Fieldwork in Developing Areas: opportunities and challenges

Fieldwork in Developing Areas: opportunities and challenges
17 June 2017, 12.00am - 8.00am
Conference / Symposium
Room 243, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

While research in the postcolonial research site is almost invariably multilingual, the impact of language use in accessing and negotiating legitimacy in the research site has only occasionally come to the fore of academic discussions on postcolonial perspectives and methodologies since Independence. In Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature, published in 1986, Kenyan writer and theorist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o observed how imperialism lived on in the mind of the colonised long after the coloniser has left, and posited language use as a key vector in this process. He returned to his theme in a keynote to the African Studies Association-UK in 2012, during which a show of hands suggested that almost all research on and from Africa is published in the former colonial languages, indicating little change since Decolonising the Mind was written. Recent scholarship on language use in fieldwork tends to confirm this fact, but not an assumption that goes with it: that this is to the detriment of postcolonial scholarship. Does this use of an ex-colonial language actually matter in the globalised world of scholarship? If it does, to what extent are we ignoring the impact of non-indigenous language use in research in postcolonial contexts? And if, for pragmatic reasons, scholarship will persist in the foreseeable future in mediating ‘subaltern’ experiences through imperial codes, how can this be mitigated (if at all) in new developments in fieldwork methodology and post-fieldwork analysis? Have significant changes in the modes of engagement employed by observers, commentators, scholars and practitioners using the medium of European languages taken place in the postcolonial research site in recent years? Or has there been a failure to engage with the language question rendering fieldwork absent from the transformations that have shaped Europe’s critical engagement with its former colonies? Indeed, how does a researcher’s language identity impact on scholarship in a transnational space and what role does language play here in the negotiation of legitimacy and reciprocity between researcher and researched?

These are some of the questions to be explored in the complex network of structures, relations, codes, constraints and choices scholars encounter in the postcolonial research site. The symposium will provide a forum to exchange experiences, knowledges and interpretations of the questions at stake.  

This event is sponsored by the University of Chester, the IMLR (Institute for Modern Languages Research) and the Centre for Postcolonial Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London.  


Objectives: By the end of the session participants will have discussed some of the opportunities and challenges presented by fieldwork in developing areas, engaged with emerging theories of fieldwork, and will have had the opportunity to begin drafting a proposed fieldwork trip and associated funding bid. There are no costs for pre-registered participants.


Registration: please send the following details to Catherine Gilbert at




Field of research:

Country of fieldwork:

Language/s used:


10.45                   Coffee and registration (pre-registration details above)

11 -12.30            5 short presentations on fieldwork experience (predominantly in Africa and Latin America) and a brief introduction to recent research on theorizing fieldwork in the humanities.

12.30-1.15          Buffet lunch (provided in Senate House)

1.20 – 2.50         Workshop 1 – in small groups participants draft proposed fieldwork trips around individual research objectives. Drafts are exchanged for feedback in the group.

2.50-3.10            Tea & coffee  

3.10-4.20            Workshop 2 – working from the results of workshop 1, participants identify potential funders and draft bids to support fieldwork projects discussed in workshop 1.

4.30                     Final comments and close


Organisers: Professor Claire Griffiths (University Chair in Area Studies and Professor of Francophone Studies, University of Chester); Dr Kaya Davies-Hayon (Teaching Fellow in French, University of Bristol); Dr Catherine Gilbert (Teaching Fellow in Comparative Literature, King's College London).


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