Stepping Outside for Field Research: Into a Category of “Unknown Unknowns”

Sponsored by Georgetown University Press

Recorded on 02/18/2020
Posted in The Authority File

Episode 112

The Field Researcher's Handbook book cover. POV photo of the photographer's feet, looking down. Includes their legs from the knees down in dark jeans, yellow shoes, and the ground. Book title and author in white above the shoes.

An art inherently tied to sensory details, field research can’t be replicated through the screen. Even in today’s digital age, David Danelo, Director of Field Research for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, believes “that kinesthetic experience of understanding a problem set in the field is central to advancing knowledge in any body of work.” 

In this episode, Danelo explains that field research is more than an immersion of the five senses. It’s an experience that should leave the researcher with unexpected questions. His latest work, The Field Researcher’s Handbook: A Guide to the Art and Science of Professional Fieldwork, details how because a researcher must look at the world from a new perspective or positionality, they are bound to end up with a greater understanding of what they don’t know. Instead of balking at the number of questions yet to be explored, Danelo believes that researchers should be honest if their conclusions don’t reflect their initial thesis, since inevitably, “simply by getting onto the ground and asking questions, you’re going to end up in that category of unknown unknowns.”


About the guest:

David Danelo
Director of Field Research
Foreign Policy Research Institute

David J. Danelo is the Director of Field Research for the Foreign Policy Research Institute and an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at El Paso’s National Security Studies Institute. He teaches and conducts field research, consults on international border management and geopolitical risk, and writes about intersections between policy, security, and culture. Danelo graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1998 and was a US Marine Corps infantry officer for seven years. From 2011-2012, he was the Executive Director, Policy and Planning, US Customs and Border Protection. His books Blood Stripes: The Grunt’s View of the War in Iraq, The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide, and The Return: A Field Manual for Life After Combat have been assigned as required reading for policy professionals and his guide, The Field Researcher’s Handbook: A Guide to the Art and Science of Professional Fieldwork, is a university textbook. He is based in West Texas and travels often.


Listen to the rest of the series: