This article describes experiences from fieldwork research conducted in the districts of Paramaribo, Commewijne and Nickerie in Suriname across two months in the summer of 2015. This research focused on an Indian socio-religious organisation, the Arya Samaj in Suriname, discussing the key themes of religion, society and identity. These themes are the foundations of the organisation and they form a complex web of intricacies within the organisation, which this project sought to understand by analysing its development from an anthropological and sociological perspective, writes Bhavik Doshi.
Implementing Theory into Practice: Research Techniques
Fieldwork is strange, it not only requires an intellectual capacity to understand what is being researched, but also calls for social ability in finding contacts, joining networks and establishing yourself within the confines of the researched. It is a daunting experience for anyone, more so for someone coming from a quantitative background like myself. Most of my research background prior to my masters involved collating statistical data or conducting econometric analyses. Undertaking qualitative research was a stark contrast, but it enabled me to apply multiple research techniques in the field, specifically interviews, ethnography and archival research.
Elite interviews were my principal tool for research, as I conducted my first recorded interview in mid-June 2015, asking participants to come one-by-one so as to explore their views without any external influence. However, the first two participants had come together and had already formulated some answers (which were scripted). This left me asking generic questions about the organisation and its impact; and even when there was an opportunity to probe answers, I was rebuffed by one of the other participants. Though I learned and improved on this as I began to develop a style to manage the extraneous variables – this only came with more interviews, which boosted my confidence and ability.
In fact, in some interviews I was able to converse in Hindi, which helped with participants who did not speak English. Being able to understand Hindi allowed for a better understanding of the philosophical and religious values of the Arya Samaj that would have been difficult to interpret or define in English. This was the best technique in garnering rich and detailed information from participants as it enabled me to probe certain answers and add a layer of context so that the respondents could effectively develop their ideas (Hochschild, 2009).