Working Paper

Somewhere Over the Rainbow? The Politics and Dilemmas of Researching Citizenship and Marginality

Published on 1 August 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.


Image of Lyla Mehta

Lyla Mehta

Professorial Fellow

Publication details

published by
Mehta, L.
IDS Working Paper, issue 288
1 85864 662 6


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