Abstract: This article discusses the current confusion surrounding qualitative methods in demographic and health research that prevails amongst young researchers in Arab countries. It presents the author’s reflections on years of training researchers from the region in qualitative methods and the frustrations of differentiating between qualitative methods, qualitative methodology and anthropology in the midst of rising demands to produce a critical Arab social science.
Multi-disciplinary research in the fi elds of health and population has proven to be a viable and important avenue towards a better understanding of social life and customs. Ideally, such research can provide both hard quantifi able data and explicate the social dynamics and cultural meaning that this data refl ects by resorting to a rich mix of methods and methodologies. Th e urge to theorise and explain demographic behaviour has led demographers and others working on population to reject methodological Puritanism and move into new fi elds and associations with anthropologists, economists, sociologists and other disciplines and their disciples. While this route has been successfully followed it has also had some unforeseen consequences. Th e ethos of mixed methods and the creative complementarities of research philosophies are commendable. But the practise of routinely espousing multi-disciplinary research regardless of context, resources and the abilities of researchers is not. Th is article locates the diffi culties of applying multi-disciplinary research in population research in Arab countries through a qualitative researcher’s lens. Anthropology of the Middle East, Vol. 1, No. 2, Winter 2006: 20–34 © Berghahn Journals Teaching Qualitative Methods to Researchers _ 21 Qualitative methods seem to be easy for locals who speak the language and know the culture. However, aft er four years of teaching qualitative methods to qualifi ed demographers, health and biomedical researchers, as well as to activists and policy-makers the author would like to question that assumption. Th e article concurs with others who have commended the importance of culture and con - text for the understanding of demographic behaviour. But whereas others have focused on the cultural context of the fi eld and subject, this article addresses the situation of researchers themselves. It investigates the relevance of context to training in qualitative methodology for young researchers. Th e purpose is to address the complex conditions of knowledge production in Arab social sciences. Th e problems of social research are puzzling and seemingly contradictory. On the one hand commentators have noted that the Arab countries are bereft of scientifi c and technological knowledge but secure when it comes to social and cultural awareness. On the other hand the situation of the social sciences and of local productions of social knowledge is dismal.1 Th e study of cultures and the understanding of social dynamics remain outdated, under-theorised and under-valued. Also worthy of note is the unexplained separation between social research and social knowledge. A glass ceiling prevents the observations and know-how of local/regional researchers with decades of fi eld experience from translating this know-how into global knowledge. Moreover, the social knowledge is not circulated widely or evaluated critically and constructively. Meanwhile, there has been a steady volume of ‘researching’ taking place continuously and consistently. Th e principles and processes of research are recognised as integral to development, policy-making and any transfer of money from donors to recipients. Most programmes, policies and projects in Arab countries, and of course elsewhere, include a research component. Research happens, but that says little about its yield or utility.
This article notes the contradictions that punctuate the story of social research in Arab countries, with particular emphasis on Egypt and addresses the following questions: Why does the exaggerated sense of Arab cultural specifi city ignore the importance of critical and theorised cultural studies? Why has social research not realised its full potential for informing social and demographic knowledge? Th is article questions the acknowledgment of these knowledge defi cits by proponents of qualitative demography who have focused on the marriage of methods but ignored the migration of methodologies across borders. Th rough a narrative that refl ects on the teaching of qualitative methods to Arab demographers and health researchers, the article argues for a critical consideration of the relations of knowledge production in the Arab world and illustrates their eff ects on the viability of multi-disciplinary research in the fi elds of health and population.
The article fi rst reviews the history of multi-disciplinary thinking and its promotion in population studies, so as to draw parallels between qualitative methods in demography and the diffi culties of training demographers and other researchers in those methods. Th e second section describes the fi eld 22 _ Hania Sholkamy experiences from which the article draws its evidence and data. Th e fi eld in this case is a three-month training course on multi-disciplinary research in the fi eld of health and population off ered by the Social Research Center at the American University in Cairo. Th e course has run for four years with participants from every Arab country. Th e experience of teaching qualitative methods to this random sample of researchers, despite the accidental and opportunistic nature of the sample, merits careful refl ection.
