Biruk discusses global North and South funding dynamics and inequalities (with famous global North researchers getting more funding as first author than Malawian researchers listed as second and third authors).
Biruk conducted her own research interviews with projects’ survey respondents (“research on research” as the fieldworkers called it). (page 126). How did she avoid replicating the same violence of research fatigue that she mentions throughout the book? This was one of my own main concerns and part of the reason I am not going to be focused on researching those who are already so heavily researched as part of my research design. I already know the phenomenon of “over-research” exists and a book like Biruk’s is now here to point to. I don’t need to do this work again. Now I am more interested in diving deep into the knowledge sharing infrastructure. I am taking a much more interventionist approach to my methodology by actually building or piloting an alternative (that is currently not in existence).
Biruk doesn’t seem to explicitly talk much about race, sexuality, or gender in her analyses and usually uses “as an anthropologist amongst the demographers.” This could possibly be because Black and white do not mean the same thing in the Malawian context (of course) and she is worried having to translate those contexts and concepts to her reader? It is possible that is not part of the discursive landscape there so no need to mention it… BUT in discussions about the benefits that “foreign researchers” have - which she spends a whole chapter on (something also discussed heavily in Kenya), subjectivities like being white and black or read as white and black definitely come up. As such, including global race politics (I guess that would be at the NANO level?) seems to be a discursive risk I can identify in Biruk’s work.
Biruk puts her citations to her raw data in her footnotes. She indicates for example: "1. Dr. Jones, interview with author, SEptember 20, 2007, Lilongwe, Malawi. Of course, the only person who has access to her footnotes is herself so I wonder if this is 1) more for her own memory and archiving purposes and 2) to give credibility to her study and book. If someone (demographer working in Malawi?) questions this as "cooked," she can say, no, I spoke to this person on this day in this place, see! So in some way, she has absorbed some of the assumptions of the epistemic community she studied.... which need to demostrate that their version of the truth is grounded in reality.
Citing Folayan and Allman (2011), Biruk notes that whereas researchers earn money, status, and accolades for their work, research participants are expected to understand their role as volunary, altruistic, and towards the collective good (103).
Biruk highlights how the university IRB dictates what is an acceptable “gift” for participation in research - soap. “It serves as a small token of thanks but does not threaten to contaminate their data.” (101)
Biruk includes photos she took, excerpts from her field notes, includes many vignettes, includes figures and graphics from the surveys she administered, tables of team members roles, direct quotes from informants, sketches that the author drew, composite sketches of “typical” research encounters. However, there is not a more reusable form of her data that could for example be used by another for alternative future analysis.
Biruk builds on scholarly discourse (called critical data studies?; sociology of quantification?) about how numbers, categories and statistics are produced by their social contexts and actors.
Biruk writes that she hopes the book will reflect the potential of anthropology's commitment to "slow research" but also prompt anthropologists to "reflect on how our own data activities likewise cook data." She writes: "A granular analysis of research worlds in a particular place at a particular time, the book suggests, encourages us to more critically engage with the kinds of evidence we too often take for granted, whether inside or outside our discipline or training." (27).
My own project is a direct answer to Biruk's call here, doing an explicit study not on anthropology or any other discipline per say but on the multiple disciplines (including work outside of the academy) that use and produce qualitative data.