Part of my work looks at the organizational effects of changes in funding for non-profits in India. Here, I have had reasonable success in speaking with NGO officials, retired bureaucrats, academics, and others who have direct experience in this area. Perhaps they have been involved in regulating the non-profit sector, raising or allocating funds, or managing relations between non-profits and funders. These conversations are fairly easy, since I am talking with people about their areas of professional expertise. However, a second part of my work considers how the size of the non-state service sector affects relations between citizens and politicians. This is in some ways a more abstract question, and it requires that I speak with people about issues that they may think about only occasionally, and that may in fact be quite far removed from their day-to-day concerns. Although one could simply ask a farmer or laborer whether a new initiative in their village has changed their relationship with the state and with politics, in the end this is likely not a fruitful approach. Rather, one might ask people more indirect questions about their relations with political actors, look for evidence of behavioral change that might have resulted from a changed context, and consider whether the introduction of a large NGO initiative has led people to talk about politicians and the state differently. This style of work is quite different and, in some ways more challenging for an outside researcher, than speaking with government and non-profit professionals.
I have experimented with both approaches this summer, and in urban as well as rural settings. One important outcome will be a more informed dissertation prospectus. Not only do I know much more about my area of substantive interest than when I arrived in India in early June, but I have a more grounded perspective about how to push the project forward. Given the understanding I hope to build and the information I hope to collect, with whom should I be spending my time, how should I structure my research plan, and what challenges will I face? On a personal level, how is the experience of elite interviews different from more immersive ethnographic work, and what does this imply for how I live day-to-day in the field?
Several weeks remain in my summer travels. I’ve taken this week “off” for writing and a bit of relaxation in the hills. I’ll jump back into fieldwork next week as I travel to India’s financial hub, Mumbai, to speak with people involved in shaping corporate approaches to CSR and to see what several such initiatives look like on the ground in an urban setting.
Sam Frantz is a doctoral student in political science, and a recipient of a 2017 Sigur Center Grant for Asian Field Research.