Rather than share trainee refl ections as anecdotes, the article constructs a theoretical framework that legitimates the frustrations of trainees and trainers and questions the possibility of transporting methodological wisdom regardless of context or history. Th e article will not abandon the multi-disciplinary project but attempts to further it through constructing an understanding of qualitative demography that is grounded in contemporary research and knowledge in Arab countries.
Culture and Demography: A Review
Historical demographers were at the forefront of calls to add culture to the heady mix that determines demographic behaviour. Th e Princeton Project on the historical demography of Europe found that cultural resources such as language, ethnicity and religion play as an important role as determinants of fertility as socio-economic factors do (Knodel and van de Walle 1979; Obermeyer 1997: 817). Th is may be a truism as far as anthropology is concerned, but it was deemed an enlightening intervention that was a component in a demographic critique concerning the methodological limitations of demography itself. Th e fi eld of anthropological demography was soon to be born (cf. Basu and Aaby 1998; Szreter, Sholkamy and Dharmalingam 2004; Population and Development Review 23/4, 1997).
In a collection devoted to the topic edited by Basu and Aaby (1998), two contributions are cited as particularly signifi cant for this hybrid discipline. Th e fi rst one consists of open-ended questions ‘whereby in this scheme categories such as “other”, “don’t know” and non-response become important responses’ (1998: 2–6). Th is suggestion of leaving the respondent to speak was a reaction to the over-structured tools of demography. Preference for quantitative certainties had discouraged demographers from including such semi-structured tools and questions that open the door of multiple interpretations and readings. Th e proponents of less structure in general and the authors of that particular article suggest that this ability to reconstruct facts in terms of how their signifi cance and meaning are perceived by the subjects of research has greatly enriched demographic analysis. Th e example given is that of chronological age, which is diffi cult to ascertain in surveys since people oft en do not know how old they are or are reluctant to state their age to a stranger or may even measure their age in terms of units other than months and years which makes Teaching Qualitative Methods to Researchers _ 23 a simple question like ‘How old are you?’ a problematic one in a survey. Th e authors suggest other measurements such as age linked to national or regional events, particular seasons in the year or a meaningful self-categorisation that evolves from respondents themselves or any other concept of social age. Th e second contribution is the greater fi eld involvement of demographers that has enabled them to verify and explain data (Basu and Aaby 1998: 2–6; cf. Caldwell and Hull 1988). Th e resources and capabilities that anthropology extended to demography are mainly methodological according to this volume. However, some of the other contributors touched on issues of subject content and analysis as further anthropological contributions to demography (see also Carter 1988).
Basu and Aaby do caution that anthropological demography may have given itself a deceptive reputation for ‘simplicity’ by virtue of it viewing the borrowing of methods as a straightforward process. ‘Much current work is shoddy equating small sample size with anthropological demography’, they explain (1998: 6). Th is is perhaps the most serious fi rst problem that anthropologists and demographers have contemplated: Th e assumption that anthropology is a license to survey small numbers, substitute numbers with words and consider utterances as concepts and anecdotes as cultural artefacts. Th e diff erence between the disciplines of demography and anthropology is more than the difference between words and numbers. Just as there is implicit judgment based on words involved in quantitative analysis, such as grouping answers into one category and ranking responses, there is a possibility to quantify qualitative data and rely on statistics (Obermeyer 1997: 814).
