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Cultural Anthropology - Mid Term


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Cultural Anthropology - Mid Term

  1. 1. Cultural Anthropology Mid-Term October 23, 2014 Anette Lillevang Kristiansen   1   Question 1: Thinking culture Cultures are integrated In the Inupiat-communities in Alaska, it’s very clear to see that the cultures are integrated. The tribes have been trading partners for centuries and they practiced "spouse-exchange". It is an arrangement between two couples united by shared sexual access.1 The tribes are monogamous, but holistically speaking their connection and economy are casual, so they share spouses as well as things.2 Cultures are products of history The transatlantic slave trade up to the 19th century is an example of the fact that cultures are products of history3 . Today it’s possible to find descendants from the slaves all over the Americas. The African heritage is very visible in the Brazilian town of Salvador de Bahia, where the black populations, next to the official Catholicism, are worshipping the spirits and bring blood offerings to the ancient gods like in the West African countries of Benin and Togo. Cultures can be changed, and they can cause change One major culture change is the introduction of cellphones to even rural communities. I have been working as a safari guide in South Africa, and every week we visit the local witch doctor. She was a respectable woman and could read the future in animal bones, but often her Ericsson phone disturbed her. Technology, communication, trade and travel has led to globalization4 and it has changed lots of cultures. Cultures are strengthened by values Our tradition in Denmark is that we have Christmas trees on public squares in December. Last year some Muslims decided that a Danish community should not have a Christmas tree, because there were only few Danes living in that area. There was a lot of arguing and its an example of strong values of a culture, it has very strong traditions that are not to be moved. Values give the populations a feeling of unity, because they have the same cultural and historical origin. Cultures are powerful determinants of behavior For most people things from the childhood become habits. For instance, children with English as mother tongue learn early to say please. In Danish the word please doesn’t exist, so sometimes I forget it in English – not because I don’t want to be polite, but because in our language its has never become a habit – so behavior also has something to do with language. Cultures are largely composed of and transmitted by symbols Most people are superstitious in one way or another. You might make a wish if you see a shooting star, or believe something bad will occur if a black cat is crossing the street etc. As children we all learn these things and lots of people carry them into adulthood. The meaning is given by the culture and may be quite arbitrary5 .                                                                                                                 1,  People  and  the  Land:  Early  Year.   2  John  T.  Omohundro,  “Thinking  Like  an  Anthropologist”:  A  Practical  Introduction  to  Cultural  Anthropology,  What  is  the   context      for  this  Practice  or  idea?  The  Holistic  Question,  page  95.   3,  Atlantic  Slave  Trade.   4  John  T.  Omohundro,  “Thinking  Like  an  Anthropologist”:  A  Practical  Introduction  to  Cultural  Anthropology,  “What  is  culture?   –      The  conceptual  Question”  –  As  culture  changes,  “Culture”  changes,  page  40.   5  John  T.  Omohundro,  “Thinking  Like  an  Anthropologist”:  “What  is  Culture?  The  Conceptual  Question,  page  38.      
