Graduate Student Fieldwork Reports 2019

Patrick Slack, MA Geography

Black Cardamom Livelihood Impacts in Northern Vietnamese Upland Ethnic Minority Communities

The aim of my research was to investigate how the cultivation of non-timber forest products, specifically black cardamom, factor into livelihood strategies, food security, and local perceptions of forest protection in ethnic minority communities of a district bordering China in Lào Cai province, northern Vietnam. In the uplands, cash is needed more than ever before, and livelihoods are being directly and indirectly impacted by ill-informed government policies and extreme weather events.

Thanks to the ISID Field Research Award, I was able to conduct my MA research in northern upland Vietnam over the course of four months (May 17th, 2018 – September 17th, 2018). Upland ethnic minority households have turned to the cultivation of black cardamom as a popular income source to supplement rising costs for agrochemical inputs and seed. Extreme weather events, beginning in 2008, have led to significantly reduced black cardamom harvests or a complete crop failure for the past three to five years. The provincial and district government have created a natural reserve where many black cardamom plots are located, implementing a restriction on the expansion of plots and an impending ban of black cardamom cultivation altogether. Given the increasing need of cash and limited cardamom harvests, many households are resorting to trading household and agricultural goods. The most common adaptation strategy households have adopted appears to be wage labor, both around Vietnam and illegally in China. It is unclear as to whether or not black cardamom will maintain its popularity amongst households amongst the vicissitudes of climate and policy, but it is certain that households are continuing to become more integrated into the market, for better or for worse.

Joanna Jordan, MA Geography

Borders, Irregular Migrants, and Protracted Transit in Bosnia and Serbia

Due to increasingly restrictive definitions of “asylum” and “refugee,” highly securitized border regimes, and fewer possibilities for safe and legal passage through transit states, irregular migrants are undertaking longer, more precarious journeys to Europe. My research explores these fragmented journeys and the involuntary immobility of irregular migrants in the Western Balkans. In particular I examine the production and occupation of informal transit camps in Serbia and Bosnia, that are occupied by irregular migrants seeking to cross clandestinely into Europe and reach intended destinations. These informal transit camps are often located at border-zones or outside urban centres, and act as important nodes of mobility and immobility, as resource and information hubs, and contact points for the multitude of actors present in these spaces (irregular migrants, smugglers, locals, state actors, NGOs, volunteers, activists, researchers and journalists).

With the help of the ISID Graduate Field Research Award, I was able to conduct four months of field research in the Western Balkan states of Serbia and Bosnia this summer. During this period, I employed a multi-sited ethnographic approach in multiple informal transit camps across the region, exploring the nature of blocked journeys, involuntary immobility, and extended displacement along the Balkan Route. Building on previous experiences in these sites as a volunteer in 2017, this summer’s field research involved a daily presence in my field sites, and in-depth exposure to the environment and subjects that are at the core of this research project.

Laurence Côté-Roy, PhD Geography

Morocco’s Master-Planned Future: Deconstructing the Kingdom’s City-Centric Reform

In 2004, the Moroccan government launched a new strategy for territorial development outlining the creation of 15 brand new cities across the kingdom to address challenges related to rapid urbanization. My doctoral research critically examines the arguments and rationales deployed to support the new city development model and focuses on the consequences of the model’s normalization for urban life in Morocco. Beyond eliminating informal housing by resolving persistent housing shortages, the new planned cities are also intended to bolster Morocco’s industrial development, to fuel competitive economic growth, and to empower the growing middle class and the urban poor. With the public endorsement of all these new cities by the king, the ambitious scale and objectives of the new city projects, and the mobilization of extensive expertise and resources for their construction, the new cities model takes on a critical role in Morocco’s national development strategy, where the creation of brand new cities is openly promoted as the optimal solution to overcome Morocco’s challenges in the face of rapid urbanization.

