Researching Resistance: on Methods and Ethics in Resistance Studies

Guest Editor: Anton Törnberg
Submission deadline for abstracts: 30 November 2016
Objective for the JRS special issue

Resistance studies draws upon a variety of research fields, including gender studies and feminism, peace studies, political science, sociology, critical race studies, anthropology, psychology, and critical legal studies. This broad range of sources and inspirations has favored the development of a methodological pluralism in the field and studies of resistance have thus utilized a broad set of methods that includes both quantitative studies focusing on e.g. the efficacy of civil resistance (Chenoweth and Stephan, 2011; Howes, 2013; Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2004), but also various qualitatively oriented studies such as discourse analysis (Bleiker, 2000), in-depth case studies (Varghese, 1993; Weber, 2009) and ethnographic studies (Abu‐Lughod, 1990). But while resistance scholars have occasionally discussed the advantages and limits of specific techniques and methods, they have rarely engaged in broader methodological or ethical debates. Methodological choices within the field often arise from personal taste and disciplinary tradition of individual researchers, not from epistemological insights, ethical-political standpoints and experiences emerging from the field of resistance studies. There is even a virtual absence of systematic textbooks and discussions of methodological models, challenges and possibilities suitable for researching resistance.

This special issue focuses on methodology and ethics in resistance studies. While resistance studies shares many general methodological issues and ethical problems with other fields within the social sciences, it also actualizes some specific challenges that are perhaps unique for studies on resistance. Relating to this are a number of interesting and highly relevant questions such as: can resistance be studied using the same sort of methodology as other forms of social science, or does it demand a particular set of research methodology of its own? Is it possible to develop an emancipatory methodology within academic institutions that themselves have emerged from and are structured by power interests? What kind of ethical challenges are particular for researchers investigating forms of resistance?

The fact that resistance practices are often performed in secrecy, disguised as hidden transcripts and concealed as symbolic codes that may pass by unnoticed by those in power also raises a series of important issues. Besides the obvious methodological challenges involved with interpreting and getting access to such practices, this also raises certain ethical problems: to accentuate and draw attention to resistance practices obviously poses a potential risk for the resisters, and revealing the practices themselves also risk rendering them less effective or even useless. While this may not have constituted any serious problems for the peasants in James Scott (1985, 1990) historical studies on everyday resistance -simply since his subjects were not alive during the course of investigation- it does pose more serious problems for studies of contemporary forms of resistance, and may even have a decisive impact on the potential for, and outcome of, resistance. These challenges are of course not exclusive to studies on clandestine forms of resistance, but apply equally for overt forms of resistance and tactics employed by activists and social movements. There is always a risk that insights generated from studying these resistance acts are used by those in power to develop even more effective counter-measures. This clearly illustrates how methodological decisions are often closely entangled with ethical-political issues, perhaps particularly so within resistance studies. How should student of resistance handle these issues: do we perhaps need our own version of the Hippocratic Oath?

While lack of data following from the secrecy of resistance practices is an old challenge for resistance studies, its opposite is a more recent one: digitally organized movements are now characterized by an overabundance of data, posing an at least as serious challenge to resistance studies. The growing use of social media and social networking sites has both offered resisters new means to organize and coordinate action beyond physical and geographical limits (Bennett and Segerberg, 2013; Earl and Kimport, 2011), but has also opened up new possibilities for scholars to gather data. This includes both text and documents produced directly by movement actors, but also –and perhaps more importantly- a unique and unprecedented access to previously unimaginable data; traces of the lives, dreams, and feelings of hundreds of millions of people. In this way, digital data thus provides new access to resistance practices and contentious activities in detail as they are unfolding.

But while this data obviously has enormous potential to revolutionize social research, it also comes with certain challenges. Big data is a by-product constituted by traces of ongoing social practices rather than something produced for scientific consumption. Hence, rather than hiding the intricate relational complexity of the real world or the mass-interaction underlying social patterns, it manifests this complexity with full force. This clearly creates new challenges for established scientific approaches and new methods and innovative combinations of methods are needed to approach this data. This constitutes a central challenge for resistance studies within the imminent future.


What papers are we looking for?

We invite papers that pursue the challenges raised above and related themes from different perspectives and across the disciplines. We open up for a broad range of issues concerning methodology and resistance studies, including both conceptual and empirical contributions. We seek high-quality, original research articles which highlight either of the following:

Discussions and reflections on general methodological challenges and/or ethical issues that are unique for studies of resistance. Such articles might also focus on or include critique of conventional methodology applied to resistance studies.

New methods to analyze digital data: we encourage submissions that employ cutting edge, innovative methods of collecting and analyzing digital data in order to advance the field of resistance studies.

Employ less common methods: we encourage papers that use methods that traditionally have been less applied in the field and that may reveal previously neglected aspects of resistance. Examples may be social network analysis, computer simulations, qualitative comparative analysis (QCA).

Papers should follow the submission guidelines of JRS available online: The journal uses double-blind review, which means that both the reviewer and author identities are concealed from the reviewers, and vice versa, throughout the review process.

In addition to academic articles (up to 12000 words), we welcome other contributions, such as book reviews (3000 words) and comments columns (5000 words) that relate to the topics of this issue.

Please send preliminary abstracts (max 500 words), together with a short bio, to the special issue editor, Anton Törnberg [email protected] by 30 November 2016. All questions regarding the special issue should be directed to the issue editor. The submission deadline for the final article manuscripts is 15 March 2017.

Important Dates and Deadlines

30 November 2016: Abstracts
31 December 2016: Notification of acceptance
15 March 2017: Submission of papers
15 April- 1 June 2017: Referee reviews
1 August 2017: Submission of revised papers
1 November 2017: Copy-editing finished

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