Th e disciplines of demography and anthropology also contrast in other ways. Th e categories/units of analysis, the relationship with institutions and apparatuses of power and the ways that reality is defi ned in each are just a few items of a longer list of issues. For example, anthropologists have developed a dislike for the concept of ‘the truth’, choosing to at least multiply it if they cannot subtract it from the discourse of social research, i.e. ‘truths’. Whereas demographers are unhappy with the instability of motivations and perceptions, anthropologists are even less happy with their categorisation or unifi ed interpretations. Just as urgent are the disciplinary variations in deciding on the validity and signifi cance of data. Th e debate about the various evaluative criteria that the two disciplines use to assess quality and construct truth is equal in importance to the consideration of methods and their currency. Opinions diff er on the success of this relationship (Carter 1993; Greenhalgh 1995; Obermeyer 1997). Just like any other relationship, the viability of the venture and the future of the aff air are meat for discussion. Th e discipline of demography, although oft en described as theory poor, located its own limitations and identifi ed anthropology as ‘the interlocutor of choice for demographers seeking better comprehension of population processes’ (Obermeyer 1997: 814). Th is clear direction and positive urge to improve is a result of the dynamism that is a feature of demographic inquiry.
The accepted wisdom now is that anthropological demography has little need of theoretical complications and is doing well using the methods it has borrowed (Frick 1998). Demographic anthropology, on the other hand, is something else altogether and is left to the anthropologists to incorporate in the ongoing attempts to rejuvenate and make relevant the discipline of anthropology. Th e whole debate is sadly lacking in culture and context. Th ere is little if any refl ection on how this project travels and what happens to it when crossing cultural and geographical boundaries. Th ere is little mention of the disciplinary requirements for documenting and understanding cultural knowledge. It is as though the interpretation of cultural contexts and of qualitative knowledge has no theoretical, methodological or cognitive conditions and protocols. Basu and Aaby mention the ‘local’ in their promotion of anthropological demography:
One possibility that has been insuffi ciently explored is that of training local demographers better to use their own implicit cultural knowledge to improve both context and interpretation of fi ndings. Th is is not to denigrate the importance of formal anthropological training: it is only to suggest that simple information on matters such as potentially harmful health behavior […] can be identifi ed better through the knowledge of the local culture than by the trial and error available to the foreign demographer. Information on such constraints by local demographers can have great value. (1998: 5)
Th ey are certainly right in pointing to the insuffi ciency of the exploration that connects the native to the new paradigm. I would add the native anthropologist to their contemplations of the local demographer. But can this exploration yield results if the meanings of cultural knowledge, local and context are undefi ned? Locals are diff erentiated by the very same culture that they are supposed to share. Moreover, cultural contexts are also political ones whereby the signifi cance and implications of knowledge are subject to the determinations of politics and power.
It is these locals who more than any other group need to contemplate the complexities of anthropology rather than the simplicities of anthropological demography. Basu and Aaby gave some wonderful examples of how the culturally literate local can better analyse demographic data by referencing her/his implicit knowledge. However, it is difficult to generalise this to productive use of cultural knowledge. Locals can also assume knowledge that they do not have or insert biases, prejudices, hierarchy and interest into the process of cultural reference and translation. Perhaps this is where and how anthropology can deliver us. The debates of anthropology can bring about the inclusion of the others’ culture, context and experience in research. They can also illustrate the need for the theoretical complementarities of disciplines and thus overcome the confusions that result from simply mixing tools and methods.
Successes of Multi-Disciplinary Research and the Frustrations of Training: A Personal Experience
It is precisely in response to the suggestion by Basu and Aaby that I have been in volved in training non-anthropologists in qualitative methods for the past four years. I have undertaken to teach a version of anthropology to people primarily interested in health and demography. I have faced the challenge of instructing nationals of fourteen diff erent Arab countries. Participants vary in age, profession and vocation. Activists, academics and administrators—even some professional researchers—have participated in these courses with varying degrees of success, satisfaction, frustration and disinterest. Th is is the experience upon which I would like to refl ect and use to comment on the muddle of mixing methods versus the potentials and diffi culties of multi-disciplinary research. Th ere are three types of training activity that I have participated in. Th e bulk of this training activity was undertaken under the auspices of a course off ered by the Social Research Center (SRC) at the American University in Cairo called ‘Research Methods for Guiding Policy and Evaluation’ (with special application to population and health concerns in the Arab countries). Th e course has been run four times during the past fi ve years. It provides training in qualitative and quantitative skills with a bias towards the latter. Th e other two activities involved training for NGOs in Egypt and for Master’s students at the Medical School of the Arab Gulf University of Bahrain. Th e SRC course has been widely acknowledged to be of good calibre and in great demand. Trainees are supported by fellowships from their own organisations or by the Welcome Trust. Organisations that have supported attendees include the Government of Oman, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Planning and the International Population Council (Regional Offi ce for the Middle East and North Africa). My responsibility has been mainly to co-ordinate the module on qualitative data collection and analysis, to teach large parts of the module and to assemble a syllabus of content and suitable readings. Th e objectives of this module are to introduce participants to methods of data collection and analysis in population and health research. Th is is easier said than done. Th e seemingly simple objective is a road riddled with pitfalls, hurdles and insurmountable diffi culties. I am the culprit. In my course I try to supply the needs of demographers by creating a demand for anthropology. Th is is not a result of confusion but is a consequence of an undeclared ambition and a fair amount of experience. Permit me to explain.
