This fieldwork results in ethnographies (detailed descriptions) of specific cultures. These empirical data sets and descriptions are used to make comparisons between cultures in order to learn about similarities and differences in human behavior. The goal of these comparative studies is to understand and document why people differ in their behavior patterns and why they share certain cultural features. Ethnography (individuals who spend time living with, observing, and interviewing a group of people in order to be able to describe their customs and way of life) are interested in the extent of variation and in discovering general cultural principles or patterns.
Objective in quotes because it is difficult (arguably impossible) to be truly objective
“Cultural Anthropology” 7th Ed.
Give out copies of previous ethnographies
Principles of Cultural Anthropology
Summative written assignment
Cultural anthropology is the study of the lifeways of contemporary
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).
Cultural Anthropologists are interested in the extent of variation and in discovering
general cultural principles or patterns.
The Far Side – Gary Larson
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.
What is not culture?
NOT based on nature
Rejects simple biological determinism
Although based on some physiological
-Sex drive – mating strategies
-Hunger – Food
-Shelter – Architecture, Urban Planning
Kinds of Culture Culture
Instrumental or Utilitarian culture
–Modes of production (how we go about making a
–Modes of reproduction (how we go about raising a
–Art (painting, sculpture, dance, literature, etc.)
–Entertainment (play, games, leisure, etc.)
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.
Responding to Unfamiliar
–Responding from the context of one’s own cultural
–Responding within the context of the other culture.
Responding from the context of one’s own cultural
• 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.
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
• 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.
from “phonemic:” the speaker’s view
• The “insider’s” viewpoint of his or her own
• More concerned with meaning than explanation
• Also used to refer to “culture-specific truths” (in
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.
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)
Etic is also used to refer to the
objective and material aspects of
human culture & life. Thus, things
should have the same meaning to
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
•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.
• This video looks at 3 anthropologists
working with modern cultural issues
• Pay attention to how they study each
culture, and why this is important.
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
Typology of Participant Observer research roles
Researcher takes part in activities
• 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.
• Handwritten Notes
• Official Records
• Drawings / Photographs
• Audio Recordings
• Video Recordings
• Physical Artefacts
• Participant Contributions
• Types of interviews and applications
• Qualitative questions, probes, and pauses
• Question sequence
• Interview logistics
• Interview records, transcripts, and elaborations
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
Ethnography and ethics
•What are some of ethical issues around
– Informed consent?
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
A strong report will theorise on the meaning, purpose, motivation and/or
reasoning behind the behaviours you observed and relate those theories to
Observing Behaviour Report
DO NOT PLACE YOURSELF AT RISK
Do not choose to undertake observations where your personal safety may be
Be prepared to abandon an observation if you perceive risk.
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.
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?
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!