Challenging Fieldwork Researching Large-Scale Massacres in Algeria
Keywords:Algeria, Bentalha, civil war, ethnography, emotions, fieldwork, massacre, political violence, positionality, self-reflexivity, qualitative research methods, vicarious traumatization
This paper is based on my research experience in an area that was the scene of a massacre: Bentalha, a hamlet, 30 km away from the Algerian capital Algiers. This massacre took place on September 22-23, 1997 during the “black decade” (1991-2001), a period of the civil war during which 150,000 people were killed, 7,000[i] disappeared and 1 million internally displaced. After a background section on the history of this conflict, the paper describes the setting where my fieldwork took place. This article discusses my experience on the field as well as the emotions such as frustration, fear, anxiety and vicarious traumatization that I experienced in the process. It also addresses questions of self-reflexivity, positionality and the insider/outsider status. I am writing from the perspective of an Algerian sociologist trained in France, yet my experience in doing fieldwork “at home” can be useful to other scholars who do or plan to do fieldwork in dangerous places in their countries or societies.
[i]. It is very hard to obtain an accurate estimate of the total number of victims. However, the Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared during a press conference in Paris on June 2000 that the number of victims was 150,000.