Tag Archives: nationality

Researching In Post-Conflict Areas: Thinking Reflexively About Nationality

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

A recent article in the journal Area, written by Matthew Benwell (2014) discusses the challenges of conducting research on different sides of a socio-political conflict and is based on his fieldwork experiences in Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Recently post-conflict tensions between Britain and Argentina have been highlighted by an incident involving the motoring programme Top Gear. During filming for the programme’s Christmas special in Argentina one of the three cars used was seen to have the number plate H982 FKL. This was believed by many Argentinians to be a distasteful reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict (BBC News, 2014). However a spokesperson for the BBC denied that the number plate was chosen deliberately and that it was “…a very unfortunate coincidence.” (BBC News, 2014). The programme’s film crew were forced to flee the country by protesters who threw stones at the car involved and at the film crew’s vehicles. Whilst this incident is unlike anything that might happen during fieldwork it shows that there are underlying tensions in fieldwork spaces which may remain many years after a conflict. In particular when the person present, be they motoring journalist or academic researcher, identifies with a nationality previously involved in said conflict. The tensions which this incident revealed are well known to British researcher Benwell, who found that his being from the UK raised suspicions with some Argentinian participants however largely they were curious about his presence in remote Argentina where being British was seen as ‘exotic’ (p167).

A British Map of the Falkland Islands (Wikimedia Commons)

A British Map of the Falkland Islands (Wikimedia Commons)

Benwell (p164) argues that those working in areas of socio-political conflict or with post-conflict tensions should think more self-reflexively about their nationality and the performativity of this in the field. As geographers we should think about our positionality in the field and think reflexively about factors such as, “class, gender, ‘race’, sexuality, ableness, age and education, whether we are a parent or not” (Skelton, 2001: 89). Yet often, as Benwell (p164) argues, we do not think about our nationality as one such factor. Furthermore Benwell argues that as geographer’s we understand that national identity is dynamic and can be performed differently depending on a range of factors and influences, in his case these were gender, age and class. Nationality is performed relationally rather than being predetermined (p167). In actuality Benwell’s positionality as a British researcher did not lead to conflict in the field although he notes that it may have restricted him as participants spoke variously of following a certain official line in answering his questions (p165). Participants had a chance to give Argentine arguments about the sovereignty dispute to a British researcher with an ultimately British audience. Furthermore Benwell’s ability to speak Argentinian Spanish (p167) was helpful in gaining the trust and confidence of participants. Whilst this article provides a detailed reading of how performing nationality can play out in the post-conflict field it also acts as a call for more methodological writing on nationality as a part of researcher positionality, particularly in geopolitical research contexts.

 Benwell, M. C. (2014) ‘Considering nationality and performativity: undertaking research across the geopolitical divide in the Falkland Islands and Argentina’, Area, 46(2), 163-169

60-world2 ‘Protests cut short Top gear shoot’ BBC News 4th October 2014

 Skelton, H. (2001) ‘Cross-cultural research: issues of power, positionality and ‘race’ ‘, In Limb, M. & Dwyer C. (eds.) Qualitative methodologies for geographers: issues and debates, Arnold, London, 87-100

 

Travelling Identities: Further Attention to Mobility and Nationality

by Jen Turner

By Matt Ryall (originally posted to Flickr as Haggis in a can) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When the referendum on Scottish independence is held in the autumn of 2014, only residents of Scotland will be eligible to vote.  A recent BBC article found that as a result, almost 400,000 people living north of the border but born in other parts of the UK will get to take part.  However, the 800,000 Scots living in England, Northern Ireland and Wales will not. So, although, Scottish-ness may involve using certain words, liking tartan and eating Haggis, crucially in the political sense, it all boils down to where you live. 

In protest at being disenfranchised, James Wallace, a 23-year-old fellow Dumfries native turned London resident, has launched a petition demanding that expat Scots in other parts of the UK be allowed to participate in the referendum.  Scots ministers say this simply would not be practical.  How, would an electoral register of everyone who considered themselves Scottish be compiled?  Who, after all, is Scottish? You could include all those born in Scotland, or perhaps consider ancestry.  Indeed, it may be that a penchant for Irn Bru and Billy Connolly is enough to earn nationality.  With such a variety of attachments, “it would be absurd to allow anyone who claimed to be Scottish a vote,” says James Mitchell, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde.

A recent report by The Scottish Government found estimated 1.3 million Scottish-born individuals living outside Scotland, and between 19% – 26% of graduates from Scottish institutions found their first job after graduation outside Scotland.  However, no matter their location or the movements across the globe that may occur, a symbolic attachment to Scotland itself remains.  Scholars trying to understand the Scots identity have focused on its symbolism.  McCrone and Bechhofer (2010)explain how in Scotland, allegiance is bound with cultural markers of birth, ancestry and accent, which people use n different ways.   What is clear is that, predicated on a series of national symbols and other attachments, Scottishness as an identity, travels well.

This is a concept considered by Harald Bauder in an early view article of Area, which calls for a reconsideration of the relationship between nationality, mobility and the Nation-State.  Bauder critics the border of a nation, and contests the ability of this territory-based model to incorporate the material practices of human mobility.  In the case of the Scottish referendum, migration outside of the national boundary is considered a detachment to the nation itself.  Bauder’s crucial intervention suggests that identity constructions which have occurred through mobility should not be deemed inferior.  In light of this, “once mobility is no longer scripted as ‘aberrant’, identities will arise from a dialectical process involving the collective social and political practices of mobile (and immobile) people who recognise that they constitute political communities” (2012: 6).  Perhaps in this way, there may be steps towards addressing the conundrum of the referendum.

Harald Bauder, 2012, Nation, ‘migration’ and critical practiceArea, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01129.x

David McCrone & Frank Bechhofer, 2010, Claiming national identityEthnic and Racial Studies 33 921-948

Jon Kelly, The formula for Scottishness, BBC News, 26 October 2012

The Scottish Government, Engaging the Scottish Diaspora: Rationale, Benefits and Challenges, The Scottish Government 5 October 2009