Just as March came to a close, Adriane Michaelis, a first year PhD student in the KRAC lab, received word that she’d been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The award covers tuition and provides a stipend for up to 3 years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – a huge investment by the US government in its young STEM researchers. Essentially, a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution for study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering. According to the NSF website, they received approximately 16,500 applications for the 2015 cycle and awarded 2,000 fellowships to a diverse group of individuals.
Adriane has proposed to study what factors contribute to effective, and ineffective, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries. As part of her comparative ethnographic study she intends to work with local fishermen to develop a community-based monitoring plan and assess the efficacy of this activity in improving CBNRM. Within a broader framework, Adriane writes “[t]he motivation of this study is to enhance natural resource management dynamics by providing agency to those without. This need is not exclusive to Mozambique, and results can be applied elsewhere, including the United States. Important to this project will be sharing results with relevant groups, such as community fishing councils (CCP) or the Ministry of Fisheries.”
by Sarah Strada
This week in our research lab we worked a lot of analyzing the data we have been coding. I am working on the Agency Project which is looking at the relationship between the government and the community on the issues of malaria and wildlife conflict. I quickly realized that analysis is a lot messier than coding! I started by pulling out major themes and separating those on an excel spreadsheet. Then I broke those themes down into more specific themes. I felt like I could have gotten even more specific but then I realized that 3 hours had pasted and I had 3 more codes to analysis. It is really easy to get lost in the analysis but I felt like I noticed things about the data I hadn’t seen before and I felt like I was really beginning to understand it. It was a really rewarding feeling.
After the agency team had gone through all their data once we met to discuss some of the themes we saw. As far as wildlife conflict goes, the overall theme was: fence. The government built a fence to deal with wildlife conflicts, the community felt this fence was of really low quality and it was pointless, and the community thought the best way to solve the wildlife problem was to build a fence . . . fence, fence, fence, so many things about the fence. It really made me want to organize a service trip to Mozambique to build them one the best fences this world has ever seen.
Anyway, after we met we all went through our codes again and started to combine them all onto a single excel spreadsheet for each issue (one for malaria and one for wildlife conflict). Now we were all separating the codes into the same themes so they can be easily combined later. Going through the codes this time, I left a lot more out because at the end of the day I just had to accept that not every interesting thing said adds to the purpose of our paper. This analysis has been difficult but I often found myself unable to pull myself away from it. It felt like a puzzle that I had to finish solving.
Setting boundaries in research is one of the toughest things to learn to do, and not easily teachable. There are all sorts of fun and interesting ways to look at data, and analysis is supposed to generate more questions. However, if a researcher doesn’t narrow down their topic the analysis and final writing can get unmanageable and frustrating. Sometimes the best way to learn is just to dig in and see. ~JS
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!
- Pitcher, M. Anne. Transforming Mozambique: The Politics of Privatization, 1975-2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Tripp, Aili, Isabel Casimiro, Joy Kwesiga, and Alice Mungwa. African Women’s Movements: Transforming Political Landscapes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
- Waterhouse, Rachel and Carin Vijfhuizen, Eds. Strategic Women and Gainful Men: Gender, Land and Natural Resources in Different Rural Contexts in Mozambique. Maputo, Mozambique: Nucleo de Estudos de Terra (NET) & Faculty of Agronomy and Forestry Engineering, University of Eduardo Mondlane, 2001.
by Catherine Soriano Luna
A good field researcher is relatively flexible and plans for the inevitable change of plans. You still try to accomplish what you planned for – particularly when funding is attached. However, ethnographic fieldwork is not bench laboratory work. There is no real control, no do-overs, and your study subjects talk back. This past summer I went to the field expecting to explore indicators of climate change, even though I wrote my research questions to be open to the possibility of discovering other sorts of environmental change indicators. And while I did get to ask a few questions about responses to climate change, most local residents wanted to talk about elephants. So I did. It was a risk to go off “script”, but given the stakes for my friends and others living in this place, a risk I think worth taking.
I think this seemingly abrupt change of plans initially made Jordan, my graduate assistant, uncomfortable. However, as I said there was some flexibility built into my research plan. When anthropologists go to the field to work with people, that means we work with them where they are. Pushing and pursuing questions that have no relevance makes immediate research difficult, and future research darn near impossible. This is something they don’t tell you in school (and why pilot studies are so important). The ongoing human-elephant conflict at my field site in Mozambique has entered a new phase, and as such, definitely constitutes a major environmental change to the social-ecological system. Jordan finally got it when during one of her malaria interviews a woman told her that folks in the community wouldn’t even be speaking to her if I weren’t present. They knew me and I was asking relevant questions (despite my anxiety that this wasn’t going to pan out). Right now, their focus and attention was on the elephants raiding their agricultural fields not malaria. The health clinic in Salamanga provides free treatment for malaria so this wasn’t really an issue. Not having food to eat was an issue.
