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Violence in fieldwork: A discussion-based workshop, 19 November 2015

Australian National University

Date: 19 November 2015

When: 9am-1pm, 19 November

Where: HRC Conference Room, AD Hope Building, The Australian National University 


Hardly anyone who does fieldwork can say that they have never experienced (or heard about) anything that they would label as violence. No matter how (in)directly we are involved in it, experiencing violence can have damaging consequences, both psychologically, and to our academic work. It can make it hard if not impossible to return to the same field site.

Yet it is a matter we do not talk about very much – why? Do we not want to admit that fieldwork can be dangerous? Or is it that we feel uncomfortable talking about it, because people will think we are ‘bad fieldworkers’ if we admit that we were scared, worried, terrified, traumatised, or that we ourselves made mistakes, or even invited troubles when in the field?

While there is no single formula for how to react in particular situations, the resourcefulness of the fieldworker depends not only on his/her previous experiences and personality, which tends to come to the fore in dire situations when we react almost instinctively, but also to a large extent on his/her preparation for living and acting in a specific fieldwork environment.

 In this discussion-based workshop we will analyse our own experiences. We will consider:

  • different perceptions of violence;
  • individual cases where the fieldworker felt threatened, afraid, or uncertain how to react in a tricky situation;
  • how we can learn, with the benefit of the hindsight, from mistakes that we’ve made;
  • strategies we can use to stay safe when in the field.

While focussed on fieldwork in PNG, where these problems often arise in a particularly acute form, this workshop is intended for anyone who is planning fieldwork, including those who have extensive fieldwork experience, as well as those just starting out on fieldwork. It will provide us with an opportunity to learn in the least painful way: through the experiences and mistakes of others.


Morning tea is provided. Please RSVP for catering purposes

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University