  2. 2. Cultural Anthropology Mid-Term October 23, 2014 Anette Lillevang Kristiansen   2   Human culture is unique in complexity and variability If you look at very isolated communities like Easter Island, the culture there has developed completely in its own way, because the influence from the outside world has been minimal. In that sense humans are unique and have their own beliefs and ways of culture making. Societies are very different and there is a great difference among cultures, but especially the colonized countries have a mix of their original culture plus the culture of the country, which colonized them. Question 2: Doing fieldwork A) Describe the idea of fieldwork in anthropology with reference to such ideas as: Naturalistic versus experimental: The naturalistic way of doing fieldwork is “going into the field and watching the events unfold without interfering”6 and Bronislaw Malinowski explained it this way: “to gasp the natives point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of the world”7 . To do experimental fieldwork is the same as armchair anthropology or lab research, where the scholar is sitting in his office and read other peoples work and come up with theories and ideas without ever actually going into the field. Participation versus observation: The difference between participation and observation is obviously that when the anthropologist is participating they will for instance be a part of the fishing or agriculture in the community. Like Margret Mead doing fieldwork in Samoa, she went fishing with people and Bronislaw Malinowski joined the locals on the Trobrians Island in an ancient ceremony8 . When just observing, the anthropologist is looking and writes field notes, without any hands on experiences. Different techniques utilized: In the research process anthropologists rely on many different sources like archaeology, linguistics, oral history, mythology, archived documents, life history, folklore, biology and geology9 . In the fieldwork the anthropologist is using different kinds of techniques of data collection to document the work. It’s first of all interviews (structured, semi-structured and spontaneous interviews), writing journals and diaries with key words and phrases, photographing, sounds (tape recordings) for instance language, songs and poems10 , films, drawings and collection of cultural materials. Finally some anthropologists will learn the people’s language with the aim to act like a member of the community. Some anthropologists will even start wearing similar clothes like the people they study, to blend in the everyday life of the society.                                                                                                                 6  PowerPoint,  September  25,  2014.   7  PowerPoint,  September  25,  2014  and  Laura  Nader,  2013,  “Culture  and  dignity-­‐dialogues  between  the  Middle  East  and  the   West”  (used  in  my  other  class  “Peoples  and  cultures  in  the  Middle  East  and  North  Africa”).   8  Film:  ”Tales  from  the  Jungle”,  Margaret  Mead,  BBC  Documentary,  2007.   9  John  Omohundro,  “Thinking  like  an  Anthropologist”,  Chapter  5,  “What  was  this  Practice  or  idea  like  in  the  past?  The   Temporal  Question”,  page  179.   10  Jane  E.  Goodman,  ”Berber  Culture  on  the  World  Stage  –  from  Village  to  Video”,  2005,  (gathering  of  Kabyle  songs  and  poems   in  Algeria)  (used  in  my  other  class  “Peoples  and  Cultures  in  the  Middle  East  and  North  Africa”).  
  3. 3. Cultural Anthropology Mid-Term October 23, 2014 Anette Lillevang Kristiansen   3   B) Explain the ethical challenges or problems facing the anthropologist when doing fieldwork. The most important question for the anthropologist is “How can we observe and learn without disturbing?”11 There will always be risks, when doing fieldwork. There can be ethical and political questions and verifications of information etc. And do the people at all want to be studied? “Nobody wants to be studied!”12 On the other hand most people also like, when there is an interest from outside about their life, traditions and culture. From my point of view there is a risk that the anthropologist unconsciously palm the natives some modern habits just simply because they are there. Many natives and tribes want to be like westerners, and the anthropologist is, no matter what, bringing something new from outside, no matter how much they are trying to live as a native. I believe it will always be a balance and it’s necessary to use lots of common sense, empathy and one’s life experience, because the people one is studying also need to get a private space as well as the anthropologist needs time alone. The anthropologist will also have to face that tribes are having other values, thoughts about life, death and survival. To mention some, the aborigines in outback Australia, are killing weak babies or punish victims in very brutal ways. Also an anthropologist is basically doing fieldwork for the rest of the world to get knowledge about these people or tribes, but should one try to protect the identity of the community and its people by disguising names and places?13 As soon as the fieldwork notes are published, lots of tourists wants to visit the tribe, usually backpackers, who are known for visiting rural places far away from the beaten track. On the other hand native people have a lot to teach the world and it gives the anthropologists a chance to see anthropology in a relativistic perspective, meaning without judging it by our own standards, we begin to examine our own culture afresh, and even to become self-critical about the way we examine culture.14                                                                                                                 11  PowerPoint,  September  25,  2014.   12  Lecture  in  my  other  class,  “Fieldwork  Methods”  with  Professor  in  Anthropology,  Hanan  Sabea,  AUC,  September  17,  2014.   13  PowerPoint,  September  25,  2014),  Keesing,  Roger  M.  and  Andrew  J.  Strathern,  “Fieldwork.”  In:  Cultural  Anthropology:  A   Contemporary  Perspective,  1998.   14  John  Omohundro,  “Thinking  like  an  anthropologist”,  Chapter  9,  page  38,  What  is  Culture?  The  Conceptual  Question.