Like most people, participants are good, smart and have a keen desire to learn. Th e question is: Learn what and why? Many want to learn ‘focus groups’ 26 _ Hania Sholkamy because this is a methodological profi ciency that has a large market. Th e attraction of this method of group interviewing is strong and growing, particularly amongst population, health and policy researchers. It is a demand that my colleagues and I have desisted from supplying. Th is method is sometimes used as an effi cient way to talk to many people during a short period of time. Rather than interview people separately, or—god forbid—talk to people more than once, focus groups permit a facilitator and a note taker to spend two hours or so with 8 to 12 people to discuss a topic and thus get ‘the native’s point of view’. Th ese are facts we must face and within which we need to place the appetite for methods.
In many Arab countries social science education is weak and an outdated pedagogy that is hierarchical and classicist rule the institutions of education. In these countries population and health research is dominated by the positivistic mentalities of biomedical research and classical demography. Th e research market itself is over-regulated by the state and dominated by donors. Research institutions may be independent in name but may still have to prove their worth, legitimacy and vision by complying with an agenda. Social science is in dire straits when compared to other brands of inquiry (such as economic policy, markets, polling). But the fi elds of health and population are relatively well researched and creatively so. Th is may be due to the acknowledgement that population is a problem shared by those who have money and those who set policy. Researchers in the Arab world have been happy to oblige. No opportunism is hinted at here, rather an appreciation of the fl exibility with which researchers face the drying up of opportunities to innovate and research other fi elds of social life.
Yet, since population and health studies have witnessed their own transition from the narrowly defi ned fi eld of family planning and fertility control to the much more abundant and interesting one of reproductive health, researchers have found plenty of topics with which to engage creatively and productively. Reproductive health as a paradigm facilitated the inclusion of gender empowerment, sexuality, poverty, politics and human rights as areas that are relevant to population (even if at times obliquely so), in demand and able to attract institutional support and funding (Sholkamy 2003). Th e results have been studies such as ‘Th e Giza Morbidity Study’, which was a community-based study that tried to estimate the burden of reproductive morbidity in two villages in the governorate of Giza in Egypt. Th e success of this and other projects have made institutions and individuals aware of the benefi ts of multi-disciplinary methods but not off ered an understanding of mixing methodologies and theories of knowledge.
Participants in the course therefore had a vague notion of what they want but not of what it would entail to get it. As the co-ordinator I had to choose between making the course more skills based (giving people what they want) or knowledge based and orientated towards critical theory and supplying ethically what I think they should have so they can acquire the same skills.
How can people learn methods without an idea of the theoretical baggage that comes with them? How can researchers establish a rapport when they are uncritical of their own biases? How can they ask people to respond freely or openly in societies that lack freedom? How can they write without knowing the theory of knowledge that can validate their analysis? How can they contribute to knowledge when they see their role as researchers in societies that do not read or value research? Finally, how can this course ignore the debates about mixing methods and yet claim to be of some calibre and relevance? Th e answers to these questions favour the path of critical, theoretically informed introductions to various methods over that of pedantically teaching methods excised from their disciplinary contexts and cultures. Th e experiences of teaching have validated this choice but not without a fair amount of complaints and grumbles.
