Review: Everyday Neoliberalism in Cuba

June 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

In light of our ongoing discussion of ethnographic work, and particularly participant observation, I found Dr. Harrison’s “Everyday Neoliberalism in Cuba: A Glimpse from Jamaica” quite intriguing. Despite later trips to Cuba, Harrison’s social analysis of the impact of the “Special Period” on Cuba, began during a stay in Jamaica—hence, “A Glimpse from Jamaica.” In what she describes as a serendipitous redirection of inquiry in her fieldwork, Dr. Harrison met a number of Cuban men working for a Venezuelan energy company in Jamaica. Though Dr. Harrison is quite forthcoming about her sources, my first reaction while reading her work was to wonder whether her depiction of Cuba was affected by a sort of selection bias—it seemed that her informants were primarily Cuban men of color, working several month terms in Jamaica. Given the opportunity to pose my concern directly to Dr. Harrison, I was interested by her description of the nature of fieldwork, and the resulting need to compare your findings with a review of the literature.

Actually, the idea of bias has been an ongoing source of concern for me as we discuss the ethnographic methodology of many of our readings in class in order to inform our own ethnographic work. Coming to the table with the public policy mindset of poll design, I wondered about all the ways results of polls and surveys can be swayed—selection bias, response bias, and non-response bias. For example, is ethnographic work representative of the people unwilling to be interviewed?

 

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§ 2 Responses to Review: Everyday Neoliberalism in Cuba

  • Representativeness is indeed a limitation of much ethnographic work, because it is typically based on small samples that are based on purposive and non-random selection. This is not to say, though, that all ethnographic research is unsystematic. There are ethnographers who “triangulate” or combine qualitative and quantitative methods, being committed to systematizing qualitative research strategies. Survey and poll resarch may be more representative in the statistical sense of the concerpt, but they often lack context and insights into what the aggregate data mean in the lived realities of people. So, ultimately, research methods should be approached more dialogically because of their potential complementarity. I see research of whatever variety to be part of an ongoing process of exchanging ideas and asking new and better questions about the complexity of sociocultural life. My essay was written in the spirit of stimulating rethinking and encouraging some of my readers to come up with questions that they themselves can pursue in future research. My objective was not to make definitive claims.

    Thank you for your thoughtful remarks!

  • ethnolust says:

    I’m happy to see that methodological issues from the readings are helping you to think about the concerns in your own project. I hope to hear more about this soon. Maybe in your presentation on Friday it can come up.

    The limitations and the advantages of different methods, which Dr. Harrison mentions, are things we should think about when designing research projects. It is also important to remember that using a number of techniques for data collection is a great way to carry out nuanced research.

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