Research Subjects “more willing to work with me” Because of NYU Abu Dhabi
Daniel Karell, associate professor of sociology, travels a few times a year to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan to visit historical archives and interview local people about their life experiences.
His research focuses on how broad social forces — wars, migration regimes, ethnic boundaries — reshape local-level social relationships and, in turn, affect interpersonal social behavior like political violence.
What research are you currently working on?
I am currently working on two projects. The first explores how variations in radical ideology emerge during periods of conflict. My specific case of interest in Afghanistan from 1979 to 2001. The study draws on a large corpus of Afghan mujahideen and Taliban documents that I collected from archives and private collections in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. The second project focuses on how Pakistani labor migrants seeking to work in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries become constrained by the obligations and expectations of their families and friends before they depart for countries like the UAE. That is, I am studying the formation of family and friends' expectations, and how and why these expectations become obligations placed upon aspiring labor migrants. This study relies on interviews and a novel data collection method using a mobile phone application.
Telling people in my field sites that I live in Abu Dhabi deepens my access and collaborations. I think this is because they see that I am committed to studying and understanding this region and, as a result, become more willing to work with me.
Why is fieldwork critical for your research?
Fieldwork is critical for my research for two reasons. First, I am interested in studying hard-to-observe social dynamics. To do so, I need to visit the field to see them for myself or uncover new materials that can shed light on these dynamics. In other words, my scholarly interests are not captured in existing datasets. Second, I am interested in answering “why” questions. For example: why do variants in radical thought emerge and why do layers of obligations and expectations form in an aspiring labor migrant's life? We often have to speak with people to learn about processes that unfolded over time to understand why things happen.
How does your location in Abu Dhabi contribute to your scholarly work?
My location in Abu Dhabi is invaluable for my scholarly research. The ease of access to the field sites — in terms of distance and transportation infrastructure — allows multiple visits, which, in turn, enables me to develop my projects both in a more sophisticated manner and at a faster pace. In addition — and I think this is more important — telling people in my field sites that I live in Abu Dhabi deepens my access and collaborations. I think this is because i they see that I am committed to studying and understanding this region and, as a result, become more willing to work with me.