Interpretivist Ethnography Approach

4 / 5. 1

Interpretivist Ethnography Approach

Category: Anthropology

Subcategory: Art

Level: Masters

Pages: 11

Words: 3025

The article is a research proposal article aimed to examine the disconnection between Kerala government and government policy. Kerala is one of the poor localities in India, but many studies have always praised the region, using it as an example in many cases, because of its success and well-being despite the low GDP. The paper notes that previous studies always appear to take a positivist approach without considering how the citizens feel. The paper, therefore, is written as a proposal to research that first acknowledges the three mass problems affecting the regions; which include access to clean water, uninhabitable living conditions and low-class mobility, but much attention is given to how the residents feel. The research questions, therefore, revolve around how the residents respond to NGO and governmental efforts; whether or not the residents feel their needs are being met; and the resident’s expectations from the government, which also explains their belief on the government enacting change. Given that previous studies have taken the positivist approach, the proposal aims research that will take the ethnographic structure, an interpretive approach.
Keywords: Kerala, GDP, government policy, the well-being of residents
In many cases, it can be said it is not what a person has that forms the basis of their success but how they handle or use as they strive for the success. Similar sentiments apply to economic situations, as much as they would be used in real life situations. Politicians and statisticians alike are consumed in looking into and getting an update on the trends in GDP; an aspect assumed to mirror an entire economy’s progress. However, in practice, a properly-donated GDP has no meaning if it is not put to work. When more efforts are placed towards economic production, as measured by an escalating GDP, but fails to bring any improvements to the human conditions, it loses the point (Venkatraman, 2009). An outstanding example of this saying is massively shown by the social and economic experience of Kerala.
Statistics show that Kerala boasts populations similar to Canada but all crammed into a much smaller piece of land than Nova Scotia. Apart from the congestion, the unique feature in Kerala is how they have leveraged the low GDP to attain extraordinarily strong outcomes in education, quality of life, and health. The region boasts the highest literacy levels in India, greater than 90 percent (Venkatraman, 2009). Besides, Kerala also has the lowest rates of infant mortality. The birth rate is only 25% of the other parts of India, an aspect probably attributed to the grassroots economic opportunities and education programs for women. Based on such positive figures, one would easily be moved to list Kerala as one of the developed economies despite the third world output levels.
The unique approach in Kerala mirrors its enthralling political culture. A large percentage of half of the last century has been ruled by elected communists, either in a coalition with other parties or alone. Economically, all the ruling governments have always looked into the public services as their priority, taking into consideration the rural-land reforms in place of outsourcing for jobs and racing for call centers for white collar jobs. Kerala’s productivity in some of its smaller shops is pre-industrial but is far from equivalent to doing nothing, an aspect which has growingly become the fate of many Keralan residents (Venkatraman, 2009). The Keralan government has assisted the locality to resist agricultural corporatization, thereby assisting it to attain the mark of the lowest Indian rural poverty.
The Research Puzzle
A lot of research has been done on regions that exhibit high poverty rates, but little has been done to help explain the low trends and high rates of poverty as experienced in Kerala. A majority of the studies only focus on its successes and ability to overcome the odds with the low GDP. Notably, since liberation, Kerala has grown and achieved swift social progress in areas like literacy and infant mortality without any significant economic growth or industrialization. The occurrence prompted Kerala model discussions, though many scholars study how great extents of investments in social services by the state can lead to significant progress, despite negative economic growth. The research, therefore, takes the interpretive approach to denounce how previous research have left “little room for fleshing out the interpretive component’s logic of inquiry in the research design, including its associated standards, to the fullest, depriving interpretive-quantitative methods of their scientific grounding” (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow, 2013, 134). As the research deals with provable observations, it takes the ontological and epistemological approaches into play, through which it is only focused on the existence of social units as it seeks to establish how the people view their relationship with the government.
