Navigating a Labyrinth of Information

by Tarika Sankar

I think I could probably get lost in the oceans of information accessible to a student at a major research university, and spend the rest of my life wandering through the stacks while my family wonders how it is possible to go missing in a library. But that’s close to how I felt last week poring over a small stack of books about Mozambican history and ethnography, and while sifting through journal articles on UMD’s Research Port. There’s just so much research and information, even on a seemingly specific topic like socio-ecological systems in Mozambique, or even more narrowly, the project I am working on, agency in community-based natural resource management. A search of that exact string of text on Research Port returns nearly four thousand hits. Of course, not all of these will be relevant to our research, but it is still amazing to see that so much scholarship has been conducted in this area. Added to all this information related to agency, I’m really intrigued by several books on gender relations, economic success and politics in Africa that I borrowed from Dr. Jen. I’d love to read through these and examine how they relate to our research, but I know I don’t have time to read everything in addition to finalizing my coding from last week, scanning in the relevant chapters, and continuing to add to the literature review.

Facing a potentially overwhelming amount of information—all of which I find interesting and would continue exploring if I had the time—it helps to keep our specific research mission in mind. While sorting through journal articles, I have to keep reminding myself that we are focusing on how the community communicates and interacts with the government and NGOs and whether it has the capacity to act when managing health and environmental issues that directly affect it. It also helps to keep referring back to the raw data that I’ve now become very familiar with from both the wildlife conflict and agency angles, and thinking about how we can situate our research within the larger academic conversation.

While I’m reading (and skimming, to be honest) the sources about gender and resource management, I’ll also want to consider its relevance to our particular topic. It seems like a lot of the research I’ve encountered could be tangentially related to the idea of agency in communities, but I realize now that some kinds of research will be more relevant than other kinds, and that is what I’ll want to look for. As with any thorough and careful research process, it will take time!

Labyrinth sculpture of 250,000 books created for the 2012 London Summer Olympics by Brasilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo (and many volunteers).

Labyrinth sculpture of 250,000 books created for the 2012 London Summer Olympics by Brasilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo (and many volunteers).


About ljshaffer

I am an ecological anthropologist. I work with people living in southern Mozambique on issues of indigenous knowledge, responses and adaptation to environmental change. I spend a lot of time talking about elephants, crops, conservation, and sustainability.

Posted on October 21, 2014, in anthropology, education, history, research and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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