MGEA01H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Franz Boas, Nacirema, American Anthropologist
DepartmentEconomics for Management Studies
Lecture 2 Guest Lecture Kevin Nixon
What is Anthropology?
•“…ethnography serves at once to make the familiar strange and the strange
familiar, all the better to understand them both. It is as it were, the cannon-fodder of a
critical anthropology” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 6).
•The sociocultural wing of the UC Davis Anthropology Department “specializes in making
the strange familiar and the familiar strange’ including debunking myths that
Americans live by” (//daviswiki.org/Anthropology. Italics in original).
•In a recent review of a book about President Obama’s mother, Anthropologist Catherine
Lutz wrote, “In telling Ms. Dunham’s transnational story, Ms. Scott uses a standard
anthropological gambit: she first makes Kansas strange and then makes Indonesia—
and the world of development experts in the 1970s and 1980s—familiar” (Lutz
Ethnographic Method: The immersion of researchers in the lives and cultures of the people
they are trying to understand in order to comprehend the meaning these people ascribe to their
Ethnography: A written description and analysis of a particular group of people, usually based
upon anthropological fieldwork
Miner, Horace. 1956. Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58 (3): 503-
• House Shrines
“Our review of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic-ridden
people. It is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens
which they have imposed upon themselves. But even such exotic customs as these take
on real meaning when they are viewed with the insight provided by Malinowspartki…” (Miner
*The point he was making in the essay was that these people were powerful and followed their
beliefs of life
“Looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civilization, it is
easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But without its power and guidance early
man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have
advanced to the higher stages of civilization” –Bronislaw Malinowski
•Basic human needs
•Research method, central to sociocultural anthropology
•Fieldworkers gain insight into another way of life by taking part as fully as they can in a
group’s social activities, as well as by observing those activities as outsiders
•SC anthropologists also use a variety of other research methods, including interviews,
censuses, surveys, and even statistical sampling techniques
“The immersion of the investigator in the lives of the people he or she is trying to understand
and, through that experience, the attainment of some level of understanding of the meanings
those people ascribe to their existence”
*This immersion process involves Participation Observation
Does participant observation yield objective or subjective knowledge or something in between?
*A little bit of both because it is based on opinions and feelings when participation happens, but
also facts and evidence when the participant is doing the observation
•Ethnographic study of the politics of drag queens’ performances in Canada.
• QUESTIONS I WAS CONCERNED WITH EXPLORING:
What do drag shows do? Why are people fascinated by drag queens? Why is it/isn’t it
entertaining? Is drag political? What does it tell us about “queer” citizenship and Canadian
•Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
– Single in-depth study of a culture/sub-culture/community (typically at one
•Multi-sited: Other locations in southern Ontario, collected comparative data in Western
Canada, Quebec, and the U.S.
– Comparative “ethnology”
• Participant observation.
– Both as a drag show patron and as a queen.
• What types of information could I get as an “insider” or “native
anthropologist” – does this affect my objectivity?
• Unstructured and semi-structured interviews.
– Why unstructured interviews? Why not questionnaires/surveys?