This fall seven anthropology students are working with Jordan and I to code our summer interviews, field notes, and digital images. I can’t take them to the field with me and given the elephant issue that might not be wise anyway. However, they can learn how to use basic ethnographic tools and we are getting a serious lot of data organized in preparation for full analysis. They will also help with some of the analysis, but the primary goal is to provide some hands on training on what it is that anthropologists actually do. One of the first products we will produce is a report on the state of the human-elephant conflict in Matutuine District based on the data we collected this summer. This will be sent to various Mozambican government agencies and the local communities. Report writing is an important part of applied anthropology. I would also like to put together a short piece for Mozambican newspapers, and maybe something on living with charismatic megafauna for American newspapers. Elephants are one of the coolest animals ever, but they are also incredibly destructive if they are running loose in your maize and cassava fields.
We had a lot of visual data this summer – mine and some from local photographers who are participating in a PhotoVoice project documenting local changes to the environment. Yesterday I used some of this data to put together a short video for my ANTH 222 course (Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology). We are currently talking about biotic and abiotic factors and processes that influence evolution and shape landscapes. Given that every term students ask me to talk more about my research, I thought the human-elephant conflict a good example. Competition for food, water, & space resources, population growth, keystone species, fire, shifting climatic factors, national & international laws, cooperation, etc. I’ve posted it below. Please note there are some graphic depictions of animal butchering if you are squeamish.
by Bryan Gerard
As the summer ended and the fall semester began, it was time to begin our research with Dr. Shaffer. The research team began to meet to discuss the direction of the study and learn what would be expected in this lab. During the first two weeks we were provided the opportunity to practice both inductive and deductive coding. However, this past Friday, 9/26, we decided to break up the research into several projects (Wildlife Conflict, Health, Indicators of Change, and Agency — also Local Mapping of the Social-Ecological System and GIS). Dr. Shaffer differentiated these projects to enable the research assistants to gain experience in fields that interest us. More importantly, the various projects, while seemingly diverse, also exemplify the interconnectedness of the challenges in an area experiencing a plethora of social and environmental changes.
However, before we focus on the varied projects, we are all coding interviews about wildlife conflict. This has become a major issue for the local population and Mozambican government as elephants from the neighboring reserve have wreaked havoc on the local community, destroying crops, homes, and in several cases killing humans. This work will then be used to write a report for the Mozambican government – which will ideally highlight where and how to make changes.
This is what happens driving on sand tracks out in the bush with large holes. I’d call them potholes, but they’re more like permanent swales. They fill with water in the rainy season and breed malaria-carrying mosquitoes. It is quite normal to hit one of these or have one tire drop down the edge of one when driving in this part of the world. It would not surprise me at all if the repeated impacts finally took their toll and broke the bolts that the lug nuts screw onto. Our tire flew off while going ~45km per hour over a sandy, straight flat. No one was hurt, and we didn’t need to overnight it with a bonfire, watching the elephants pass by as we huddled inside the car.
It does seem an apt metaphor through for this research trip. The challenges Jordan and I have faced in getting out to the field, dealing with near freezing temperatures at night (0-5C; we do have winter sleeping bags but it is still really cold in a tent), getting permissions from the chief and other community leaders, getting people to agree to even short interviews, language barriers for Jordan (and that I have dealt with in the past), a potential malaria scare (just some digestion issues), and ongoing requests for things that we cannot give and have no access to (like building a hospital) offer a bumpy ride. Domingos, our research colleague who doubles as a translator and driver has been super helpful in getting the work we need to accomplish done. So, we’ve done pretty well all things considered.
With the tire coming off however I’ve had to make some hard choices. Jordan and I did a quick reassessment of the data we collected this morning. We have enough. Four more days in a vehicle that may or may not have additional problems is not a risk I am willing to take with a student along. There are too many things that could go wrong and my current emergency fund to pay for exigencies is already low from the previous problems. There is some relief in this decision for all of us. I think we were all pretty tired from 3 weeks of camping out and it is time to go home.
Jordan and I have slowly been getting fieldwork done here at the Maputo Special Reserve. A number of obstacles have popped up along the way that have provided us with some learning opportunities, but also have me thinking about the feasibility of continuing research here in the future.
