IDS working papers;288

Somewhere over the rainbow? : the politics and dilemmas of researching citizenship and marginality

Published on 1 January 2007

Research on development is normative, engaged and seeks to make a difference
since it focuses on the excluded, on power relations and aims at the empowerment
of the voiceless and increasingly on the ‘pedagogy of the powerful’. This
makes it even more loaded and contested than other kinds of research. However,
how aware and reflexive are researchers of their own biases and positionalities? Do
final research accounts pay attention to questions concerning power and politics in
the course of the research process? What are the dilemmas and contradictions
encountered by researchers in both the North and South when they work with
marginalised and powerless groups? This paper focuses on these issues by drawing
on the experiences and testimonies of researchers involved in the Development
Research Centre (DRC) on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability based at the
Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. By focusing on the methodologies
and methods that DRC researchers drew on while researching questions of
citizenship and marginality in India, Nigeria, Mexico and Brazil, the paper discusses
the increasing distance between researchers and the research participants and the
politics of researching citizenship and marginality. It also provides theoretical and
personal insights on issues related to methods, ethics, positionality, reflexivity and
power. The paper intersperses personal statements and reflections (presented in
italics) with theoretical reflections to highlight the messiness and confusion embedded
in the research process which rarely come to the fore in conventional research
papers and reports. It demonstrates that development research that seeks to make
a difference must rethink questions concerning policy influence, change at local and
global levels and the politics of research given the interconnectedness between the
problems in the South with policies and politics in the North. It urges us as
researchers to ask critical questions, decide more forcefully how to engage with the
powerful and take the sides of the weak while maintaining a pragmatism of hope.

Keywords: Development Research Centre (DRC), research on citizenship and
marginality, action research, research ethics, reflexivity, methods and methodology.

Cite this publication

Mehta, L. (2007) Somewhere over the rainbow? : the politics and dilemmas of researching citizenship and marginality. Working paper series, 288. Brighton: IDS.

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Mehta, Lyla


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