Emily Kalah Gade, research scientist for Political Science and postdoctoral fellow at the eScience Institute, spent much of 2015 picking olives and learning the life stories of farmers in the West Bank and Israel. The fieldwork’s resulting 58 life-story-style interviews of olive farmers, combined with 12 semi-structured interviews with municipal workers and defense soldiers, make up the data for a grounded theory project on the impact of checkpoints on civilian support for militancy. After a brief presentation of her approach and findings for this project, Gade took questions on the specific ethical considerations on conducting research in a conflict zone.
For Palestinians in the West Bank, the practice of olive farming is akin to an act of civil resistance. How does this population living in a conflict zone, and engaging in an occupation closely tied to Palestinian identity in culture, construct their lives and beliefs (and preferences for militancy)? Gade explained how studies on recruitment to militant organizations have mostly ignored preferences for militancy, which may be influenced by the state use of force. Checkpoints are a way that states can affect the lives on those in conflict zones, albeit in a non-lethal way. While previous scholarship would suggest that checkpoints may increase preferences for militancy through hindering economic prospects and de-legitimizing the regime, life-story-style interviews showed how checkpoints divide families and communities. These divisions lead to increased isolation, frustrations, and aggression for those already stressed by living in conflict zones. Thus, with a quasi-experimental design, Gade compared individuals’ experiences in Hebron, a region with higher number of checkpoints and preference for militancy to those in Fire Zone 918, characterized by comparatively lower number of checkpoints and lower level of militancy.
With a focus on how checkpoints affect the social fabric of space and how people connect and relate to each other, Gade’s work reveals how this non-lethal use of state force can lead to both reduced attacks and limit social connections. She coded interview notes for expressions of preferences for militancy, for social connection, disconnection and the negative outcomes and emotions associated with the freedom of movement restrictions that checkpoints impose. By allowing respondents to explain their preferences for militancy or peaceful tactics within the contexts of their life stories, Gade illuminated individuals’ explicit linkings of militancy to the changed experience towards social dis-connection caused by the expansion of checkpoints.
After opening the room up for questions, Gade spoke on some of the unique ethical considerations of conducting research in a conflict zone, including protecting participants’ identities and responses. For the purposes of the research, she developed an ‘ethical document,’ which articulated the responsibilities to protect respondents. Through working closely with interpreters both while collecting and analyzing data, Gade checked her methods and findings with members of the community.
Emily Kalah Gade’s slides from this QUAL Speaker Series talk are available here.