Researching a sensitive topic in an unstable environment: Fieldwork dilemmas in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan

Muhammad Saeed, Gabriele Griffin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore fieldwork dilemmas for a Pakhtun researcher, educated in the West, to research family or domestic violence in the unstable, hostile environment of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. Design/methodology/approach: A gender studies approach is here combined with masculinities studies, and a critical qualitative research methodology is used in this study. Findings: The paper argues that unstable regions dominated by certain forms of masculinity require specific research approaches when conducting research and addressing a topic that is culturally taboo. Practical implications: The paper suggests how the insider–outsider dynamic plays out for researchers who come from a particular field and return to it under changed circumstances. It also indicates how a taboo topic in a context where direct questioning is not possible might be approached through the use of vignettes. Social implications: The paper suggests how the contradictory position of a masculinity, simultaneously bearing traces of the hegemonic and of marginalization, may be negotiated in the field. Originality/value: Social research on the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan is rarely conducted and reported due to the unrest in this region. The paper thus contributes original insights from fieldwork carried out there. It also contributes to the limited but growing literature on conducting fieldwork in hostile environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-258
Number of pages11
JournalQualitative Research Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 4 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Muhammad Saeed completed his PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York, UK, in 2012. Currently, he works as Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Department of Global and Social Studies, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), Saudi Arabia. Previously, he worked as Assistant in the Department of Sociology, University of Malakand, Pakistan. His research interests include gender, masculinity and violence; migration studies; modernization and social development; Pakistan Studies; and the Middle East and Saudi Arabia specifically. He would like to acknowledge the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan and University of Malakand for funding his PhD studies abroad.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Domestic violence
  • Family violence
  • Hostile environment
  • Interviewing
  • Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
  • Masculinity
  • Pakistan
  • Sensitive topic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Social Sciences (all)


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