Authoritarian and Challenging Environments Research Group

Researchers examining authoritarian and complex environments face increasing physical and ethical challenges when doing their work. This group seeks to support these researchers, and to facilitate methodological innovation that ensures the strength, integrity and viability of future research on authoritarian and challenging environments.

About us

By its very nature, the field of politics examines issues that are often sensitive or even threatening to some elites and powerful societal groups. In a wide range of contexts, researchers have faced growing political constraints including access to approvals, visas, and important information, and even the threat of detention or even violence, just for doing their work. Navigating this is made all-the-more challenging by red lines that constantly shift: Something that was tolerated today may be sensitive tomorrow, making these among the most complex environments for political science research. These challenges have only intensified in recent years. Global power shifts, most notably the rise of China, have emboldened authoritarian regimes in many regions to deny access to, or clamp down on, local and international researchers. Democratic backsliding in countries such as Turkey and India, has led to a dramatic shrinking of the space for political research, while the authoritarian embrace of digital technology has enhanced autocrats’ ability to monitor and threaten legitimate research activity. It is in this context that political science researchers in Australia face increasing ethical and methodological challenges in relation to their own and their participants’ safety, and the imperative of continuing to do first-class research. These dangers are even more acute for those among us who are nationals of the countries that we research.

The easy response to these mounting challenges would be to simply stop researching authoritarian and conflict-affected countries, or retreat to stylised models of international relations that treat countries as ‘units’ that interact like billiard balls in the international system, thus negating the need to study their political regimes, government and administrative institutions, and social structures. Neither would be acceptable, however. In a world in which authoritarianism is rising, authoritarian countries are becoming increasingly powerful, and where the threat of conflict is real, it is imperative that scholars of political science continue to develop nuanced understandings of these states and their societies in order to make timely, evidence-based contributions to both academic and policy debates.

The Group aims to:

  • Support the development and sharing of innovative methodological techniques to facilitate first-class research
  • Provide a platform of discussion for scholars actively researching challenging environments
  • Support and train PhD and ECR scholars to undertake safe in-country fieldwork in authoritarian, weak and conflict-affected contexts
  • Support Australian political science researchers to design projects on and in authoritarian and conflict-affected contexts that satisfy the obligations detailed under the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research


Founding co-convener – Dara Conduit, University of Melbourne

Founding co-convener – Shahar Hameiri, University of Queensland

Interim Treasurer – Sam Wilkins, RMIT