From immersion to simulation: remote methodologies and the decline of area studies

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Using Sudan as a case study, the focus of this essay is the changing nature of fieldwork in the Global South. More specifically, it concerns the methodological shifts in how the South has been approached as an object of knowledge in the contemporary period. Drawing on the author's own varying engagement with Sudan since December 1973, it was prompted by a return visit in January 2014 to what is now the small town of Maiurno, near Sennar, almost 40 years to the day of beginning his PhD fieldwork there. In doing justice to this privileged experience, it became evident that writing an account of the changes and reunions with old friends was not enough. It wouldn't justify the journey, so to speak, that they have all made. Neither would it bring out the essentially anomalous character of the return at a time when such journeys are becoming more difficult. This results from a hidden complicity between the shift toward research risk avoidance in UK universities and, in this case, the restrictive practices of the Sudanese state. The essay explores several stages in the move away from ethnographic fieldwork being an art of being in the world to a growing remoteness from the world and the compensatory emergence of remote methodologies and the simulation of digital alternatives. At the same time, it traces a shift from the politics of solidarity to the neoliberal marketisation of the sub-prime tele-economic conditions encountered in the Global South.

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Main Author (Surname first)
Duffield, Mark
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Review of African Political Economy, Vol 41, Special Issue 1
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Copyright ROAPE Publications Ltd.
Subject Location - Country
Subject Location - Region