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Cultural Anthropology


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These are slides from week 5, where we explore cultural anthropology and focus on the ethnographic method.

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Cultural Anthropology

  1. 1. Cultural Anthropology
  2. 2. Principles of Cultural Anthropology Ethnography Doing Anthropology Food culture Summative written assignment
  3. 3. Cultural Anthropology Cultural anthropology is the study of the lifeways of contemporary peoples Anthropologists collect data on living peoples by conducting extensive fieldwork (going out into the world's societies and observing people as they interact and live their lives). • Ethnography Cultural Anthropologists are interested in the extent of variation and in discovering general cultural principles or patterns.
  4. 4. Cultural Anthropology “Anthropologists! Anthropologists!” The Far Side – Gary Larson
  5. 5. What is culture? Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see the world, ourselves, and others. Culture is a system of beliefs, values, and assumptions about life that guide behavior and are shared by a group of people. It includes customs, language, and material artifacts. These are transmitted from generation to generation, rarely with explicit instructions.
  6. 6. What is not culture? NOT based on nature Rejects simple biological determinism Not instinctive Although based on some physiological drives -Sex drive – mating strategies -Hunger – Food -Shelter – Architecture, Urban Planning
  7. 7. Kinds of Culture Culture Instrumental or Utilitarian culture –Modes of production (how we go about making a living) –Modes of reproduction (how we go about raising a family) Expressive culture –Art (painting, sculpture, dance, literature, etc.) –Entertainment (play, games, leisure, etc.)
  8. 8. Goals of Cultural Anthropology Describe, analyse and explain different cultures. Show how groups adapt to their environments and give meaning to their lives. Comprehend the entire human experience.
  9. 9. Responding to Unfamiliar Cultures Ethnocentrism –Responding from the context of one’s own cultural perspective. Cultural relativism –Responding within the context of the other culture.
  10. 10. Ethnocentrism Responding from the context of one’s own cultural perspective. • Belief that one’s culture is better than all other cultures. • Measures other cultures by how they live up to one’s own cultural standards. • Tend to believe that others too far out of your cultural norm are some how inferior. • Can help bind a culture together, or can lead to racism.
  11. 11. Cultural Relativism Responding within the context of the other culture. • If every society can only be evaluated in terms of its own standards, cross-cultural comparison is virtually impossible. • There is no behaviour in the world that could be considered immoral if: –The People who practice it consider it acceptable. –If it functions for the well-being of the society.
  12. 12. Emic from “phonemic:” the speaker’s view • The “insider’s” viewpoint of his or her own culture • More concerned with meaning than explanation • Also used to refer to “culture-specific truths” (in psychology, primarily)
  13. 13. Emic Emic is also used to refer to the subjective and mental aspects of human culture & life. Thus, the same thing may have different meanings for different people.
  14. 14. Etic from “phonetic:” the listener’s view • The “outsider’s” observation of a culture • More concerned with explanation than meaning • Also used to refer to “universal truths across cultures” (in psychology, primarily) •‘Objective’
  15. 15. Etic Etic is also used to refer to the objective and material aspects of human culture & life. Thus, things should have the same meaning to outside observers.
  16. 16. Some social scientists regard interpretation and what things mean to people as most important; hence, their work tends to be emic (sometimes this means qualitative). Others regard explanation of social and cultural phenomena as most important; hence, their work tends to etic (sometimes this means quantitative). Still others feel both perspectives are necessary for complete studies.
  17. 17. Film - Food National Geographic (2004)
  18. 18. Group Work •List possible foods (i.e. not poisonous!) that your group would not eat. •What variations are there in the group? •Which foods are ‘disgusting’? Taboo? •Why are these foods considered inedible? •Think in terms of etic and emic explanations.
  19. 19. Doing Anthropology • This video looks at 3 anthropologists working with modern cultural issues • Pay attention to how they study each culture, and why this is important.
  20. 20.
