Interviewing Displaced Syrians: A Conversation with Wendy Pearlman (S. 5, Ep. 9)

pablo(1)On this week’s POMEPS Conversation podcast, Marc Lynch speaks with Wendy Pearlman, an associate professor in the department of political science at Northwestern University.

Pearlman has carried out open-ended interviews with displaced Syrians since 2012. “Like many people watching the Syrian uprising from afar, I was fascinated of the individual-level experience of what this must have been like for Syrians who went out into the streets, what drove them to do so, what drove them to stay. How people were experiencing protest, how people were experiencing violence. How people ultimately fled the country as refugees. I decided there was no better way to understand that lived experience— the personal experience of  dramatic political phases— than to get to individuals themselves and ask them to tell me their stories.”

“For the most part, it’s not that the people are telling the same anecdote. They’re telling very different anecdotes of their own personal experiences. They’ll tell personal stories of their childhood under Assad’s Syria, and when they went to their first demonstration and what it was like. They’ll tell different stories how it felt to live under shelling. But I see very similar themes coming out of those anecdotes that connect them all.”

Pearlman and Lynch also discuss the ethics of conducting fieldwork with people in vulnerable situations. You have to get concent, but there’s an added level, too. There have been times when people have agreed to speak with me, but I could tell they really didn’t want to….it’s wise at that point as an interviewer to pull back. Technically, that person has consented to an interview du jour; de facto, that person is being put in an uncomfortable position and doesn’t really want to talk? At that point, I think you say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and get out— to not cause that person harm.”

Music for this season’s podcast was created by Feras Arrabi. You can find more of his work on his Facebook and Instagram page.

You can download this week’s podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, follow us on SoundCloud, or listen below:

Read more from Pearlman:
The surprising ways fear has shaped Syria’s war, Washington Post, March 24, 2016

Narratives of Fear in Syria. Perspectives on Politics 14, no. 1 (March 2016), pp. 21-37.

Love in the Syrian Revolution, Huffington Post, July 18, 2013

The Argument Against U.S. Intervention in Syria… And Why It’s Wrong, Huffington Post, February 21, 2014.