Based on the fact that most of the studies are conducted with the help of statistics and scientific evidence, driven with the aim of showing the outside world how a locality can achieve success with low GDP, the scholars have generally failed to acknowledge the three mass problem affecting the region; that is the access to clean water, uninhabitable living conditions, and low-class mobility. For instance, access to clean water is the most devastating problem for many residents, if not all, venture in the comprehensive battle for water deficiencies and poor sanitation of the limited water sources available (Shiva, 2013). Many of the residents are forced to walk for long distances only to get toxic water. The toxicity of the water ends the life of the children with as many children dies of either diarrhea or pneumonia. The lack of water alone shows the uninhabitable living conditions through which the residents have to live through. Based on these facts and harsh conditions, the research aims to establish how the residents feel regarding their living conditions and involvement of the government in enacting changes and bettering the way of life. The research puzzles, therefore, include;
How do the residents respond to efforts by the government and local NGOs, do they feel like their needs are being met?
What expectations do the residents have, do they feel that the government can truly enact change?
Literature Review
Ever since after independence, many efforts have been driven towards understanding poverty (Schatz, 2013). The studies tend to explain poverty as when an individual lacks a way of self-sustenance; in the modern world, this may very likely translate to lack of income-generating activity. Most recently, other instances of deprivation which strengthens an individual’s identity as poor are mostly created from development discourse: human and rights, health, and education (Halperin and Heath, 2016). Given such perspectives, poverty could be seen as a trap from which those born within the poverty space cannot evade it. The neoliberal methodology sees poverty as an impermanent line afflicting persons that will likely disappear once such individuals start making informed decisions in a non-restricted market society, for instance concentrating on money-generating activities (Schatz, 2013). Many studies, however, tend to question this model of economic self-determination, and individualism, and whether it permits individuals to evade the poverty trap. In an attempt to explain the derivation and persistence of poverty, there appears to be a lack of consensus. One hand appears to argue that poverty always exists as a local issue but later emerges as a global issue attributed to globalization. Moreover, such standpoints hold it that the societal transmission from a feudal, capitalist production mode is the cause of poverty. Based on this view, a distinction tends to protrude in explaining poverty and inequality, from which poverty exists in a capitalistic society whereas inequality exists in both types of society (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007). This first class of literature argues about the roots of poverty. However, poverty conceptions have been consistently and broadly premised on the ideas of basic needs, subsistence, and relative deficiency of groups and individuals.
Another class of literature to be considered are the sources that tend to explain the current situations in rural India. Many of the studies acknowledge poverty in many regions (Lareau, 2018; Taylor, 2001)). The studies look into the factors that play across India to bring about mass poverty regardless of the deliberate actions to reduce the extreme poverty rates. In the first place, Aunger, (1995), says that the possession of industries is majorly in the hands of small businessmen that have made income distribution inequitable, which is then reflected by poverty. These people, as few as they may be, have amassed huge profits, and there henceforth wealth. The study also mentions that during the first stages of planning, designers majorly emphasized on objectives of growth and assumed that it would take care of poverty and inequality instances. Moreover, the planners argued that the projected high growth rates of the national income would then enlarge the opportunities of employment and hence improve the living standards of the poor masses. However, this has never been the case given a society described by gross inequality in how the assets are distributed, clearly showing a growth of an economy that failed to lower poverty. The studies, therefore, aimed to show that Indian poverty is attributed to the economic structure, which is described as the skewed distribution of income-yielding assets and hence wealth. A similar trend is seen in rural areas with inequitable land distribution, which is also the most critical income-generating assets. The studies also explain equality and poverty to as a resultant of underemployment and chronic employment situations (Sluka, 2012). Indeed, this exhibits the potentiality of lowering output, which simply means that low economic growth rates are the reason behind the low levels of income as experienced by the vast majority of individuals in India. Despite the several efforts to lower unemployment cases, the problem has grown and to become more acute and painful.
