Afghanistan Programme News

News Archive - Afghanistan Programme News

Doing Field Research in Afghanistan - a Personal Account

2013-02 AziziMy name is Kawoon Azizi. I am assistant lecturer at the Economics Faculty of Nangarhar University (Afghanistan). Since 2011, I am also a student in the MSc in Management and Economics program at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB). Currently, I am conducting the field research for my Master thesis in Afghanistan, which is a compulsory part of my studies at RUB.

After 15 months of course work at RUB, I returned to my home country Afghanistan on 1st December 2012. I started off with my data collection having in mind the field research experiences of my friends at RUB.

For collecting primary data, they were asking people on the street or at shopping malls to fill in their pre-arranged questionnaires or they were personally conducting the interviews with them. I was expecting field research to work exactly like that in Afghanistan. However, I soon realized that the environment for social science research is totally different in Afghanistan:

Unlike in Germany, it is not normal in Afghanistan to ask people questions on the street or at shopping malls because nobody did this before, and only few people understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. In the Afghan culture it is particularly unusual that a man asks a woman to fill in a questionnaire or to answer questions. So whenever a male researcher wants to interview a woman he has to hire a woman to help him collecting data from women. And if you are a researcher in the field of Economics, it is extremely difficult to ask questions about income. People would either claim they don't know their income, or they would pretend to be poor.

As it concerns people in rural areas, this behavior is due to the presence of various charities (NGOs) and UN organizations that used to conduct income-related surveys at the time of the civil war to target the poorest families for their projects. People thus learned that they had to present themselves as poor in order to benefit from the support of these organizations. Villagers nowadays still behave in the same manner when they are visited by educated, formally-dressed people who ask them about their incomes. In urban areas, particularly in the big cities, people have other motives for not disclosing their true income. Most people are either involved in petty trade (e.g. shopkeepers) or are unskilled workers (e.g. daily wage laborers). Generally, people are trying to avoid paying taxes by pretending their income to be very low. Therefore, because of a lack of trust, they would not disclose their true income to researchers.

As regards my own field research, the target audience for the primary data collection was students who have graduated from secondary school. When I confronted them with my questionnaire, they were very cooperative, interested and polite. They wanted to find out more about my research and asked many questions, like "what are you doing this for?" or "how will you be using the collected information?" Regarding the collection of secondary data, I had to visit some private institutions and businesses which I found to be very supportive. They were happy to learn about my research because they themselves are suffering from a lack of data and market research that they need for their own strategic planning. By conducting my field research in Afghanistan, I have learned a lot about people, their behavior and their individual context, apart from my professional learning. This has been an unforgettable experience in my life!