After a first period of field research in the summer of 2016 to investigate the official state and planners’ discourse on new cities, I returned to the field in September 2018 to investigate the lives of pioneering residents in the new urban developments. With the support of ISID’s Graduate Field Research Award, I was able to spend three and a half months in 3 of Morocco’s new master-planned cities. During this time, I investigated residents’ bottom-up views of the projects and varying perspectives on the meaning and uses of the new spaces, their associated symbolism, and role for Morocco’s urban and economic development. By contrasting the top-down discourse on new cities with a bottom-up analysis of residents’ views and experiences of the projects, my combined periods of field research in Morocco have provided insights on the challenging process of development of a sense of belonging in a new city, the opaque and unresolved questions of urban governance and service provision, as well as the unachieved ideals of social diversity.

Joanna Ondrusek-Roy, MA Geography

Borrowed Skylines: Locating Tanzania’s New Master-Planned Cities in Mobile Urban Policies

The aim of my master’s research is to understand the drivers and ideological underpinnings of new city building in Tanzania, where since 2010, at least eight new cities have been planned for construction. These new city projects join the rising tide of urban mega- developments spreading across the Global South, as governments attempt to meet the needs of ever-growing urban populations, as well as make a place for themselves in a global hierarchy of cities. My research attempts to locate Tanzania’s experience within this broader global trend, characterized by networks of policy sharing that span the globe. Because they exist within a global network of urban policy sharing, not only do new cities around the world share similar architectural form, but they also share the same rhetoric of “eco” and “smart” urbanism. Thanks to the ISID Field Research Award, I was able to travel to Tanzania between June 14th and August 21st, 2018, where I carried out 25 in-depth elite interviews with the government officials, planners and developers spearheading these new city projects. I was also able to meet with representatives of community- based organizations, and land rights research institutes that have been advocates for local urban residents at risk of being relocated to make room for construction. Throughout my fieldwork I worked with a local advisor from Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam, who not only helped me navigate the complicated process of acquiring a research permit, but was essential in introducing me to some key participants and helped me gain a better understanding of the local urban development context. Working through the local universities I was able to access archival materials, planning documents and the expertise of local university professors. Through informal conversations with local urban residents, I was able to gain a better understanding of the dichotomy that exists between the needs and realities of local urban Tanzanians, and the urban agenda that is being forwarded by the state.

Thomas Kokossou, MA Economics

Legal Aid, RCTs, and Fieldwork with ELIMU in Kenya

The judicial system enforces property rights, making them more secure and thus incentivizing farmers to invest more in their production, leading to an increase in agricultural production and in the end economic development. It is not clear however how this increased production manifests itself: Do farmers scale-up their current production or do they start producing different products? Do they go (more) to the market and/or middlemen, or even consume it for themselves?

To do my fieldwork – done for my master’s paper, to complete my M.A. Economics –, I have been hosted by ELIMU (EvaLuation IMpact Unit), a Kenyan research NGO, based in the town of Kianyaga in the Mount Kenya region and founded in 2006 by McGill Economics Professor Matthieu Chemin. Professor Chemin, through ELIMU, uses randomized control trials (RCTs) to rigorously evaluate the economic impact of various development interventions. During my stay, ELIMU was engaged in measuring the impact of 3 separate RCTs: (1) Rural Electrification, (2) Online Tutoring to Primary Students, and (3) Legal Aid to the Poor.

I oversaw the ending of the data collection, done with comprehensive electronic surveys. I then cleaned the data and created the dataset, manipulating the raw data to create variable of interest, analyzed these data statistically and subsequently wrote my master’s paper. I notably looked at the impact on global agricultural production, finding an increase. In accordance with the professor, I decided to go deeper in this specific result to find what exactly was driving this increase (do farmers scale-up their current production or do they start producing different products) and how it was dealt with for its disposal (do they go (more) to the market and/ or middlemen, or even consume it for themselves). As expected, being on the field allowed me to complement the data, by directly asking questions to farmers to better understand some of the primary results. I find that with access to legal aid, these small scale farmers increase their agricultural production through an increase of “low-effort, perennial” products. Moreover, more farmers sell to brokers, overall and for low-effort perennial products, and globally the value sold to the market and to brokers increases.

Back to top