Blurring the lines between method, theory and ethics in studying the state



MENARG and CRG kindly invite you to the following lectures, which are part of a series of research seminars on “Methods and Ethics in Fieldwork”. During these seminars national and international guests will be sharing their ‘story behind the findings’ with researchers from different departments, to have a profound reflection on methodological and ethical questions in performing empirical research

Do theories have political implications outside their own normative framework? Should theories about the state explain or prescribe? In studying the survival of the Iraqi state during the UN comprehensive sanctions (1990-2003) and the US project of state building in Iraq (2003-2006) I explore some of these questions. In the absence of a theory that is adequate in explaining the survival of the Iraqi state under the sanctions, I produced a historicized explanation of state survival. The subsequent US-led invasion and state building project highlight the importance of theory, not simply as an explanatory framework, which I argue is bound to fail, but as a source of performativity that cannot be bounded by pre-set normative boundaries. This seminar will explore some questions that emerge once a researcher examines the contact points between theory and “the field” of the empirical. They are also the points where the lines between method, theory and ethics become less clear.

Dr. Nida Alahmad received her PhD from the New School for Social Research in 2009. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University and a visiting fellow at The European University Institute. She is currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at MENARG at Ghent University. Her current research focuses on the concept and practice of state-building as a technology of political engineering. Focusing on the U.S. state-building project in Iraq, she studies the performativity of academic and policy state-building expertise within two particular projects: the rebuilding of the national electrical grid and the introduction of new Iraqi representative bodies.