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miklia243 karma

This is a super important question, thanks so much for asking it. Luckily, I have had the deep privilege of spending most of my career working for two organizations (the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the University of Oslo) that prioritize mental health and researcher security a great deal. Because frankly - and especially for younger scholars at the masters or even PhD level - the status quo of 'just go to a hard place and try to do some great research, here's a couple books on fieldwork in conflict zones' can cause tremendous damage, both for the researchers and the communities they research. This can be everything from culture shock and dangerous situations, to the trauma of witnessing atrocities. We need to prepare younger researchers better so that they can do the good that they want to do safely and securely.

But for me personally, I would say that aside from breathing a decade off and on of air in some pretty nasty polluted places, I'm lucky to have no real long-term effects.

miklia164 karma

Thanks much for this - you've touched on one of the big debates in peace research today. It's largely a question of which sort of time horizon and which datasets that you use to make your case. While Pinker's analysis holds validity in the very long term for the data that he uses (mostly the PRIO-Uppsala materials that prioritize large-scale conflicts between and within states), we have seen a continual upswing in conflict since 2000 with those same datasets.

Moreover, these datasets don't capture as well things like generalized crime and insecurity, which are are major and increasing problems. So while it might be true to say that in terms of per capita risk of death in a war our lives are less violent than in, say, 1820, telling people that things are good in a historical perspective is a bit simplistic and doesn't do enough justice to the struggles that millions of people are facing today.

miklia151 karma

Thanks much, and great questions!

  1. We'd heard of each other's work but met for the first time in earnest at a meeting of the United Nations Business and Human Rights delegation in Geneva. We bonded over our mutual frustration at speech after speech of lofty promises that seemed to be short on concrete actions to help improve people's lives. So we decided to do something about it together.
  2. Very difficult to answer - with American society undergoing deeper polarization than at any time since the Civil War, it's not something to ignore. We'd reiterate to leaders that growth and innovation are not zero-sum endeavors, but we also focus a lot in our research (such as in the recent HBR piece we link) on how ordinary people can get through this tension too, because pretending that the divisions don't exist only exacerbate the divide.
  3. For me personally, one of the more dangerous settings was in researching a hidden war in India, (https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/08/06/fire-in-the-hole/), especially when confronted by 14 year olds with machetes, guns, and bows and arrows who cared not a bit for the 'rules' of war and the press. But entering war zones is not something to be taken lightly, and it's important to think clearly about what you aim to achieve - and for who - in such settings. Our work there helped raise the profile of the seriousness of the Maoist conflict, but of course no one article or journalist can change everything - we're all part of a community of engaged people who try to expose injustice and hold the powerful to account.

miklia118 karma

Sure, this includes everything from resources for counseling / psychology, to monthly meetings where we can share experiences, to good security insurance and established security protocols, to knowledge-building materials on such issues. Above all else, both of the institutions that I've worked for are places where if I have a problem, I know that it will be taken seriously and supported if I bring it up - that knowledge alone encourages people to raise mental health concerns before they become overwhelming. And being based in a country with high-quality free universal health care certainly helps.

Working in this field can be quite taxing emotionally, we hear stories of war and heartbreaking loss often and have to try to balance our human desire to do everything we can with a recognition of the limitations of our abilities. When those two impulses clash in an irreconcilable way, burnout is another real problem.

miklia81 karma

A very interesting question, thanks for this Dan. I'll add the caveat to start that I generally do not seek out 'hot zones', nor do I work as a mediator in difficult situations - those people are amazing at what they do and typically train for a decade or more to learn how to defuse tensions for things like kidnappings and the like.

But as a researcher in some such places, we're occasionally in tricky spots. It's of course subjective (and any strategy works until it doesn't), but one technique that has served me moderately well when dealing with angry military, rebels or other armed authority figures questioning or cornering me is to simply act calm and even bored. Sometimes I still get kicked out of places, but this approach can reduce tensions to the point where people are less likely to do irrational things.

But the best approach - by far - is to work with experienced local teams who have a better sense of when things might be about to turn difficult, and to trust them to avoid such situations altogether wherever possible. The first time one is actually in a difficult situation tends to be a great way to relieve oneself of the glamorous/thrillseeking component of the work.