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Researching violent contexts: A call for political reflexivity

Samer Abdelnour, Mai Abu Moghli

2021 United Kingdom

Violent contexts are not “normal” research settings; they involve abuses, power disparities, and collective histories of violence that researchers should be alert to. Researchers unreflexive about these risk causing harm in the form of objectifying people and context, normalizing violence, or silencing voices. Political reflexivity can equip researchers to better identify, understand and mitigate these harms, and where possible, challenge structures that do the marginalizing. We articulate political reflexivity through feminist standpoint theory, which asks researchers to critically examine their positionality and privilege in relation to the geopolitics of the research setting, epistemic privilege of marginalized participants, and political implications of their work. Practicing political reflexivity can help researchers situate their work along a “decoloniality continuum,” which includes complicity with the maintenance of violence, a hybridity approach that aims to understand and challenge the (colonial) underpinnings of violence by centering marginalized knowledge, and reparation or liberation, meaning redress and radical equality for marginalized peoples, ideas and histories. We conclude with a call for researchers to identify methods and paths to strengthen our understanding of political reflexivity, and to support efforts to decolonize knowledge.