Lockdown Anthropology and Online Surveys: Unprecedented Methods for Unprecedented Times

DOI10.1177/2321023020963839
AuthorNicholas J. Long
Publication Date01 Dec 2020
SubjectNotes on Method
Notes on Method
Lockdown Anthropology and
Online Surveys: Unprecedented
Methods for Unprecedented
Times
Nicholas J. Long1
Introduction
As severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spreads across the world, it has
become a commonplace to suggest we live in unprecedented times. Certainly, as an anthropologist who
has long worked on emergent socialities and citizens’ engagements with regimes of governmentality, the
pandemic presented me with an unprecedented predicament. I was eager to investigate the new social
worlds instigated by the pandemic and contribute to the academic and political debates surrounding
them; however, my go-to methodology of ethnographic fieldwork was impossible given lockdown regu-
lations. So it was that I found myself doing something that was—for me, at least—equally unprece-
dented. I set up an online survey.
Surveys and Anthropology: An Awkward Relationship
Before 2020, my disposition towards surveys had been decidedly chilly. Anthropologists, after all, pride
themselves on using long-term ethnographic fieldwork to develop depths of insight survey research is
thought to lack. My own work, for instance, has critiqued Barometer surveys for capturing conventional-
ized expressions of dissatisfaction with democracy, rather than illuminating the intersubjective origins of
democratic malaise (Long, 2016). Consequently, as Datta and Vaid (2018, p. 142) note, when anthro-
pologists do use surveys, these generally stay subordinate to ethnography in the analytical process. They
might be used to ‘quantitatively verify’ hypotheses developed through ethnography (Snodgrass et al.,
2016, p. 60), or to provide an initial overview of the range of experiences within a population, contextu-
alizing the ‘rich narratives’ elicited in follow-up ethnographic interviews (O’Connor, 2019, p. 249). One
of the few recent articles in an American Anthropological Association journal to be based primarily on
Studies in Indian Politics
8(2) 294–297, 2020
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/2321023020963839
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Note: This section is coordinated by Divya Vaid (divya.vaid.09@gmail.com).
1 Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.
Corresponding author:
Nicholas J. Long, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton
Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK.
E-mail: n.j.long@lse.ac.uk

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