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Reflections on Positionalities in Social Science Fieldwork in Northern Botswana: A Call for Decolonizing Research

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 July 2019

Annette Alfina LaRocco
Florida Atlantic University
Jamie E. Shinn
West Virginia University
Kentse Madise
Independent Scholar


In this article, two white, Western female researchers reflect on the methodological, ethical, and practical dilemmas experienced while conducting social science fieldwork in Botswana for their doctoral degrees. In addition, their shared research assistant examines her role as a social and cultural interlocutor, which was essential to the researchers’ successful navigation in their various field sites. Drawing on distinct but common experiences conducting research in northern and western regions of rural Botswana, the authors reflexively consider a series of interwoven issues tied to their positionalities: the disparity in benefits and return on research investment between the researcher and research participants; the nature of commodified or transactional relations, especially in an impoverished region highly dependent on foreign tourists; the complex nature of researcher–research assistant relationships; and the contradictory dynamics of being female researchers in a patriarchal society while also embodying privileges of whiteness and Western nationality. Building on these reflections, the authors engage with current debates in the social sciences to argue that researcher reflexivity is not an adequate end point and should result in engagement with ethical and epistemological questions regarding the decolonization of research practices more broadly.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2019

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