« Fariba Adelkhah, Or the One Thousand And One Borders of Anthropological Fieldwork », Béatrice Hibou, Critique internationale, n° 90, 2021/1

In solidarity with Fariba Adelkhah, who has been imprisoned in Iran since June 5, 2019, the editorial committee of Critique internationalehas decided to publish four of her articles. These articles are a testimony to her years of painstaking research, honoured on December 15, 2020 by the Irène Joliot-Curie Prize for “Female Scientist of the Year”. Today, our valued colleague is still denied her freedom, kept under house arrest with an electronic bracelet, not allowed any contact outside her family,1 and of course, deprived any hope of being able to continue her research2. This editorial decision is therefore a gesture of support and commitment to her struggle to “save research”3 and have the specificity of research recognised in a country where scientific investigation is most often assimilated to “spying”, “propaganda”, or even an “attack on national security”. In Iran, like in other countries unfortunately, the fact that there is no official status for researchers, nor a clear definition of the profession, leave even the most courageous and upstanding academics vulnerable. Like Fariba, they often face misunderstandings not only from the regime, but also from some of their colleagues. Both in Iran and within the diaspora there is a reticence to accept the specificity of research as a profession: the process of distancing, denaturalisation, and shifting the limits of understanding; a knowledge that draws its legitimacy from its methodological rigour and robust empirical material and not “the” truth accredited by one authority in particular.

At a time where field work in “high risk” or “difficult” countries is complicated by “security issues”; where the transformations of the principles of research evaluation make it more costly to conduct fieldwork that requires long-term immersion; where disciplinary purity, thematic hyper-specialisation, and methodological orthodoxy disparage and hinder the pluri-disciplinarity and innovation in research that are so fundamental in understanding change and new situations4, the publishing of these four articles is also of significant scientific importance. It is for all of these reasons that rather than focusing on her career trajectory,5 this introduction will focus on Fariba Adelkhah’s scientific approach and her fieldwork practices in all their specificity and originality… Read more

  1. Her close family in Iran, as well as Roland Marchal, Jean-François Bayart and myself, her three friends whose names were listed on her telephone card during her period in Evin []
  2. On the conditions of Fariba Adelkhah’s arrest and the evolution of her situation over time, see the website organised by her support committee, along with the book published from the conference held in January 2020, Pour Fariba Adelkhah et Roland Marchal. Chercheurs en périls, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2020 and the CERI website. []
  3. Echoing her call from her cell in January 2020, when she was on a hunger strike with her fellow detainee Kylie Moore-Gilbert: “Save research, save researchers, to save history.” This was clearly a reference to the work of Prasenjit Duara on rescuing history from the nation. Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation. Questioning Narratives of Modern China, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1995. []
  4. Irene Bono, Béatrice Hibou, “Peut-on rester libre à l’heure du risque? La liberté scientifique sur les terrains dits difficiles”, Sociétés politiques comparées, 52, 2020 []

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