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Review 3 of "'She Is a Woman, She Is an Unbeliever - You Should not Meet with Her': An ethnographic Account of Accessing Salafi-Jihadist Environments as Non-Muslim Female Researchers"


Published onFeb 16, 2021
Review 3 of "'She Is a Woman, She Is an Unbeliever - You Should not Meet with Her': An ethnographic Account of Accessing Salafi-Jihadist Environments as Non-Muslim Female Researchers"

Vote: Publish pending minor changes

[For votes to count, referees must reasonably explain why they voted as they did. Thus, please explain your vote. If you voted to publish pending minor changes, specify each change, why it is needed, and, possibly, how it should/could be done.]

The paper is a very welcomed discussion about access issues in doing qualitative research on hard-to-reach populations. The article discusses challenges in gaining access to Salafi-Jihadist environments as non-Muslim female researchers. This is a very interesting topic and the authors do a good job of relating their experiences to exiting research and methodological discussions - and how their paper offers a novel perspective on access discussions and positionality as they focus on this through different levels of access. I found the discussions about “trust tests”, how they managed their positionality, and their point about women and emotional labor especially interesting. I thus recommend the article be published; however, I believe the paper could be strengthened with a few minor changes. 

1)     On page 7, the authors mention their research interest. They write that they were interested in learning about motivations for entering radical environments and they aimed at gaining knowledge about relatives’ emotional accounts. Being more explicit about how the subject - what we as researchers are interested in talking about with our interviewees - can also have an effect on access negotiations could be a valuable addition to the paper. Was there a difference in the two research projects’ focuses that also affected negotiations about access? For example, was it easier to recruit interviewees when presenting that the interviews was about the experience of relatives than interviews aimed at learning about motivations for entering radical milieus? 

2)     Related to the first point – I would like to know more about what the authors said to the potential interviewees prior to the interviews. For example, on page 11 in author B’s field notes it says that she explained who she was and why she was there (in the mosque). What did she actually say was the reason for why she was there? This could be very interesting as it is something many researchers in sensitive topics have to deal with. How do we present our research topic in a way that does not “scare” away the potential participants but still follows ethical standards of informed consent? How did the author present why she was there – did she say it was to do research on Salafi-Jihadism? And how did the girls react to it? I think this discussion could be framed within the article’s focus on positionality also (e.g. being non-Muslim and going to a Mosque because of one’s research project on jihadism…). 

3)     The authors argue that they have a double outsider position as non-Muslims and as female researchers. I think the article could be strengthened by also considering explicitly other social categories that intersects with gender and religion. For example, on page 10 the authors argue that their non-Muslim position created obstacles in the initial phase of gaining access and the example included here is a gatekeeper who told Author B that once people from Salafi-jihadist milieus encountered her, they would associate her with the Muhammad cartoons. She would not be seen as an Islam-friendly person. It can be argued that this example also holds aspects of ethnicity or race, which is not discussed in the paper. In an encounter, they would not look Muslim. I also thought about that in the example on page 12 where Author B is asked if she was a Muslim. It can be argued that the girls (also) asked this question because the author did not look Muslim, that is, having something to do with ethnicity. Maybe the authors were not only positioned in terms of religion (non-Muslims) and gender, but also as too white? I encourage the authors to consider if the concept of intersectionality might be fruitful in their analysis of how different positionalities have an effect on each other. 

4)     On page 8, Author A attended a meeting where a returned female radical Islamist gave a talk. The authors argue that this is an example of how ethnography led to an informant that would otherwise be hard to recruit. But, is it not exactly those that are “public” about their life/situation/prior engagements in radicalism, that are (more) available/accessible for researchers? I wonder if that particular example is the best? Or if it needs to be explained further why the informant would otherwise be hard to recruit? 

5)     Page 8-9, Author B gave up trying to gain initial access to a man after talking to a social worker about the man. Åkerström and Wästerfors (2018, in Metoder i kriminologi) discuss how access sometimes is blocked by gatekeepers who ascribe a degree of sensitivity to the research subjects even before they are asked if they want to participate in an interview. I thought of that point when I read the example on page 8-9. The man was never asked if he wanted to participate because of the gatekeeper’s assumptions about how the man would react to such an invitation. This could be discussed further. 

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