1. Transportation – this has always been an issue. The reserve is located on coastal sand dunes and has no paved roads. 4WD is absolutely necessary. Despite shelling out to repair the car we are using, there is still no 4WD. We were told this after we got to the field, with the promise that if we returned to Maputo we could get it fixed and then… Our time is very limited so this is not really an option. I was also unaware that the vehicle needed repairs until 3 days after we arrived. So I had not planned for paying or waiting while the repairs were made. My arrival date was known more than 2 weeks in advance. The estimates could have been done while I was in the US so that I could have the proper amount of cash ready. Then the repair work could have been done during the week I conducted a workshop at the university. Hey presto! No waiting around an extra week in Maputo for car repairs and spending money out of my own pockets that I don’t have. While we do get use of the car from the university here free in exchange for some of the repair work, any future research trips will require me to either rent or purchase a vehicle. I cannot take students out with a vehicle that is iffy.
2. Students – As part of the agreement I have with Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, I take the occasional Mozambican student with me to the field for practical hands-on training. To date, this has been fine but now that I also have my own students coming from Maryland this situation needs to be clarified more. Conducting ethnographic work requires building rapport with the interviewee and trust with the community. Having more than 1-2 people in addition to a translator while conducting an interview can make the interviewee uncomfortable and unwilling to participate – when the extra people start asking questions, they can slow interviews and create confusion. We hit the limit on this trip our first week. In addition to Jordan, Fatima – a sociology student at UEM – also came out with us. I have been working with her on her MS research project. She also brought her own translator. All 5 of us worked well as a team, but I think we overwhelmed the folks we interviewed. Between having 5 people sitting in on one of my interviews and then both students needing to collect their own data on top of my research, it was too much. And so horrible for the shy people I occasionally interview. There were other issues and additional problems I can foresee if the group was larger. Any future student training will require advance preparation and paperwork on my part, as well as that of the students. While I recognize that students may not have the hands-on practice before they come out to the field with me, there are many things they can do in advance to prepare that didn’t happen on this trip. I cannot be responsible for everything.
3. Costs – Doing research is a funny thing. Some of the questions I get from non-scientists back home – or both scientists and non-scientists here – indicate that folks really think the US government pays for everything I do in the field. They don’t. I am not a scientist because I can make a lot of money. I am a scientist because I am intensely curious and would not be happy not-knowing what’s over the horizon or why people do what they do and why it is different in one place/time versus another. I create a budget for my research project. There are costs that the organization who pays for the research will cover – certain types of equipment, housing, some food, fuel, some ground transport, translators, office supplies/photocopies, airfares – and a whole lot that they don’t cover – some food, “non-monetary gifts” that may be given as thank yous for interviews or other types of assistance, emergency repairs, emergencies,… Okay, that makes sense. But then I often have to pay upfront out of my own pocket and then get reimbursed. Actually, some of this could be paid in advance by credit card, however, most of Mozambique where I do research doesn’t use credit cards. So I am out until I get reimbursed. My bank account looks miserable, and every time I go to the field I worry. I have a mortgage and car payments, but that is the extent of my debt. Graduate students have it much worse with tuition debt and then often putting everything on a credit card. Anthropologists have traditionally traveled abroad to conduct research in hard to reach places with significant problems, and I still want to, but I see the advantage in working in the United States.
4. Communities – I love this place where I work. The people of Matutuine District are very kind and friendly, and hard-working. But, based on their comments, they are getting burned out with visiting researchers. “Many people come Dra. Jenny, like you. They ask questions and write, but then what? Where does this information go? What does it do for us? We are still having problems. There is no hospital. We have elephants eating all our machamba [agricultural crops].” Jordan has been told flat out that if she were not with me, no one would be answering her questions about malaria. “That is not the problem. The elephants are the problem.” I have been able to rework my questions a little since I am here to ask about environmental change and response – elephants killing people and destroying agricultural fields is a change that requires response. Yet, tiring people out with constant questioning doesn’t advance our knowledge of how the world works or how we might make people’s quality of life better. And they need to see the results. I have presented my work to the community and given them results from past work. I will be writing a report on this project for the community, the reserve, the government conservation agency, and anyone else who I can hunt down and hand it to. But not everyone does this. Publishing in journals doesn’t do anything for the communities where we work. Governments don’t read journal articles and sometimes other scientists don’t either. Communities take on many forms. I will be able to get my research done, but I need to rethink and definitely think larger for the next project.
The interviews are coming slowly. We are getting great data though – when we can get people who have a little time to talk. The PhotoVoice interviews have been fantastic!!! Madjadjane and Gala have some great local photographers. We have one more week in the field, my fingers are crossed. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from working with my friends in Mozambique – be they in Maputo or Matutuine or Maputo Special Reserve – is that obstacles can be overcome, they just require time and hard work and patience.