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Studying up after studying down: dilemmas of research on South African conservation professionals

Abstract

© 2016 Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh. ‘Studying up’ after one has ‘studied down’ poses a unique set of challenges, heightened by contexts of unequal power relations between different sets of informants. These are illustrated with the author’s experience moving from ethnographic fieldwork in a community adjoining a protected area to preliminary explorations of fieldwork among conservation professionals. Because of the intrinsically personal nature of ethnographic research, aspects of social position, personal history, and reflexive self-monitoring shape these encounters, which–depending upon the situations–result in informal restrictions on access, collaboration and an interest in the ‘expert’ anthropologist, and attempts to shift the loyalties of the anthropologist. While the details of the encounters are specific to the particular cases described, they highlight issues that are endemic to the fraught terrain of conservation in contemporary Africa, and which are likely to confront other researchers who attempt a similar transition from working with a disadvantaged population to working with the officials who would govern and regulate them.

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