As a doctoral student, one can be excited and nervous about conducting a research project of this size on his or her own shoulders. However, the romantic views of investigation and interviews in a land far away, are interrupted by the reality of a 4 to 6 months process of receiving authorization to conduct fieldwork. This presentation, is based on my experience as a first-year doctoral student going through “the process” as it is ubiquitously known, for ethics, travel, security risk, and project viability authorizations to conduct field work in 2017.
On the surface, we are told as researchers that these measures are put in place to ensure the safety of the university’s students and staff off-campus, hence the needs for risk assessments and insurance plans. However, bureaucratization makes it difficult for staff to navigate the process, much less research students. There is also the issue of the ethics committee lacking diversity and subject expertise regarding African studies and their perceptions of research or travels to African countries. Finally, the larger issue that universities are competing to produce research outputs and impacts to improve rankings and visibility. Thus, I wonder, if it weren’t for the recent very high-profile media attention of my case study countries, would my thesis have been considered interesting, impactful, and viable for the university to authorize and support?
The competition for higher rankings and more visibility for impactful research outputs is an interesting phenomenon that can be beneficial for researchers, especially those conducting field work. It would mean more support to produce knowledge in areas that are understudied and contribute to the greater field of African studies. However, changing bureaucratization and lack of (scholarly) diversity on ethics and research committees could hinder scholarly research in African studies. Thus, a critical reflection on how the process can be more research friendly and on the decision-makers involved in approving these requests could add to the discussion of knowledge production on Africa.