Important changes in fieldwork approach from the academic year 2021-2022 onwards

For many years, the Department of Conflict and Development Studies has been organising fieldwork trips for students of the Master of Science in Conflict and Development. Because of the increasing number of students and lack of resources, the traditional approach of fully-organised study tours is unfortunately no longer tenable. Therefore these fieldwork trips will no longer take place. Instead, emphasis will be put on individual fieldwork and on making students autonomous in both the practical-logistical organisation and the actual conducting of their fieldwork.

This will be done with support and preparation throughout the lectures, practical exercises and discussion seminars in the compulsory year course Methodology and Fieldwork Practice. Here students are taught not only about methodology and research design, but also about the pitfalls, limitations, practical and personal aspects of fieldwork. Autonomous fieldwork, its many practical aspects, as well as the ‘trial-and-error’ situations that students might be confronted with are part of the learning process. The ‘group experience’ of the earlier organised trips will remain in the preparatory and post-fieldwork reflective discussion moments in the seminars.

Where possible, fieldwork will have to be conducted in function of the Master's Thesis. Mind you, research for a successful Master's Thesis does not have to consist of fieldwork in a faraway location in the global South. Depending on the topic and the options available to the student, a good Master's Thesis can just as well be based on a literature study, historiography, analysis of existing data, or on fieldwork in Belgium or another European Union country. If a thesis consists entirely of literature study, however, the students still have to carry out the compulsory fieldwork exercises, simulations and data collections on an alternative theme of their choice in the Methodology and Fieldwork Practice course.

If the rules on international mobility allow, and students opt for fieldwork abroad, the supervisor can put the student in contact with local partner institutions and organisations. However, it must be avoided that these partner organisations, as well as the population in the respective fieldwork locations, are 'flooded' with our students during the 'fieldwork season'. Or that because of cultural factors or their working relationship with the Department, they feel obliged to spend a significant amount of time and energy on student support and on input that yields little to them. Therefore, field contacts are not something students are automatically entitled to. The number of students who are ‘matched’ to a partner organisation will be limited, and support may be explicitly linked to the condition that the students do something in return that benefits the organisation and the population concerned.

The Internationalisation Unit of the Department will ensure that enough attention is paid to the practical and logistical aspects of international mobility (insurance, registration, visas, ...) via the mentioned fieldwork course and by informing the individual thesis supervisors.