From the Field

“From the Field” is a space where authors reflect on challenges, dilemmas, and other encounters they faced in conducting research that informed their articles. It thus provides a in-depth look into both practical and analytical concerns that inform the pages of the Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Ken MacLean reflects on recent fieldwork in Burma/Myanmar, detailing some of the complications underpinning transparency-accountability initiatives there. He elaborates upon issues addressed in his article, “Counter-Accounting with Invisible Data: The Struggle for Transparency in Myanmar’s Energy Sector” (Volume 37, Issue 1), which documents the counter-accounting methods used to make Myanmar’s notoriously opaque energy sector more transparent. Taken together, his examples

demonstrate why who counts what and how it gets counted are political and moral in addition to being technical in nature. The examples also highlight that how what is known to be missing (invisible data) can be deployed strategically to increase transparency and enhance accountability, but not necessarily in ways we expect or want.

Louisa Lombard discusses a situation that arose during the fieldwork that informs her article, “Navigational Tools for Central African Roadblocks,” which is available in Volume 36, Issue 1. Specifically, Lombard describes some of the practical negotiations that crossing roadblocks policed by rebel groups entailed:

For the most part, I passed through roadblocks with little difficulty. Perhaps the barrier worker would give a cursory glance at my ordres de mission, and perhaps he would eventually lift the barrier only with marked languorousness. As an expatriate passenger in NGO vehicles, I benefited from a variety of unofficial diplomatic immunity. There were exceptions, however, especially in rebel-controlled areas.

As a supplement to her article, “Unmaking the State in ‘Occupied’ Haiti,” which is available in Volume 35, Issue 2Chelsey Kivland reflects on the political ambiguity of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, in Haiti. Focusing on a few artistic expressions, she details the mission’s significance in a neighborhood where its impact has been most prominent, the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. She explains,

I began by noting the ambiguous place of peacekeeping in Haiti and the questions this raises for citizens. I read artistic reflections on peacekeeping as attempts to make sense of these questions, while asserting a vision of a rightful political world. What they reveal is far from mere resistance… Instead, they capture and intervene in the messy space that emerges from divergent forces emanating from multiple sources and offer an attempt to harness these forces into a more coherent and graspable political relationship.

Complimenting her article, “The Governance of Things: Documenting Limbo in the Greek Asylum Procedure” in Volume 35, Issue 1Heath Cabot discusses her doctoral fieldwork on documenting asylum in Greece. Salvatore Poier provides a supplemental reflection that attests to how even the seemingly mundane aspects of documentation can evoke dilemmas for researchers. Cabot writes,

When I began my primary fieldwork at an NGO in the Athens city center, I had read proliferating NGO reports of violence on the land and sea borders: sea deaths in the Aegean, drownings in the river Evros on the border with Turkey, illegal deportations of “mixed flows” of migrants, terrible reception conditions. In just a few weeks, I saw how deeply the violence of the border had permeated the city.