Methodology: Informing L2GP with insights from Anthropology
This paper takes as its starting point that there is nothing self-evident or anodyne in the process by which cultures communicate. It is not simply by calling an initiative ‘Local to Global Protection’ or wanting to represent ‘local perspective on global protection initiatives’, that institutionalised ways of seeing and representing the ‘local’ by ‘global’ actors can simply be turned upside down. In many ways, the LGP has been insufficiently bold in presenting a truly ‘local’ perspective, because of the need to feed back programmatic suggestions to the very ‘institutional’ actors that have shown such an interest in our findings. The process of carrying out the study also showed how difficult it is to capture genuine local voice. So, while such institutional actors have been extremely positive about the local perspective provided by L2GP, it is the role of this paper to show how we have scarcely begun to expose the complex and ingenious ways that local agency operates. Nor should we get ahead of ourselves: our objectives were to communicate a common local perspective on protection to a humanitarian audience not to do long-stay participant observation on the multiple factors that influence individual decisionmaking and agency within local communities; for this reason the work was carried out by researchers who had extensive experience of the humanitarian system as well as long-term experience in their respective study areas.
This paper also sets out to show how humanitarians can extend their reach into local understanding by being explicit and honest about the cultural and institutional filters that may be preventing them from seeing things from a local point of view. But it also aims to show that there is a certain point beyond which humanitarian enquiry will not be able to go and this is the area where local agency dominates and global agency has little impact. Calling a research study ‘participatory’ or using aspects of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) is rarely enough to change the fundamental power dynamics and communications gap that exist between global and local actors. Most humanitarian enquiry assumes that local people and global actors share a universal humanitarian agenda and that ‘humanitarian concerns’ are also the concerns of local people. That is not always the case. Nor is it is always possible to find common ground between local models of rights and responsibilities and the inalienable private rights underpinning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and hence much ‘Protection’ work. Such differences should be highlighted rather than being ironed out if we are to understand how local and global structures interact.
Lastly, the paper aims to show that there is no single ‘magic bullet’ that will give access to the local point of view. Going ‘local’ is often easier said than done. The L2GP used a variety of different methodologies to produce studies that came out with similar conclusions. The different studies shared something more intangible than a transferable methodology. It was more akin to a shared belief that local voice and local agency needed teasing out over a long period – often requiring researchers with long experience in the cultures involved and having local language skills. Similarly there was a shared sense that local voice would only be audible once the agenda of humanitarian agencies with their competing demands and ways of seeing had been toned down. The example of PRA as a methodology is described below to show that even the most considered methodology, once it has been co-opted as a tool to service humanitarian needs loses the simple element of ‘learning from local communities’ and becomes something more ‘extractive’ aimed at responding to pre-defined humanitarian needs rather than the everyday concerns that local people have. There is no quick-fix alternative to embarking upon such learning; local reality is complex and requires longterm commitment to develop the knowledge and insight that are needed – something particularly missing with short-term humanitarian contracts sending workers from one country to the next. But such learning builds up a healthy level of respect for the ‘local interests’ vis-à-vis the humanitarian division of labour, and that was perhaps a common feature of the methodology of all the L2GP studies with much in common with the longstay ethnographic studies conducted by anthropologists.