Truths and Untruths in Village Haiti: An Experiment In Third World Survey Research

We have devised the following descriptive definition: a rural Third World survey is the careful collection, tabulation, and analysis of wild guesses, half-truths, and outright lies meticulously recorded by gullible outsiders during interviews with suspicious, intimidated, but outwardly compliant villagers. The definition is meant to be a caricature not of the villager, but of the researcher; not of all village surveys, but certainly of many. Both of us have experience in village interviewing and we are consequently touched by the caricature.

In this chapter, we will present and discuss a survey research strategy applied in a Haitian village, devised to minimize the conditions which justify the above definition. The methodological complex which eventually took shape is the product of interdisciplinary collaboration, in which we – a demographer (Chen) and an anthropologist (Murray) – remained intent on applying the methods and securing the information of interest to our respective disciplines. Our research design incorporated a series of special features which we felt would achieve a dual purpose: to ensure and verify the accuracy of the data, and to alleviate the anxiety-ridden, embarrassing, and sometimes offensive social situation that is created for the villager when a briefcase- toting socially “superior” urban stranger appears at his door to ask personal questions.