Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Ethics of Fieldwork in Northwest Pakistan

  • Ping-hsiu Alice Lin (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


In the wake of the US-led and Pakistan-allied “war on terror”, residents in Northwest Pakistan have faced inconceivable structural and physical violence, in ways that pose ethical challenges in ethnographic writing and research. Over the last few decades, militancy, banditry and overall insecurity have hampered relief efforts in the area and significantly weakened basic infrastructure. In this article, the author illustrates how an initial security plan to undertake fieldwork research in this “volatile” region proved somewhat irrelevant because of her positionality, gender and race/ethnicity. The author explores the implications of these dynamics in contexts characterized by unequal gender relations and strict gender segregation. In addition, undertaking empirical work in the context of epistemological frameworks in a region that has been subjected to active conflict, militarised operations and a singular representation in the global and local media, poses other ethical challenges for anthropologists searching for new areas of study and decolonised models of representation. This paper reiterates the importance of a reflexive approach of ethics that acknowledges the interpenetration of race, gender and the thick web of relationships in the production of knowledge and is, at the same time, respectful of cultural specificity.


Pakistan, anthropology, fieldwork, research ethics, positionality, gender, race, volatility