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The power and limits of numbers: an ethnography of a survey on background radiation and health

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 11:59 authored by Raminder KaurRaminder Kaur
By considering the characteristics of quantitative and qualitative work as epitomised in survey work and ethnographic fieldwork respectively, this article explores the ‘performative contradiction’ of their understanding in anthropology and amongst my interlocutors in south India. The epistemological rationale for qualitative research was deemed inconsequential when compared to the strategic uses of, and empowerment that quantitative research was deemed to provide. Significantly, these are surveys that are not done on them but for or by them – that is, the collation of statistics that they could operationalise according to their own agendas. Their views encouraged me to think elliptically about the methodology I adopted, such that I decided to pursue an ethnography of a survey conducted by them. This entailed contextualising the rationale, processes and consequences of tactical survey work with what may be called a reflexive, discursive and engaged approach to quantitative research


Publication status

  • Published


ASA online: Journal of Association of Social Anthropologists




Journal of Association of Social Anthropologists

Department affiliated with

  • Anthropology Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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