On the whole participants have appreciated the approach but have found it baffl ing at times and challenging at others. Th ey have been perplexed by the claims that in qualitative research the researcher is the tool. What does that mean? Th ey have wondered at how ‘scientifi c’ these methods are and if qualitative data is representative or not? Th ey have also found it strange that research and intervention are different things and not to be mixed. ‘If I get to know people and enter their homes I must change what I find wrong.’ Researchers seeing research as an entry to intervention and not as an avenue to understanding human behaviour was a recurrent posture and preference. Th is and similar statements were made by many participants in the past, and intimate a sense of superiority that can only be eff aced by immersion in theories of knowledge and the critical consideration of the relationship between researcher, researchers and the researched.
The Qualitative Module
The module is designed to familiarise non-specialists with the basics of qualitative research as to complement the emphasis on quantitative research with a comparative and contrasting perspective. Th e eight days of learning introduce basic concepts and skills focusing on research experiences in the Arab world. Th is module does not qualify participants to become qualitative researchers but can enhance their capability to read, handle and critique qualitative material. Each day builds on the one before. Attendance of the whole module is therefore required. A mix of teaching methods is used every day, including lecturing as well as participatory exercises to address basic research issues. An illustration of a major study that is multi-disciplinary in its design is used for illustrative purposes and when possible a guest speaker is invited to convey an appreciation of the qualitative research community. Case studies used in the module have addressed reproductive morbidity and normal obstetric care in Egypt; drug usage among youth in Cairo; utilisation of health services in Liverpool (U.K.); participatory planning and evaluation in Yemen; political anthropology in Sudan; and women’s rights and domestic violence in rural Egypt.
The module begins with the administration of a pre-test and ends with another short test. Th e purpose of this design is to gage the familiarity of participants with the basics of qualitative methods and to assess the immediate impact of the learning experience on the fi nal day (completely futile!). Th e course is evaluated left , right and centre in the true spirit of modern pedagogy. Each session is evaluated using narratives, the lichert scale of smiley faces; then each day is evaluated and fi nally the whole module is evaluated. Participants can and do express their irritations, frustrations, likes, dislikes, fantasies and knowledge. For example, people have complained of ennui, simplicity, diffi culty, lack of scientifi c content, novelty, daring, gender bias (I am a female telling them what to do), religious ignorance (not enough citing of the Qur’an), too many instructors, too few instructors, not enough Arabic, not enough English and of the module being too long and too short. Th ese comments have been repeated over the years with varying emphasis. On the positive side, the majority agreed that the module was diff erent from the approach of qualitative methods, that they had never come across the ethical and theoretical foundations of qualitative work and that they felt this methodology to be more urgent and relevant for their work.
However, the complaints are serious and challenging. It is possible to overcome them by making the module skills based in its objectives and wholly participatory in its methodology. I should add that people like participatory teaching when it is in class but seem to have a distaste for anything they should do, even if in groups, in their own time.
Following I wish to explain why I think that the allure of popularity and convention should be avoided.
Can Qualitative Methods Work With a Quantitative Epistemology? To put the matter anthropologically, which is to say to perceive great things in little ones. (Sahlins 1999: 1)
Why do we want to use those methods again? It is to gain an understanding of the role of culture in demographic behaviour and glean useful insights that can serve to construct descriptive, analytical and even (if we mimic the economist) predictive models of behaviour. In other words, these methods enable population researchers to deepen and widen their horizons, sharpen their sensibilities and democratise their vision. Th ey permit the researched to ‘set the record straight’, to speak and be heard, to give another interpretation. Th ese methods are important because they express a consensus that people are the keepers of a knowledge that is potent and important.
