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FIELDWORK IN HIGH-INTENSITY CONFLICT ZONES: PRAXIS, ETHICS, AND HUMAN RIGHTS Leslie E. Sponsel Introduction Actually, the only high conflict zones I have ever witnessed are faculty meetings, in recent months cyberspace, and the AAA convention this year! But those are different contexts from the one we are preoccupied with for this panel. I have never conducted fieldwork in an active high conflict zone. In the Venezuelan Amazon I did fieldwork with a northern subgroup of Yanomami called Sanema, but that was certainly not a conflict zone by any stretch of the imagination, although the Yanomami have long been a zone of conflict among anthropologists. There were some quarrels in the village, mainly marital, one club fight, and three false alarms of a raid, but otherwise, like John Peters, Ken Good, and others, I was most impressed by how harmonious village life was on a daily basis. Personally, I never felt in any danger or risk myself. Indeed, in walking through the forest, the Sanema were very careful to alert me to any poisonous snakes and other hazards. Previously while doing primate research in Ethiopia I road in a jeep with a Kerayu nomad pointing his rifle toward my head, but was assured that it was not loaded. Fortunately, he didn't pull the trigger to determine whether the rifle was loaded. More recently in southern Thailand, one of my informants had only one leg, the other was blown off by a land mine set by extremist Muslim separatists. I guess all three of these situations had some potential for conflict and violence, and maybe I was just naive and lucky, but it would have probably been better to be more prepared, sensitive, and alert to possibilities of conflict and violence. Why is this topic important? Now about one third of the world's countries are involved in some kind of warfare, and about two-thirds regularly resort to abuses of human rights (Sluka 1995:276-277). Clearly the chance of an anthropologist getting accidentally caught in a conflict has been increasing in recent decades. It must now be considered by fieldworkers and also by professors in training and advising graduate students about fieldwork, and this together with my long-standing concern for human rights is the main reason I agreed to the invitation to participate in this panel. Furthermore, conflict and violence is very likely to increase in coming years and for decades. Why? There are numerous reasons, but certainly in many cases they include increasing population and and economic pressures on land and resources with consequent competition often becoming violent. Thomas Homer-Dixon and colleagues have systematically studied the rise in resource competition and correlated violence in a large cross-national sample, the results published among other places in an article in Scientific American in February 1993. Norman Myers, R.D. Kaplan, and others have written about this gloomy future as well. That is why this topic is so important, and increasingly so in the near future.
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This note was uploaded on 04/28/2011 for the course PACE 345 taught by Professor Brucebarnes during the Spring '10 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.

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