participants who identify as Kurdish using qualitative content analysis. Results highlighted the important opinions and feelings about Turkish researchers such as researchers’ ideological positions, objectivity, and sincerity, as well as how researchers’ other identities may affect participants’ evaluations of their research and how Kurdish researchers are perceived by Kurdish participants. We discuss the ingroup-outgroup dynamics together with other identities in relation to existing identity literature, as well as practical implications of our research for participant recruitment. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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Previous research and initiatives in participatory design (PD) with children has focused on co-located participation, leaving a paucity in theoretical and empirical work on geographically distributed on-line co-design with children. This gap presents a unique opportunity for children across the globe to become co-designers of their own digital inclusive learning environment. From a political perspective we strive for a pluriversal design of a hybrid distributed participatory design space using a transcultural approach. Thus in this paper we literally push boundaries in PD as (1) we reflect on two exploratory studies where we engaged children from Finland together with ”underrepresented children in PD”, namely from Namibia and Malaysia, thereby contributing to pluriversality; (2) we expand the concept of transcultural competencies in digital design inspired through co-designing with mixed groups of children from different geographical locations; (3) we raise practical issues requiring attention and further research, namely team building considering goals, social relations, skills and roles of participating children, facilitation goals and challenges, and technologies to enable conducive geographically distributed co-design.
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Chapter
This chapter overviews an eight-months long ethnography with Syrian refugees in an urban setting near the northern borders of Jordan. The aim was to explore how crossing borders is not just a process of moving from risk to safety, but changes how people see themselves and others. Specifically, the aim was to capture features of the refugees' community formation in exile, where the previous borders between social groups start to diminish and new borders arise to bring together those who struggle together. Through this chapter, the first author will discuss his own experiences as a person from the Middle East, with previous experience with armed conflict, but still struggling to navigate fieldwork in ways that might be unexpected to foreigners to the region. The ethnography took place from September 2015 to May 2016 in Irbid city by the borders, in a neighborhood known as "Dara'a", named after the Syrian region that the refugee residents come from, which hosts more than 130,000 Syrian refugees. The first author had the chance to embed himself in the neighborhood by volunteering to teach in a school and lived next to this neighborhood. This overview of the fieldwork experience will include a discussion of preparations and logic of decisions to choose the location, getting access, description of the atmosphere of the setting and the embedding process, the data collection process, and finally, lessons learned from the experience.