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Field Research in Conflict Environments: Methodological Challenges and Snowball Sampling


  • Nissim Cohen

    (School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa, Israel)

  • Tamar Arieli

    () (Conflict Management Program, Tel Hai College, Israel)


Conducting research in conflict environments is a challenge, given their complexity and common attitudes of distrust and suspicion. Yet, conflict and methodology are usually analyzed as separate fields of interest. Methodological aspects of field work in conflict environments have not been systematically analyzed. This article addresses the central methodological problems of research conducted in conflict environments. We suggest the use of the snowball sampling method (hereafter, SSM) as an answer to these challenges. The effectiveness of this method has been recognized as significant in a variety of cases, mainly regarding marginalized populations. We claim that in conflict environments, the entire population is marginalized to some degree, making it ‘hidden’ from and ‘hard to reach’ for the outsider researcher. The marginalization explains why it is difficult to locate, access and enlist the cooperation of the research populations, which in a non-conflict context would not have been difficult to do. SSM directly addresses the fears and mistrust common to the conflict environment and increases the likelihood of trusting the researcher by introduction through a trusted social network. We demonstrate how careful use of SSM as a ‘second best’ but still valuable methodology can help generate cooperation. Therefore, the evaluation of SSM, its advantages and limitations in implementation in conflict environments can be an important contribution to the methodological training of researchers. In addition to its effectiveness under conditions of conflict, SSM may, in some cases, actually make the difference between research conducted under constrained conditions and research not conducted at all. Together with our experiences in the field, we supply several insights and recommendations for optimizing the use of SSM in a conflict environment.

Suggested Citation

  • Nissim Cohen & Tamar Arieli, 2011. "Field Research in Conflict Environments: Methodological Challenges and Snowball Sampling," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 48(4), pages 423-435, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:48:y:2011:i:4:p:423-435

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    Cited by:

    1. Kirchherr, Julian & Matthews, Nathanial & Charles, Katrina J. & Walton, Matthew J., 2017. "“Learning it the Hard Way”: Social safeguards norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 529-539.
    2. repec:kap:policy:v:51:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11077-017-9296-y is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Al-Abdin, Ahmed & Dean, Dianne & Nicholson, John D., 2016. "The transition of the self through the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 45-56.
    4. Kim Wickman, 2015. "Experiences and Perceptions of Young Adults with Physical Disabilities on Sports," Social Inclusion, Cogitatio Press, vol. 3(3), pages 39-50.
    5. Cohen, Nissim & Naor, Michael, 2013. "Reducing dependence on oil? How policy entrepreneurs utilize the national security agenda to recruit government support: The case of electric transportation in Israel," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 582-590.
    6. repec:eur:ejmsjr:260 is not listed on IDEAS


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