Study Guide for Anthropology in a Changing World: Midterm
WHAT IS ANTHROPOLOGY?
An intellectual poaching license (Cluckholn)
A study of the anecdotal
A study of social patterns
A disciplined patience grounded in participant observation
A study of culture
WHAT IS CULTURE?
“Believing with Max Weber that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science, but an interpretive one in search meaning” (Clifford Geertz)
Culture is that ‘which does not need to be said’, the ‘taken for granted’
Each culture has certain key elements that are carriers of cultural meaning. These are called ‘key symbols’ or ‘dominant symbols’.
Ethnography refers to the description of cultural systems based on fieldwork in which the anthropologist is immersed in the ongoing everyday activities in order to describe the social context, relationships and processes relevant to the topic she is studying.
Laura Bohannan, Shakespeare in the Bush
Her ethnographic work among the Tiv helps her realize that everyone, including the Western anthropologist, has culture. All of us approach the world through our cultural categories. The story of Hamlet as told by Shakespeare makes no sense to the Tiv in terms of their own cultural practices, where marrying your brother’s wife is acceptable, the nature and causes of madness are different.
Pitfalls of ethnography
Naïve realism – the belief that all people see or experience the world in the same way
Ethnocentrism – the belief that one’s own culture is best (or right)
See Lee, Eating Christmas in the Kalahari and Gmelch, Nice Girls don’t talk to Rastas for examples
Example of naïve realism in “Nice Girls don’t talk to Rastas”
What made Johanna’s perspective so culturally specific?
Being friendly and kind is enough to overcome hostilities
Everyone should be treated as equal
You don’t have to “choose sides” in a community
You should be judged as an individual (not by who you associate with)
See Claire Sterk, Doing Fieldwork with Prostitutes in the Era of Aids
Doing fieldwork with certain groups raises ethical issues. This is how she dealt with these issues:
Access (gatekeepers and key respondents)
Building trust (dialogue, learn to listen, be flexible, research questions may change)
Obtain consent (this may be an ongoing process)
Reflexivity – An awareness of the effect that anthropologists themselves have on their research.
Early anthropologists including Tylor, Morgan and Malinowski (father of participant-observation) were aware of the impact that the questions they asked and their positionality (their gender, race, and class position) had on their research but still believed they could be objective.
Now, anthropologists acknowledge that objectivity is impossible, and that anthropological knowledge is produced out of a subjective relationship, a dialogue between researcher and researched.
Muchona, the Hornet – Victor Turner
Uma Adang – Anna Tsing
The best informants are those who occupy the same insider-outsider dialectic that anthropologists do.
They have the same kind of double consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois talked about – seeing oneself from the inside and outside.
Clifford Geertz, Balinese Cockfight:
The Balinese cockfight tells you about Balinese culture as a whole. You can get a holistic view of culture by studying certain events that reveal the cultural premises of that society, the worldview.
Rationality is cultural. Argues against homo economicus, a vision of economic behavior that claims rationality lies in the maximization of economic utility. People’s economic behavior makes sense in light of their cultural beliefs. Eg. The betting around cockfights.
‘Getting in’ – the anthropologist must work to get in.
Problems with Geertz:
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