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Qualitative Methods: A Key to a Better Understanding of Demographic Behavior?

Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer
Population and Development Review
Vol. 23, No. 4 (Dec., 1997), pp. 813-818
Published by: Population Council
DOI: 10.2307/2137381
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2137381
Page Count: 6
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Qualitative Methods: A Key to a Better Understanding of Demographic Behavior?
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Abstract

The past several years have seen systematic attempts to assess the extent to which analytic approaches from anthropology and, to a lesser degree, from other social sciences, can provide insights into demographic behavior. These five commentaries, introduced by Carla Makhlouf Obermeyer, examine the potentials and limitations of qualitative methods for improving our understanding of population processes. Susan Greenhalgh argues that demography tends to be supportive of the existing institutions of society and their political and policy goals. An infusion of qualitative methods into demography would be a correction for this bias. Tom Fricke contends that the characteristics of a demographically viable theory of culture derive from its emphasis on understanding highly concrete and local situations. Another way of integrating demography and anthropology, writes Vijayendra Rao, is for ethnographic analysis to inform rational choice models, which generate hypotheses that are then analyzed with survey data using demographic methods. David Kertzer notes that demographic change can be understood only in terms of a web of relationships involving cultural norms, social structure, political power, and economic relations. Finally, John Knodel argues that focus groups and in-depth interviews make collection of qualitative data more practical for demographers, permit data to be collected in several communities in the same study, and facilitate comparative analysis of findings between different settings.

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