We know that gender, class, ethnicity, cognition, emotions and agency are not what people do for a living, and that to understand how these components of identity interplay to create a dynamic that we call perceptions, motivations and aspirations we need tools that go beyond formal inquiry. Social research Teaching Qualitative Methods to Researchers _ 29 in general and qualitative research in particular, I believe, relies on the assumption that people have knowledge even when they do not know it. Sahlins points to the meaning that even little things can have (1999: 1). We may extrapolate from that idea that even the notoriously small number of individuals that anthropologists engage with and describe can yield valuable and meaningful knowledge.
Th ese little nuggets of knowledge however do not yield their potential when they are analysed and used as if they are simple facts to be counted or mea sured. Th ey cannot be understood in the same way as numbers are analysed and interpreted. Th ey cannot be taken out of their contexts. Th e frustration that participants and instructors face in training modules that promise a mastery of qualitative methods are a result of the impossibility of confl ating qualitative and quantitative data and facts. To see things anthropologically is to fi nd meaning that is contextual and historical, and understand the social dynamics and structures that produce meaning. Th is is also the best possible yield that a researcher can realise from a qualitative methodology. It is not possible to gain such understanding if the conditionality that is integral to the epistemology of anthropology is disregarded. Th e multiplicity, contexts and social dynamics that explain qualitative facts are essential if one is to avoid the creation of qualitative fi ctions.
Key Issues of Qualitative Research
On the basis of the recounted experiences, there are four relationships that require the attention of teachers and students, trainers and trainees, observers and activists engaged in addressing the quality of qualitative work in Arab countries and specifi cally in the fi eld of population and health research. Th ey are:
1. The relationship of methods to theory.
Obermeyer (1997) has stressed that methods come with some theoretical baggage. In Egypt, theory is a much-maligned concept. In public discourses theory and irrelevance are closely associated. Th e theoretical is antithetical to the practical and the good. We are trained to think that theory and knowledge are separate entities, indeed enemies. Th e impossibility of human cognition in the absence of theoretical thinking is an undiscovered principle in our educational systems. Th e quality of data derived from qualitative data collection tools is contingent on some appreciation of the theoretical principles that are investigating. Th is requires a concept of theoretical thinking, even if researchers are just out to navigate a few focus groups. Do they know why they are doing them, or what they are supposed to fi nd, or how to evaluate if the process of proceeding is going well? I fi nd it diffi cult to believe that all focus groups work.
Obermeyer explains that: ‘Th e qualitative methodologies now advocated to study demographic behavior can escape the limitations of quantifi ca30 _ Hania Sholkamy tion in terms of both analytic strategy and interpretation. But the extent to which this is true will depend less on the methods themselves than on the ability of researchers to formulate questions and defi ne the right blend of methods to address them’ (1997: 815). Obermeyer quoting Holy and Stuchlik: ‘the issue involves more than the validity of measurements, and refl ects the implicit models of social action that are brought to bear in explaining connections between actions norms and representation’ (1997: 815). Any method implies a theoretical stance and researchers who use them must be comfortable with understanding concepts and theories so they can be eff ective in using these methods.
2. The relationship between methods and their analysis.
Most commentators have warned about the simplistic usages of qualitative methods. Frick talks about the attractions of using them and the diffi culty they can pose to analysis:
I have a sense, for example, that the focus group has become the qualitative method de jour in research proposals on demographic issues. Its attractions are compelling, not least because it provides a glimmer of what the unscripted human voice sounds like; in a desert of dry prose, even those of us who like statistical tables are delighted to hear a human being. And it is gratifying when that voice illustrates a correlation or two or leads to a new regression. But can we seriously argue that the use of focus groups amounts to a cultural analysis? (1997: 826–7)
Can words become their own analysis? To avoid this tautological trap, researchers must become aware of analytical thinking and the grounding of theory. To avoid having words cut and pasted together into series of ‘from the horse’s mouth, from the native’s lips, in their own words’ paragraphs that reference little their own content, researchers would benefi t from an acquaintance with social theory, the structures of society and the dynamics of change. Moving from anecdotes to generalised dogma is a feature of bad anthropology and pernicious qualitative research. Good research follows clear protocols to enable researchers to move from the details to bigger pictures and to theorise from the ground up. Th is requires analytical skills, fl exibility, refl ection and an ability to write.
