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Accepted Paper:

The social production of statistics: analysing the role of enumerators in customised socio-economic surveys in India  
Vinayak Krishnan (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

Statistical data have become a key input for contemporary development interventions. This paper analyses the complex acts of mediation that enumerators perform while navigating survey sites and seeks to unpack the labour and social processes that underlie this crucial knowledge infrastructure.

Paper long abstract:

Ethnographic accounts of statistical production have emphasised the considerable work of interpretation and translation that accompanies the construction of universal numerical measures for socio-economic phenomena (Merry 2010; 2015). While much of this literature has focused on the role of technocrats and policy elites in data value chains, a growing scholarship has emerged that seeks to analyse the crucial labour of enumerators and front-line workers in the production of data (Kingori 2013; Seth 2018). Drawing on such work, this paper examines the epistemic role of enumerators in large-scale surveys. Based on an ethnography of a health policy survey in central India, it shows the complex social role that enumerators play in the survey process. Enumerators utilise a range of tacit practical skills to perform tasks that are necessary for surveying such as building rapport with respondents and explaining complex terms in questionnaires. Further, they rely on implicit knowledge to navigate administrative hurdles and forms of social hierarchy that they encounter at survey sites. This paper argues that the labour performed by enumerators is itself “ethnographic” in nature and seeks to highlight its centrality for the production of socio-economic data. It also provides details of how enumerators are hired and managed in the context of customised surveys commissioned by development organisations and contracted to private survey firms. By focusing on the essential labour and organisational process that underlie data production, this paper seeks to advance data justice scholarship and further our understanding of the socio-political structures within which data are created.

Panel P04
Data justice and development [Digital Technologies, Data and Development SG]
  Session 4 Friday 28 June, 2024, -