Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



In Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design, ed. I. Vaccaro, E. A. Smith and S. Aswani. Cambridge University Press, 2010


© Cambridge University Press 2010.


In this chapter I deal with methods for collecting behavioral and economic data on productive inputs and outputs. Any attempt at the collection of quantitative data requires that the researcher should ideally have prior knowledge of the full range of economic activities and perform preliminary evaluations of the accuracy of data collection procedures and coding schemes. This will prevent false starts, increase cross-cultural comparability, and lead to a more systematic account of activities. Whenever possible, I encourage researchers to rely on observational data as a kind of gold standard: it produces data amenable to sophisticated quantitative analysis, is crucial for theory testing, is more easily used for cross-cultural comparison than qualitative observations, and reduces the known errors in recall data (see Stange et al . 1998 for an illuminating account of recall errors compared to direct observation). Nevertheless, because of intrusiveness, labor intensiveness, and cultural sensitivities in direct observation, recall data are oftentimes required, but may be integrated into behavioral records. Techniques for reducing recall error (e.g., short time frames) and crosschecking are recommended in such cases.

I have attempted to show that direct and indirect behavior observations are important for answering crucial questions surrounding economic production and human environmental impacts. The behavior observation techniques reviewed were initially employed to simply measure time allocation patterns. Through time, the technique has grown in sophistication and it is now employed to measure the exchange of goods and services, the development of productivity through the life course, production data, areal patterns of exploitation, and resource selectivity. The development of behavior observation techniques has been mandated by hypothesis testing from foraging, life history, and other evolutionary theories that require the collection of high quality empirical data. In other scientifi c arenas researchers have made sophisticated modifi cations of observational techniques to address issues of sea tenure (Aswani 2002 ), food consumption surveys (Umezaki et al . 2002 ), and energy balance in high altitude regions (Panter-Brick 1996 ). I believe that considerable improvement can be made in behavioral techniques if researchers would more carefully describe the procedures they use so they could be more fully evaluated and more easily replicated by others. To some extent journal page limits prevent this from happening. Be that as it may, I expect that direct observation techniques will be increasingly used as we begin to ever more carefully and fully describe issues in ecological anthropology .