The third class of literature deals with the psychological effects of living in destitution. (Emerson, Fretz and Shaw, 2011; Herbert and Rubin, 1995), who majorly focuses on misery as experienced women describe destitution as the lack of a way to meet the basic needs of food, water, shelter, health, and warmth. The term, destitution, is majorly used to mean poverty of a refuge seeker and one with no financial nor social-emotional support. In the study, destitution is to be used to indicate persons living below the standard poverty line. The study also uses women to explain destitution, from which it is explained to be; as a result of multiple social disadvantages that either mirror pre-existing situations or are the result of major problems with societal cognition, effects, and behavior. The pre-existing disadvantages, as aimed in the study, ranging from the living conditions, poor education, and family relationships, but mostly of violence, subordination, oppression, and devaluation characteristic of governmental oppression.
The literature coverages are very good but mostly fail to mention how the people feel towards the government. A higher percentage, if not all, only covers the side which focuses on how people suffer living in such government management but fail to look into how such people feel or relate to the government. The research, therefore, aims to fill in the gap by looking into how the residents of Kerala feel concerning governmental efforts in helping them overcome the poor living standards within the locality. Moreover, the urge to carry out the research is driven by the aim to fill the gap created by the positivist way of research that has always looked into the scientific data available to explain the situation. Such studies only explain how a state with a low GDP can perform better than others with higher GDP without digging into how the residents toil and suffer to reach the levels they live in, or how they may want the government to get involved, or if they want the government involved at all. The study is, therefore aimed, to reach and fill these gaps through the involvement of the Keralan residents.
Methodology and Data Collection
Methodological Approach
Based on the fact that most studies are conducted through the positivist approach, the study will take the form an interpretive structure following an ethnographic way of study. The ethnographic structure of the research will allow the study regard and represent the players as the creators and also the executants of what they experience and mean. The ethnographic structure demands to let go individual assumptions and presumptions regarding the situation and people living in it such that one effectively learns the entire situation. Evidently, the structure would enable the study to reveal the best findings and there afterward make the best conclusions regarding the situation.
In an attempt to achieve the best of results, the study will incorporate the help of an NGO, which has been noted to assist the residents in getting access to clean water. During the data collection, as the researcher, I intend to stay within the locality for at least one month as it will come with ample time and opportunity to conduct the interviews. The research will not be based on anyway and given that it is to be conducted with the aid of an ethnographic methodology, it will not be detrimental in any way. Based on the fact that the study will be conducted with the assistance of randomly selected individuals from randomly identified regions within Kerala, the results will be generalized to make assumptions regarding the feelings of the other individuals in other impoverished places. Such possibilities are known to bring about fractures in studies, but the study is aimed at establishing the best possible results, which means the study will seek to include as many people as possible while considering diversity.
Proposed Methods of Data Collection
As the study follows an ethnographic structure, the methods of data collection are more defined.
Interviews will form the largest method of data collection. The interviews are an effective method to study people and what they believe, how something impacts their life, and how they feel. The interview will involve both the fully-structured and semi-structured format of interviews. “Questions are the engines of intellect’” and for this reason, the research questions are defined and designed in a way that answers the research questions (Halperin and Heath, 2016, 81). Both forms of interviews, fully-structured and semi-structured, have been integrated into the study to help obtain the best of results. The fully-structured interviews have questions set in stone, in which the interviewees must answer the questions as a set. The interviewer must also stick to the set questions in the questionnaire. The semi-structured interviews, on the other hand, are designed with some little questions about the possibility of adding other questions depending on the responses. The semi-structured interviews are to help get more information from interviewees that will be willing to speak.
A more significant percentage of the data to be used in the analysis will be data obtained through the semi-structured interviews. This is attributed to the fact that the semi-structured interviews are more flexible and is very likely to allow for more specific questions depending on interviewee answers and will be used on persons who open up. The fully-structured, on the other hand, are meant for more direct interviewees and will allow easy comparisons from one person to the other. The interviews will be conducted on a one on one basis and the responses will be logged via pen and paper, and in other cases, will be recorded with a phone upon permission. The people to be involved include people from all age groups, social castes, and genders and occupations. Moreover, I intend to establish a rapport and friendly conversations to make the respondents relaxed before delving into more serious topics to reveal inner government feelings.
