Sitemap Contact Imprint
LaGSus / Sub-projects / Sociology module / Sociological field research
Deutsch English Français
Sociological field research and its outcomes

To date, six periods of field research of one month each in the three countries of Indonesia, Namibia, and Uganda have provided a wealth of local views on global topics such as poverty reduction, resource use, the meaning of development, and sustainability. The data and observations resulting from the first four of these field researches have been shared and discussed with all other participants of the project in the form of reports – which are made available here in chronological order.

November 2003: Lore Lindu und die umgebenden Gemeinden (available only in German)

Oktober 2004: Sustainability, the TKFA, and the communal area of Omatjette in the context of the land question in Namibia

February 2004: Respect for Boundaries – whose boundaries?

June 2005: Resource Use and Sustainable Development among the Baluli in Uganda

From a comparative perspective, the following areas of overlap between these different field research periods in different countries emerge:

  • Poverty is a very concrete – and pressing – condition in all research areas, including the Tura region of Ivory Coast (which remained beyond the reach of the sociology component’s field research for political reasons). This is expressed in a straightforward – and sometimes pleading, sometimes demaning – way by many of the interlocutors. For them, “development” and relief from at least a part of the burden of poverty are inextricably linked.

  • There are, however, substantial differences between the areas with respect to resource endowment. The glaring and obvious inequality of natural resources endowment particularly between the research area in the Omatjette communal lands in Namibia and the research area around the newly created Lore Lindu National Park in Indonesia is demonstrated by the reaction of Omatjette interlocutors to seeing photographs of the Indonesian region: “This is paradise!” Conversely, some Indonesians, on seeing Namibian pictures, noted how fortunate they were in comparison to the Herero people.

  • People in all areas are aware of environmental degradation, and they do see human action as a cause for it. Their response to this recognition, however, is varied: only in Indonesia, where “voluntary conservation agreements” have been negotiated in some villages, do they see it in their power to act against this degradation themselves. Both in the Nakasongola District in Uganda, and in the Omatjette are of Namibia, the majority of the people talked to felt powerless to do anything against the observed degradation. This feeling of powerlessness was linked to povery: in the conversations, poverty appeared both as a cause for the degradation, and as a reason for the inability to act against it. It is one of the major goals of the remaining research period to gain a better understanding of the variations of this line of argumentation.

  • Even during these rather (too) short periods of field research, sharp local inequalities in resource endowment among individual families became apparent – inequalities which were sometimes clearly related to the position in the local power structure. At the same time, it appeared to be almost impossible for the people involved to talk about these inequalities and the related feelings of unfairness else than in indirect ways or in more or less “hidden” discourses. Examples are accusations and suspicions of unfair or even corrupt practices of people in leadership positions [1].

  • One of the most striking observations concerns the similarity of notions of good leadership. A “good leader” not only “leads” in the sense of “showing the way (forward)”, s/he also listens to suggestions coming from those s/he [2] leads and takes them into account, s/he solves problems “of the community”, and acts as a mediator between them and higher levels of authority when this is needed. And a leader “provides” for those s/he leads – “as a mother suckles her baby” said the chairman of the best organized rural branch of the Tjohorongo Kondjee Farmers’ Association in Namibia.

These findings do more than support the global priority of halving poverty – which is the first of the Millennium Development Goals to be reached by 2015. They also confirm that “listening to the poor” is as necessary as the World Bank declares it is. And if one listens closely enough – guided by Local Language Hermeneutics as this research project is – it is possible to discern more than one local discourse: even within small local “communities” there are different and sometimes conflicting voices. They talk about mostly submerged conflicts which turn around conceptions and feelings of justice and injustice concerning the distribution of resources, the access to resources, and the use of resources. These “hidden discourses” therefore alert to the discrepancy between the place which the public global discourse accords to inter- and intra-generational justice as a precondition for achieving sustainable development [3], and the scarcity of practical means to include “justice” into that other priority goal: that of “good governance” – globally and locally. What else, if not the difficulty of achieving “just” solutions to global and local conflicts, could be responsible for creating parallel, hidden discourses?

The existence of parallel – partially hidden, partically conflicting – discourses also points to the necessity to combine “listening” with “action.” Conflicts persist in an “underground” form because the involved parties have no “mechanism” at their disposal which would allow for an open and mutually agreed on solution. Finding or developing such mechanisms therefore answers to a practical and theoretical need. A researcher may answer to that need by attempting to find existing “indigenous” mechanisms or to develop new ones. One of the ways to do that is to abandon the position of a distanced observer: to become an engaged yet respectful partner in an action-oriented dialogue – an option which has been explored in an internal discussion paper in our project (see Reflexivity and Action).

[1] Thomas Bierschenk and Olivier Sardan have developed a more elaborate methodology to study the relationship between hidden conflicts – with “sweeping under the carpet” seen as the dominant mode of dealing with local conflicts – and processes of rural democratization in the context of decentralization. See the annex on ÈCRIS (Enquête collective rapide d’identification des conflits et des groupes stratégiques) in: Thomas Bierschenk and Olivier de Sardan (eds, 1998): Les Pouvoirs au Village. Le Bénin rural entre démocratisation et décentralisation.

[2] Leadership positions are only rarely occupied by women, which is a novelty drawing mixed – i.e. often negative - reactions from men. Only in the Indonesian village of Toro is a “forgotten tradition” invoked to justify the – partially successful – attempt to firmly anchor a female voice in the decision-making bodies of the village.

[3] For a thorough discussion see Andrew Dobson (1999): Fairness and Futurity. Essays on Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice, available online

A Project of 
Volkswagen Foundation