Interviews and surveys are some of the most direct ways to interact with the places and peoples that you might be trying to study. You might interview policy makers and politicians to understand better the legislative processes at play in the Indian Parliament. Alternatively, you might conduct in-depth interviews with social activists to understand the types of issues that matter to them, why they focus their energy on specific problems, and what led them to this way of engaging with their communities.
Interviews and survey work are also fantastic ways of thinking about the different between qualitative and quantitative methods and how these can be used in area studies research. While seemingly quite different, interviews and surveys can best be understood as two ends of a spectrum.
Imagine that you will be in India for three months, and you are interested in understanding popular opinion about nuclear weapons (we’ll keep it vague for the purposes of this thought experiment). You have a couple options for how you’ll want to organize your time and how you want to go about interacting with participants. Within this short timeframe, you have two broad options, gather information from many participants, recognizing that you will only be able to have quick interactions with any one respondent and will have to sacrifice depth for breadth. The shorter these interactions and the more systematized your recording of responses, the more you are leaning into survey territory.
On the other hand, you can spend far more time with each respondent, recognizing that you won’t be able to hear from as many individuals. In other words, you can sacrifice breadth for depth. The more time you spend and the more variation you allow in recording and coding your responses, the more thoroughly you are engaged in interview research.
Beyond interviews and surveys, you might want also want to consider oral history interviews. Oral history interviews often continue through multiple sessions and are a chance to hear, in detail, about a specific individual’s life as a whole, or regarding a specific event.