The Seeing Conflict at the Margins project is part of the Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, investors are committing unprecedented funds to develop oil, geothermal, hydropower, titanium, iron-ore, agricultural, carbon and other natural resources in the rural margins. Many projects are located in remote rural regions with histories of tension and conflict. While national governments welcome the potential of these investments to generate economic growth and create a more dynamic entrepreneurial environment, the benefits of these trends for local populations, particularly in terms of livelihoods, benefits sharing and governance, are often uncertain.
In fact, large-scale resource development at the margins can intensify long-standing struggles around public authority, community autonomy and environmental justice in these places, in some cases resulting in new and emerging tensions, protests, disputes, and inter and intra-community violence.
States and investors often ‘see’ conflict at the margins narrowly as disruptive insurgency or volatility to be overcome with greater state and/or private security presence or through localised development projects. However, ordinary people at the margins experience, perceive and talk about conflict in ways that differ, sometimes radically, both from the dominant state security and investor narratives, and indeed from universalized conceptions of human and citizen security.
A major challenge for researchers and policymakers, and a major contribution of this research, is how to listen, help amplify and respond to the great variety of ways that people navigate the terrains of development and conflict and conceive their own security and insecurities.
Centre de Documentation et Recherche sur l'Art et les Traditions Orales à Madagascar (CEDRATOM) of the Université de Toliara
Centre Universitaire Régional l’Androy (CURA) of the Université de Toliara
Andry Lalana Tohana (ALT), Madagascar
Studying resource conflicts
This project employs innovative ways of exploring the changing roles of different actors in conflicts around resource developments, including ‘hidden’ and neglected forms and sources of conflict that emerge among diverse actors, including local community members.
Tensions, protests, disputes, and inter and intra-community violence around large resource developments tend to be treated narrowly as disruptive insurgency or volatility to be overcome with greater state and/or private security presence or through localised social development projects.
However, ordinary people at the margins experience, perceive and talk about conflict in ways that differ, sometimes significantly, from ways that governments, investors, advocacy groups, and researchers ‘see’ and explain do so. Thus, a major challenge for researchers and policymakers, and a major contribution of this research, is how to listen, help amplify and respond to the great variety of ways that people navigate the terrains of development and conflict and conceive their own security and insecurities.
Seeing from below
The project engages with local residents, private sector, civil society and state actors to understand how different actors who are assembled around particular resource developments frame and contest claims to territory and resources.
By grounding the research process in the realities of communities, the methodology gives weight to the knowledge, understanding and experiences of those whose voices are not often prioritised in decision-making on these issues. The transformative potential of participatory methods can be further enhanced through the use of digital media, providing freedom of self-representation for ‘marginalised’ groups and incorporates emotions and social context critical to the construction of knowledge.
Teams of community-based collaborators will use storyboarding, video, digital photography, audio narrative and participatory mapping to produce numerous forms of visual and narrative data and documentation. Through participatory and collaborative editing work, raw visual and audio materials captured through both participatory and other fieldwork methods will be used to produce digital multimedia narratives of conflict, including short films, maps, photographs and photo essays and audio recordings, that reflect views, perspectives of, and diversity within different stakeholder groups.
Our team recognises the distinct and valuable contributions of a transdisciplinary approach. Contributions from the social sciences and humanities enhance our ability to ‘see’ resource developments in terms of ‘vernacular’ perspectives and diverse meanings and the roles of different actors in them, offering fresh insights that can shift the basis of policy debates and practical approaches to benefit sharing and peace-building.
Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a theory of knowledge that affirms people’s right, through research, to have a say in the decisions that affect them. Working with different stakeholder groups within a community undermines notions that communities are homogenous, and can reveal the variances in ‘seeing’ (even at a local level) based on gender, age, religion and social-status. Integrating CBPR is not intended to 'solve' different ways of ‘seeing’ large-scale resource developments, but to open them up to transformation as different actors co-produce knowledge and reframe problems and solutions together, thus creating new pathways of action.