Participant Observation
Observation will also be part of the data collection methods as it is beneficial to engage oneself into a community and gain in-depth knowledge regarding the inner workings and intricacies that can never be obtained from literature works or from methods of data collection that involve second-hand information. The observations technique can produce insights into an individual’s customs and lives that they may not be able to tell when questioned. As I intend to live within the locality for nit less than a month, I will be able to maintain a rapport with the people, take part in the activities of the community, and elaborate on some of the experiences. The observation technique will provide much information on what the residents may not be willing to talk about and enable me to gauge the differences between what they do and claim to do.
The surveys will be used as the quantitative method. The survey is to be crafted in a way that will generate beliefs and opinions without leading the individual being surveyed in a specific direction or conclusion. The surveys are also non-inflammatory and short despite the fact that it might be harder to get all the required information using short surveys. The length is short to ensure that the participants take their time to complete the survey. Aspects not covered in the survey will all be fitted with the other methods of data collection. The survey is also designed in a manner that does not encourage the inclusion of emotions from the individual surveying so that they do not feel anger or excite the one being surveyed.
Ethical Considerations
Arguably, there are great ways in research methods revolving around social sciences and humanities but are accompanied with some significant ethical principles recognized by both ends. Whereas some of the methodologies are unconventional, some are complex in their approach and raises questions of ethical considerations. Anthropology involves the study if human culture and ethnography require the use of interviewees and observation to monitor social practices and establish what they mean by social interaction (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow, 2013). The research has been crafted to study human behavior using approaches that aim at social communication and interactions. Based on the knowledge and nature of the type of research to be carried, some of the most fundamental ethical principles to be adhered to include doing good with no harm and guarding the autonomy, safety, well-being, and dignity of all the participants. The research and anyone involved will be very objective to avoid ethnocentricity. All the necessary ethical considerations are put in place based on the idea that the contribution which may be generated towards advancing knowledge by the social sciences and humanity discipline are very likely to be undermined or obstructed once inappropriate review criteria are employed.
Indeed, the carrying out the research will be very critical to help bridge the existing gap created by the many scholars only interested in seeing how Kerala’s low GDP has got them moving. However much it is good to acknowledge their efforts, it makes no sense to praise an ailing community for their success. Many studies have been conducted in the region but not of them has been focused on the feeling of the people towards the government or establish if the residents consider the government to be helping them in any way. Given that the study will involve an interpretive methodology, the research questions will answer the scenario and help bridge the existing and ever-widening gap.
Aunger, R., 1995. On ethnography: Storytelling or science?. Current Anthropology, 36(1), pp.97-130.
Emerson, R.M., Fretz, R.I. and Shaw, L.L., 2011. Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. University of Chicago Press.
Halperin, S. and Heath, O., 2016. Political research: methods and practical skills. Oxford University Press.
Halperin, S. and Heath, O., 2016. Political research: methods and practical skills. Oxford University Press.
Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P., 2007. Ethnography: Principles in practice. Routledge.
Herbert, J.R. and Rubin, I., 1995. Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data.
Lareau, A., 2018. Journeys through ethnography: Realistic accounts of fieldwork. Routledge.
Schatz, E. ed., 2013. Political ethnography: What immersion contributes to the study of power. University of Chicago Press.
Schwartz-Shea, P. and Yanow, D., 2013. Interpretive research design: Concepts and processes. Routledge.
Schwartz-Shea, P. and Yanow, D., 2013. Interpretive research design: Concepts and processes. Routledge.
Shiva, V., 2013. How economic growth has become anti-life. The Guardian, 1.
Sluka, J.A., 2012. Reflections on managing danger in fieldwork: Dangerous anthropology in Belfast. Ethnographic fieldwork: An anthropological reader, pp.283-95.
Taylor, S. ed., 2001. Ethnographic research: A reader. Sage.
Venkatraman, T., 2009. The Kerala Paradox. Indian Journal of Economics and Business, 8(1), pp.43-54.

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