3. The relationship of culture to its determinants.
But what is culture? Is it el-mawrouth el-thaqafi or el-thaqafa meaning ‘tradition’ as we use it in Arabic? Is it a residual category (anything that is not something else)? Is it a predilection or a stance that determines how we interact with ideas of change, modernity and identity (Obermeyer 1997: 817)? Our understanding of ‘our’ culture is sadly static and stereotypical. Qualitative methods are the tools to get at culture and as Frick (1997) suggests we do so by studying communities. Locals are supposed to know their culture Teaching Qualitative Methods to Researchers _ 31 and thus better able to use these methods. Th is may be true for some and in certain parts of the world, but I would argue it is impossible now in Egypt and perhaps elsewhere. What is culture? What is a community? How do they change, how do they continue, who has the authority to defi ne them? Is there a discourse about these concepts with which demographers can engage or even refer to? I answer in the negative and feel that for the time being we need to take, and convey through training, a tentative refl exive stance on the meanings of culture and community rather than give researchers a false recipe for how to reconstitute them in demographic studies.
4. The relationship between having data and being able to evaluate it.
Many have asked if qualitative data is scientifi c. Th e answer is ‘Yes, if it is collected and analysed in accordance with conceptual and ethical guidelines.’ In other words, the diff erence between a conversation with a taxi driver, or even ten conversations with diff erent taxi drivers, and the data collected from an in-depth interview is that the fi rst is not subject to research protocols and guidelines, whereas the second is. Data is only valid if it is methodologically sound. Trainees in Egypt have no access to evaluative criteria by which to read and judge researched knowledge. Th is explains the urge to use the quantitative language of representation, neutrality, generalisation and objectivity. Which are all criteria that qualitatively derived data cannot conform to. To replace them with principles of possibility, coherence, transferability, balance, accuracy, transparency and meaningfulness, and then add the researchers as a lens, can be hard work. Th e resolution of these tenuous relationships can precipitate a qualitative leap in our ability to contribute to social sciences in general and to qualitative research in particular. Concerning the course, I believe that qualitative methods are neither diffi cult nor should they be elitist. However, they are not for everyone, everywhere, at any time. Th ese methods are simple but they are not simply skills. Th ey are part of a discourse without which they make no sense. Th ey are impossible to use, analyse or evaluate if not placed in this context.
I would like to draw some conclusions based on the course and other experiences of training and teaching qualitative methods in Arab settings. Despite the growing interest in understanding Arab societies and the calls to create a knowledge society, the process of producing social science and the urgency of training and social scientists still require attention. Training and teaching can either be mechanist processes akin to technical transfers, or critical and refl exive experiences that empower researchers to observe, interpret and express their fi ndings. Th is article has argued that current training of demographic 32 _ Hania Sholkamy and health researchers must transform the mechanistic approaches favoured by trainees and promoted by qualitative demography to critical ones as suggested by ‘critical’ anthropology.
The researcher is the tool: Th is is the mantra of qualitative methods. To eff ectively use the semi-structured tools of qualitative data collection, researchers must realise that they are highly dependent on the researcher using them in the fi eld. Rapport is the avenue to success and it is a highly under-theorised concept that is hard to convey. It does not mean just being nice. It does not mean fake modesty. It does not mean a short-cut to intimacy. Rapport (the cognitive and ethical basis of qualitative knowledge) means structuring a realistic relationship built on trust, mutual respect and equal power. Since these are values largely absent from the daily interactions between social groups (educated/ non-educated, rich/poor, professional/lay people) their realisation needs researchers who are professional and well trained in the ethical principles of research. To enhance the capabilities of qualitative researchers and of multidisciplinary teams working on health and population issues, more attention is needed to the ethical, theoretical and contextual aspects and components of research.
