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The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) programs held their joint virtual fellows Research Methods Workshop from September 28-30, 2021. The workshop featured activities ranging from keynote lectures by leading scholars, cohort/thematic workshop and one-on-one mentoring sessions, and a joint fellows discussion panel. The opening address at the workshop was given by Cyril Obi, the program director of the APN and Next Gen programs, followed by welcome remarks by Ron Kassimir, the SSRC’s Vice President of Programs, and an introduction of fellows and facilitators by Duncan Omanga, the program officer of the APN and Next Gen.
This was followed by a keynote presentation by Prof. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gasheni, on “The Contemporary Politics of Knowledge and Agenda of Decolonization in the 21st Century.” The presentation pointed to the need to theorize methodology in relation to how knowledge frames reality, particularly how it can be instrumentalized to control the mind of the colonized. To overcome such control and the ‘coloniality of power,’ would require unpacking knowledge production in ‘an age of epistemological turbulence,’ ‘rethinking, rethinking itself,’ and decolonizing methodologies of knowledge production in an era characterized by four methods of subjecting the human mind to the cognitive empire These were identified as at the structural, epistemic, relational and personal levels. In conclusion, Prof. Ndlovu-Gasheni explored options for addressing cognitive injustices and decolonizing knowledge production, ranging from epistemic disobedience and learning to take ourselves seriously as knowers, by being strategic and clever. The presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session, which offered further clarifications and advice to fellows. The keynote session was followed by the cohort and thematic sessions during which fellows engaged with each other and their facilitators on various aspects of their research projects and dissertations.
The second day of the workshop commenced with another keynote presentation by Prof. Ismail Rashid on, “Navigating Elements of Complexity, Reflexivity, and Flexibility: Reflections on Research Ethics During Global Pandemics.” The presentation explored the disruptive impact of pandemics on everyday life, zeroing in on field research methods, particularly in relation to travels, social interactions, and transnational research collaborations. Using Ebola and Covid-19 as examples, Prof Ismail explained how the pandemics exposed social inequities, forced us to reflect on hierarchies and prejudices, and to be critically reflective of what it means to be African and how to be an ethical researcher. Prof. Ismail urged researchers to stop and think about the ethical issues related to the pandemic, including the feasibility of starting new research projects. Some of the proposed options to address challenges emerging from conducting research during pandemics included project cancellation or postponement modifying or changing topics, and tweaking the duration of such projects. Other topics covered included educating field assistants and respondents on relevant national health protocols and guidelines, increasing the level of attentiveness, and exploring the feasibility and accessibility of using digital tools and platforms. He cautioned against taking shortcuts and advised participants to take research ethics seriously, particularly in terms of doing no harm: having sensitivity, solidarity and compassion. The question and answer session explored issues related to research ethics, epistemology, knowledge production and the costs and benefits of digital research tools and methodologies. The keynote session was followed by the cohort and thematic sessions during which fellows engaged with each other and their facilitators on various aspects of their research projects and dissertations.
Cohort, thematic and one-on-one sessions of fellows and mentors continued on the third day of the workshop. These were followed by the joint APN and Next Gen fellows’ discussion panel on “Doing Research in the Context of a Pandemic: Planning, Reducing Risk and Ensuring Validity.” The panelists spoke to the ways the Covid-19 pandemic affected their research plans, and how they addressed the challenges posed by travel restrictions research budget cuts and data collection. Some spoke to specific types of research that did not lend themselves to the use of digital research methods, and how this impacted timelines, research completion rates and decisions to cut down of the scope of their research. In her discussion of the various presentations, Prof. Eunice Camara emphasized the importance of research principles based on adaptability, sensitivity to contexts, safety, as well as the significance of using technologies in overcoming challenges related to data shaped by the context of the pandemic. She also spoke to options for navigating issues of validity and the ethical considerations surrounding these. Her presentation was followed by robust discussions by fellows, who drew from their personal experiences in the field, detailing the challenges they faced and how these were resolved.
In the closing session, APN and Next Gen fellows presented feedback on the various sessions of the workshops, sharing their key takeaways as well as experiences working with peers and experienced mentors. They all agreed that the workshop had been a life-changing experience, helping them to refine their project proposals and research designs, and inspiring them to expand the frontiers of their research. This was followed by closing remarks by Duncan Omanga and Cyril Obi who expressed their profound thanks to the fellows and facilitators for contributing to the overall success of the workshop.