Field Work

Dr. Wittig has extensive experience designing and conducting qualitative field research in challenging environments, typically in collaboration with indigenous researchers and local communities.

Extensive experience designing and conducting qualitative field research in challenging environments, typically in collaboration with indigenous researchers and local communities. 

Currently focused on the financial and socio-economic foundations of armed groups and traffickers in the Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa, and the implications for policy and action, with a particular emphasis on Somalia. Learn more...

Photos from past research fieldwork above (click for larger versions, with descriptions):

Click on photos for more information.

Horn of Africa / Middle East (2011)

  • Researched Somali socioeconomic structures and how the militant group al Shabaab interacts with them.
  • Conducted interviews, focus groups, ethnography, and observation (participant and non-participant) of Somali trade networks and diaspora communities.
  • Conducted related primary document collection, photography, videography, and literature reviews.

West Africa (2010)

  • Preliminary survey of the illicit wildlife trade in West Africa.
  • Conducted relevant interviews, observation (participant and non-participant), photography, and literature reviews.

Georgia (2009)

  • Designed and managed field-based research project on trafficking in nuclear / radiological material
  • Supervised team that conducted semi-structured interviews with known/convicted traffickers in and outside of prison, and related primary document collection and photography.
  • Conducted and supervised relevant ethnographic and archival research and literature reviews, and translation into English when necessary.  

Chechnya-Georgia Border (2006)

  • Researched the financial dynamics of Chechen separatists and foreign 'al-Qa'ida' fighters.
  • Conducted ethnographic research and semi-structured and open ended interviews with members of indigenous border communities, including those who provided material support to militant and terrorist actors.
  • Retraced and photographed smuggling routes used by Chechen separatists and al-Qa'ida.

Northern Ireland (2005)
  • Researched IRA perceptions of their North American benefactors
  • Conducted semi-structured and open ended interviews of current and former IRA members, as well as members of Irish Republican communities.
  • Conducted related photography, archival research, and literature reviews.

Current Research

Somalia & al Shabaab:

Somalia is an economy without a state - lacking a central government for 20 years, but with a surprisingly vibrant commercial and trading sector with links to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and other parts of Africa.  Al Shabaab, the violent Islamist movement affiliated with al-Qa'ida, gains its resources primarily from interacting with - and being a part - of this stateless economy.  

This research, funded by National Defense University, investigates the socioeconomic foundations of al Shabaab, how the group interacts with Somali diaspora communities and the legitimate and illicit Somali economy, and what all this indicates for policy and action towards Somalia.

Tactical Economic Analysis:

From traffickers to terrorists to wealthy, corrupt elites, many of today's most challenging threats blur the lines between 'good' and 'bad' financial activity, between economics and politics, and between academic knowledge and practical action.

Dr. Wittig designed and, in collaboration with key partners, has further developed a tangible methodology - "Tactical Economic Analysis" - for systematic, high-impact analysis of socioeconomic information, which has already proven useful in spheres of thought and practice alike.

For more information about this research, please contact me.