Journal article Open Access

Political ethnography in deeply divided societies

Cammett, Melani

Many projects based on field research or “site-intensive methods” in political science incorporate sensitive components that can hinder the researcher’s capacity to gain and maintain access to sources and informants. But doing field research arguably presents particularly acute challenges in deeply divided societies, where religious, ethnic, regional, or other types of cleavages are highly politicized and may even constitute the ostensible basis of political violence. I encountered these challenges firsthand while carrying out field research on the relationship between faith-based social service provision and the formation of sectarian identities in Lebanon. A textbook case of a deeply divided society, Lebanon has eighteen officially recognized religious groups, and the political system institutionalizes divisions within and across the Muslim and Christian communities by allocating top leadership posts (and even civil service positions) according to sect.

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