Hearsay Ethnography

Susan Watkins, University of Pennsylvania
Ann Swidler, University of California, Berkeley

In this paper we describe a method developed to augment data collected by demographers. Although this method was developed in response to problems we encountered during a research project in rural Malawi, we believe this method is generalizable. One problem is that the quality of interview data may be affected by interactions between interviewer and respondent. Classical ethnography circumvents this problem, but is quite demanding. We thus asked several residents of villages in our research sites to act as our eyes and ears. Because our focus was on informal conversations about AIDS, we asked these village ethnographers to write down, at the end of each day, what was said in conversations they overheard or participated in as they went about their normal activities. In the paper, we discuss the disadvantages as well as the advantages of hearsay ethnography, but conclude that it is a valuable addition to demographers' techniques.

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Presented in Session 25: Experimental Methods in Demographic Research