Many have questioned the relationship between anthropology. Hammel and Friou have asked if it is a ‘Marriage, Liaison, or Encounter’ (1994). If we assume it to be a lasting relationship then it is important to contribute to making it a mutually fulfi lling experience. Susan Greenhalgh has gone beyond refl ecting on the implications of anthropology to demography and has questioned the implications of demography and demographic behaviour to anthropology itself. She removes discussion of qualitative methods from methodology to disciplinarity to establish the relevance of the strictures and theories of disciplines to the choices of methods since disciplinary cultures mediate the meaning of methods (1997: 820).
Each discipline has its own projects and trajectories and, of course, has a diff erent relationship to power. Demography has been a policy-maker’s friend (in theory) and has devoted its energies to addressing the perceived dangers of population characteristics and movement, of human fertility, poverty and development and of the looming challenges to global population changes. Demography conforms to power and its institutions have no problems with science and scientifi c principles. Anthropology, on the other hand, professes a critical stance (oft en unrealised) but has been loud in disclaiming formalism and positivism so as to espouse refl exivity, voice and ethnographic authority and representation (1997: 821). Both disciplines need each other regardless of the paradox of provenance and despite the limits of cross-disciplinary transfer of methods and analytical devices. Anthropology off ers tools to understand human behaviour in the context of its cultural, social and everyday determinants. Demography needs that understanding and can, in return, off er a constant stream of data, projections, analysis and models of human reproduction, movement, interaction and development that anthropologists would do well to Teaching Qualitative Methods to Researchers _ 33 take into account. Th e encounter is not simply a mix of methods since methods get altered when they cross disciplinary boundaries. Qualitative methods become demographic ones when they cross a boundary to demography (1997: 823). Anthropological demography needs a vibrant companion called demographic anthropology to support its projects. Anthropological demography will be relieved of its qualitative dilemmas if there is no pressure to conform to anthropological ideals. (Anthropology is still in a crisis!) But qualitative demography needs, above all, to consider the intellectual climate of its project to assess the viability of mixed methods approaches and the validity of its own knowledge. Th is varied and ever-changing knowledge context, which is political and historical, determines the ability, possibility and reliability of methodological choices.
Of course, demographers can use some qualitative methods to complete the cultural interpretation (Basu and Aaby 1998) or verify their data (Caldwell and Hull 1988). But this assumes that the demographers are trained in social and analytical thinking and challenged by colleagues from the fi elds of anthropology and sociology with whom they can engage in creative and rigorous exchanges. Local demographers may not have the same experiences and do not come from similar intellectual landscapes. Collaborative projects that espouse multidisciplinary approaches should consider their epistemological and ethical foundations in order to succeed (Obermeyer 1997: 816). Projects are more than mixes of methods—they are the outcome of a creative bargaining process that constructs realities in accordance with ethical and epistemological principles. If there were as much attention paid to the movement of methods across disciplinary boundaries and their mixture in theoretical and methodological experiments, as there has been to the migration of ideas and people, the project of qualitative demography and of training researchers in mixed methods would be a successful one. Moreover, the current obsession with mastering skills of research would give way to a thirst for understanding society and pursuing knowledge. Researchers and trainees would then focus on the really important questions, the answers to which enrich self and mutual understanding. Hania Sholkamy is an Egyptian anthropologist. She is currently Assistant Research Professor at the Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo. Her research interests and publications are mainly in the fi elds of health (particularly reproductive health), gender, population and qualitative methods. She has coedited two volumes: Categories and Contexts: Anthropological and Historical Studies in Critical Demography (2004) together with S. Szreter and A. Dharmalingam; and Health and Identity in Egypt (2004), edited with F. Ghanam. She is currently regional coordinator of the ‘Pathways to Women’s Empowerment Research Consortium’ in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex, U.K.
1. Decades ago Lila Abu-Lughod was concerned with the lack of theory coming out of the social research undertaken in Arab and Middle Eastern countries (1989). She noted that the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu turned the tide because he had done research on Algeria and had also become one of the foremost social thinkers of the twentieth century. Abu-Lughod herself, as well as Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood and others, has managed to theorise social life in the Middle East despite having roots there.