  21. 21. Issues from video •What was each anthropologist studying? Why? •What is participant observation? •How is fieldwork in anthropology similar to fieldwork in the natural sciences?
  22. 22. Ethnography “The systematic description of a culture based on first hand observation” (Haviland 1993: 13)
  23. 23. Ethnographic Properties Naturalistic / phenomenological philosophy Multiple realities, socially constructed through individual and collective definitions and shared experiences
  24. 24. Ethnography Understanding the social phenomenon from the perspective of the participants Analysing the context of the participants and narrating their “stories”
  25. 25. Ethnography - methods Flexible, emergent, responsive Participant observation, in-depth interview, artefact collection and analysis
  26. 26. Ethnography Foreshadowed Problems: anticipated research problems that will be reformulated during data collection •Uses naturalistic discovery to reveal the multiple participant “meanings” of events and processes. •Theories influence problems in three ways: –generate research questions –provide conceptual frameworks in phrasing questions –reformulate research questions
  27. 27. Ethnography Typology of Participant Observer research roles Researcher takes part in activities Participant as observer Complete participant Researcher’s identity is revealed Researcher’s identity is concealed Observer as participant Complete observer Researcher observes
  28. 28. Ethnography Researcher • Immersed in the field: situations and people • Skilled at participation and observation • Requires “disciplined subjectivity” • Seeks to understand multiple layers of meaning, and cross-validate findings (triangulation) • Seeks to develop context-bound generalisations • Uses multi-methods to confirm data.
  29. 29. Ethnography Multiple Methods • On-Site Observation • Prolonged Data Collection • Participants’ Constructed Realities • Corroborating Field Observations • Salient Observations • Recording Observations
  30. 30. Ethnography Multiple Kinds of Data • Artefacts –Personal documents, official documents, objects, erosion measures • Interviews –Experience/behaviour, opinions/values, feelings, knowledge, sensory, background/demographic • Observations –Who, what, where, when, how, why
  31. 31. Ethnography Recording Data • Handwritten Notes • Official Records • Drawings / Photographs • Audio Recordings • Video Recordings • Physical Artefacts • Participant Contributions
  32. 32. Ethnography Ethnographic Interviews • Types of interviews and applications • Qualitative questions, probes, and pauses • Question sequence • Interview logistics • Interview records, transcripts, and elaborations
  33. 33. Ethnography Standards of Adequacy • Length of field residence • Reasonable selection criteria • Research role • Role affect of data collection? • Researcher’s experience • Multiple strategies • Limitations presented • Corroboration of data
  34. 34. Ethnography and ethics •What are some of ethical issues around ethnography? – Informed consent? – Privacy? – Other?
  35. 35. Observing Behaviour Report Summative Assignment worth 40% of module grade Title: “Observing behaviour”. Write a report based on a short piece of ethnographic observation. Your report should highlight your research method, including the methodological process and its strengths and weaknesses, and explore some of the observations you made. Your submission should use the report format provided.   A strong report will theorise on the meaning, purpose, motivation and/or reasoning behind the behaviours you observed and relate those theories to background reading.
  36. 36. Observing Behaviour Report Personal safety DO NOT PLACE YOURSELF AT RISK Do not choose to undertake observations where your personal safety may be at risk. Be prepared to abandon an observation if you perceive risk.
  37. 37. Observing behaviour essay • You will be expected to submit your finished work no later than 10am 3rd December 2015. • The word limit for this assignment is 1500 words. • This assignment is worth 40% of your overall mark for this module.
  38. 38. Group Work – looking at past work • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? • How have they used wider literature, is it appropriate literature? • What are the ethical issues?
  39. 39. Tips Please use the report guide!! •Read the resources in reading pack ( and DUO) •You are expected to read and reference appropriate literature •You will notice more if you observe something deliberately unfamiliar •Make notes during (or shortly after) observation –Can include pictures •Don’t try to do too much, or claim too much from what you have done •Try to demonstrate some learning/ understanding from the course!