Conducting Research in Conflict Zones

black smoke coming from fire

By Jasneet Kaur Chahal

In this age of information technology, the art of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data has become an indispensable tool for understanding our complex world guiding policy decisions, and shaping the trajectory of civilization itself. The role of research in conflict-ridden regions across the globe is also evolving in response to the changing nature of conflicts, the advancement of technology, and the growing recognition of the importance of evidence-based solutions. 

“The science of statistics is the chief instrumentality through which the progress of civilization is now measured, and by which its development hereafter will be largely controlled.”

S.N.D. North, past president of the American Statistical Association in 1910 and one of the inaugural Fellows of the ASA

One of the foremost roles of research in conflict zones is to foster a deeper understanding of the conflicts. Research in areas of international conflict such as Afghanistan delves into the multifaceted dimensions of political instability, terrorism, and external interventions. Scholars examine the consequences of the U.S. and NATO involvement, fluctuations in Taliban control, and the challenges associated with establishing a secure governance structure. Additionally, research explores socioeconomic aspects, including the pivotal role of women in post-conflict reconstruction, shedding light on broader implications for Afghan society.

Similarly, the conflicts in Kashmir and Serbia attract research attention for their intricate historical roots, regional implications, and the involvement of external actors. This multidisciplinary approach, incorporating political science, international relations, history, sociology, geopolitics and anthropology, highlights the evolving role of research in international conflict zones. Scholars continually adapt their methodologies and perspectives to address emerging challenges, recognizing that a comprehensive understanding involves insights from various fields. 

By delving into the historical, political, and socio-economic factors that underpin these disputes, research helps identify root causes, grievances, and drivers of conflict. When the lines between fact and propaganda blur, the role of research becomes paramount, serving as a beacon of truth and hope, and can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about the complex realities of conflict zones.

silhouette of soldiers walking
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Independent research and reporting can serve as a counterbalance to the biased narratives presented by state-controlled media and organizations. By conducting impartial research, independent scholars and journalists can shed light on the ground realities, bringing forth authentic stories and perspectives from conflict-affected communities. This not only helps in providing a more comprehensive and accurate picture of the situation but also catalyzes accountability, as it challenges the misleading narratives propagated by conflicting parties. Research also contributes significantly to fostering dialogue and reconciliation between conflicting parties. By presenting unbiased, data-driven information (for e.g. by asking and measuring what the public thinks, feels or perceives), research helps break down stereotypes and misconceptions, promoting mutual understanding and trust. Academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and grassroots efforts often play a crucial role in facilitating dialogues rooted in research insights and findings, ultimately helping bridge divides between communities in conflict.

Furthermore, research informs the design and implementation of humanitarian aid and development programs as it helps organizations understand the needs of affected populations, assess the impact of their interventions, and adjust strategies to be more effective. Research is an essential tool that helps in establishing mechanisms of transitional justice in post-conflict societies. In the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, research spans historical analyses, geopolitical dynamics, and socio-economic impacts. Scholars scrutinize the roles of international actors, the effects of settlements on peace efforts, and the humanitarian challenges faced by affected populations. 

“The mark of a civilized man is the capacity to read a column of numbers and weep.”

-Unknown (often attributed to Bertrand Russel)

Numbers and data, often seen as abstract and devoid of emotion, are powerful conduits of human experiences. They represent the realities of people’s lives, telling stories of joy, suffering, progress, and regression. Statistics are not just cold, hard data but expressions of human struggles and triumphs, and can have a deep emotional impact on humans. Documentaries and films created without the influence of state or partisan actors can expose the human sufferingresilience, and courage of those living in conflict-affected areas, thus fostering empathy and understanding among global audiences. It can also act as a source of evidence, documenting the atrocities and injustices committed during conflicts, which can be instrumental in international advocacy and accountability efforts

Conducting research in conflict-ridden environments offers the human context. The casualties, displaced populations, and destruction are all quantified, but within those figures are countless individual narratives of loss, trauma, and resilience.  

“Nothing in the world happens in a vacuum.”

 Nancy Schneider, National Operations Manager, Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA)

Research also brings attention to issues that might get ignored in the “bigger picture” of things. Apart from the human cost, war has an environmental cost too, disbalancing the ecology in the conflict region. In a 2009 study, Dr. Hanson and his colleagues highlighted that more than 80 percent of the world’s major armed conflicts took place in biodiversity hot spots (A ‘Silent Victim’: How Nature Becomes a Casualty of War, The New York Times). This finding underscores the need for a holistic approach to conflict resolution, one that considers not only the immediate human consequences but also the long-term environmental impacts, as we strive for a more sustainable and harmonious future.

Research in conflict zones is evolving to encompass a broader range of topics and methodologies, with a growing emphasis on evidence-based solutions, the use of technology, and a greater recognition of the importance of local perspectives that are impacted by the conflict. Where suffering and instability persist, research and data collection stand as vital tools for promoting stability, understanding the root causes, and paving the way for lasting peace. 

Jasneet Kaur Chahal is a student at Humber College’s Research Analyst Program and a social media and analytics intern at Jasneet is highly motivated and eager to learn with experience in social media content creation and coordinating volunteer initiatives to develop successful community service projects.

References and Further Reading

Will Venn (October 4, 2023). Postcards From the Edge: Insights from a Conflict

Emily Anthes (April 13, 2022) A ‘Silent Victim’: How Nature Becomes a Casualty of War

Nathan Ford, Edward J Mills, Rony Zachariah & Ross Upshur (July 10, 2009). Ethics of Conducting Research in Conflict Settings – citeas

Dyan Mazurana, Lacey Andrews Gale & Karen Jacobsen (August 5, 2015). A View from Below: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones

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