This contribution reﬂects on a particular set of hurdles linked to the use and misuse of the notion of objectivity as it relates to ﬁeldwork in internal conﬂict situations. My awareness of the pitfalls of research in civil war situations goes back to my time as a Master’s candidate attempting to research the Lebanese civil war. At the time, a number of professors expressed concern about potential ‘sources of bias’ in the study:2 not only was I Lebanese but I had been ‘involved’ in the conﬂict as a political analyst and journalist before returning to academe. There were concerns that I would thus be more sympathetic to the actors of the civil war that I wanted to study. One person, in particular, could not understand my intuition that militias needed to be understood in organizational, indeed in institutional terms. ‘How can you use the notion of institutions to understand such rag-tag as militias?’ was the approximate way in which this member of the jury addressed me. It was 1993, a year when the Bosnia war exploded on our television screens, with Serb forces regularly described as roaming gangs of killers.3 It thus seemed genuinely puzzling that I would choose a term associated with order, predictability, and rules, to understand such a disorderly, unpredictable, and unruly phenomenon. To which I replied: ‘I see no problem in so doing. The maﬁa was particularly violent. No one ever doubted it was organized and violence was an integral part of the organizational process’. I extrapolate from this experience because I have come to realize that
ﬁeldwork in conﬂict zones is particularly conducive to ‘biases’ though not necessarily of the sort social scientists commonly worry about. The rest of the chapter proceeds as follows. First, I discuss the notion of objectivity in the social sciences. I argue that not only is objectivity an ideal, it might actually be a false god. Then, I draw a connection between objectivity and the academic enterprise, highlighting the manner in which our search for objectivity is particularly blind to a speciﬁc kind of biases derived from the reiﬁcation of sovereignty as the organizing principle of the state system. I describe the
structuring role that the concept of the state plays in political science. I then argue that it impacts our research agendas in a number of inter-related ways: 1) by restricting the scope of inquiry; 2) by framing the manner in which we theorize about speciﬁc phenomena; and 3) by restricting the scope of solutions proposed by our analyses. In other terms, if theories are about description, explanation and prediction, each and every step of the way stands to be tainted by our conceptual blinkers. In sketching out these problems, I pay speciﬁc attention to and draw examples from the study of non-state armed actors.4 The last part of this contribution reﬂects on the implications of the argument for ﬁeldwork in conﬂict zones and attempts to develop a set of common-sense rules to raise our awareness and minimize the impact of the conceptual blinkers that we carry with us to the ﬁeld.