Academic journal article Ethnology

A Numerical Look at Rural Portuguese Political Candidates and Strategies

Academic journal article Ethnology

A Numerical Look at Rural Portuguese Political Candidates and Strategies

Article excerpt

This article describes various local-level political strategies employed in

rural Portugal since the 1974 revolution, and details some of the

complexities consequent to introducing representative government to

populations with little experience in public politics. The article also

demonstrates how quantitative analysis, done while the researcher is still

in the field, can produce distinct advantages for a qualitative study, by

helping to establish rapport with field residents and revealing new

directions for qualitative research. (Portugal, politics, field methods)

The economic anthropologist Harold K. Schneider always charged his students to "count things!" He maintained that the number of things was important wherever anthropologists worked and whatever their topic. Of course numbers alone cannot adequately describe a people, but accounts devoid of such prosaic observations as "how many of what" are equally inadequate. Such accounts are not only descriptively weak, they also neglect a valuable tool for use during fieldwork. This tool, however, demands that researchers not only develop the habit of counting things while in the field, but also search out the records of those who have counted things before them.

This essay demonstrates how quantitative material not only has descriptive utility, but also how an elementary examination of early results while one is still in the field can lead to new avenues of qualitative research. Advanced statistics are of course desirable and informative, but the issue addressed here is that quantitative material has value even at the most basic level of simply counting things. This essay notes how the collection and tabulation of quantitative data while one is in the field can serve functions not usually associated with quantitative research; e.g., establishing rapport with local people and, in some small way, helping to reimburse them for making the ethnographic study possible.


One of the Mediterranean region's greatest assets as a location for anthropological research lies in the wealth of valuable data in local and national archives. When this archival information is combined with field observations, insights can be gained into informants' responses as well as their silences. Besides documenting historical change, archival data offers cross-checks on respondents' memories and can yield perspectives which might otherwise remain undiscovered. Despite this potential, Davis (1977) argued twenty years ago that Mediterranean ethnography had not fulfilled its promise because it neither was comparative nor presented information, especially numerical information, in a form that other scholars could use for comparison. Davis did cite approvingly Jose Cutileiro's (1971) A Portuguese Rural Society, which used such data extensively.

Today Portuguese ethnography is a rich source of comparative and comparable data. Davis's (1977:81) complaint about the lack of quantitative data in studies of local stratification systems is answered by many recent Portuguese ethnographies. O'Neill (1984) uses figures derived from parish records and national archives to give historical depth to the ideology of village egalitarianism in the Tras-os-Montes region of northern Portugal. Bermeo (1986) employs numerical data to firmly ground her study of the 1974 revolution's reforms of latifundia agriculture and the subsequent effect on local social systems. Brettell (1986) uses demographic data to link historical trends in male emigration, high rates of illegitimacy, late marriage, and female celibacy in a village in northwestern Portugal. In his account of village life, Pais de Brito (1991) cleverly demonstrates the utility of nontraditional quantitative sources using the ledgers of a local tavern-grocery store (taberna). An ecological study of a northwest Portuguese farming community uses quantitative data to investigate "behavioral differences related to unequal access to land and cattle" (Bentley 1992: 1). …

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