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ANTA02 textbook notes for the entire year

Course Code
Maggie Cummings

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ANTA02 Notes
Week One
VSI Chapter 1:
-ethnography is to the cultural or social anthropologist what lab research is to the biologist, archival research to the
-aka participant obs
-based on the idea that in order to understand ppl, it is best to observe and interact with them over a long
period of time
-defines and distinguishes anthro from other disciplines
-today anthropologists conduct fieldwork in unexotic settings such as tv stations, however in the beginning, anthro was
distinguished by its conc on “primitive” non western societies
-it was felt that a focus on primitive societies would give a view of the “elementary” workings of society and that
it would allow anthropologists to record their cultures and way of life as they were rapidly disappearing
-the idea of “going native” = completely adopting the lifestyle of the host communities and never going home
-participant obs seems to be the most effective way of understanding the ways in which other ppl see the world and
interact with it
-story on page 15
-the account by an ethnographer of how a young woman was “assaulted” and the way the community dealt
with it
-to a historian the assault on Ina Mone would have been invisible as the tribe does not keep records and thus
they would not be available to a historian
-to a sociologist or criminologist the case would also be invisible as they rely on surveys and questionnaires- the
assault would appear as a data pnt
-to an ethnographer this case is seen as being about respect for the institution of marriage as ina Mone was
threatened by her assaulter because she had ratted him out for being with a betrothed woman
-the lesson Peter, the ethnographer learned, was that in disputes things are often other than what they
appear to be and he learned this because he was able to witness the event as he had been living in the community day
in and out for two years.
-one of the principle advantages of ethnography is the ability to observe unusual events
-it is openness that gives the ethnographic method strength and flexibility not available to highly deductive social
science methods
-there is a bit of randomness in ethnography as researchers often find themselves studying unanticipated subjects
-ethnographic work provides context to events and cases and allows a certain amount of trust to build up between
members of the community and the researcher so that are willing to confide in them and explain things
-anthropology has long been engaged in relating the description of local beliefs and practices as categories of universal
-there is an interplay between the specific and general, the local and universal
Fieldwork: Strategies and Practices
-ethnographers only study a particular aspect of social life
-most ethnographic research begins with a long study in the history and previous ethnographic lit of the region and
learning some of the language as they do not work with translators
-an ethnographers first task is to become est in the community
-they require funding and permits from local gov and the host community before even entering the field site
which can take up to a year
-ethnographers face the challenges of an unfamiliar setting as well as the possibility of being seen as a prized possession
by local powerful indiv or as a person who can solve all the communities problems

Only pages 1-3 are available for preview. Some parts have been intentionally blurred.

-the interview and dialogue are the most important techniques to elicit and record data
-in a sense, no ethnographic research project is ever truly complete
Critiques of Ethnographic Fieldwork
-prob with participant obs has been a temptation for the ethnographer to present the community in a kind of spatial and
temporal isolation
-ethnographic present = where communities are presented as frozen in time, outside any historical context,
without reference to neighbouring societies
-also a prob where ethnographers tend to write in a 3rd person voice as if they had no involvement in
eliciting the info they present
-ethnography is incomplete without the cross cultural comparisons which allow the uniqueness of ethnographic
description to find a comparative spatial and temp context
-when it comes to generalizations, anthropologists often make use of other methods used in other disciplines
-there are persistent questions about the objectivity of the data collected through participant obs
-there are instances where 2 anthropologists have come to diff conc about the same community
-W.H.R Rivers, Bronislaw, Malinowski and Franz Boas were among the founders of professional anthro who insisted on
first hand collection of ethnographic data by trained observers
-they hoped that training would suffice to compensate for the prejudices of the observer
-standardized categories for data collection have been created in an attempt to overcome observer bias and to
ensure comparability
-other attempts to reconcile observer biases has been to do re studies, however this does not happen often as there was
an urgency to conduct “salvage ethnography”, trying to record ways of life before they became extinct
-also a misguided sense of proprietorship on the part of an ethnographer for “his/her” people; no one else can
study it because it is “their” territory
-it is also rare for communities that have been studied to be approached by an ethnographer interested in the
same issues
-at times anthropologists engage in the study of a community in a team of researchers to compensate for observer
biases and to get a more comprehensive understanding of it
-no guarantee they are less subjective
-today, some ethnographers favour the presentation of relatively unedited texts representing a variety of voices other
than the ethnographers while others have adopted the inclusion of a autobiographical style presentation
-the outsider status of an ethnographer can be regarded as both a strength and weakness as they are able to notice
understandings that local ppl take for granted but are unable to notice subtle local variations
The Ethics of Ethnography
-for fieldwork, the first imperative is to ensure that one’s research does not harm the ppl one studies
-a persistent source of ethical dilemma is to be found in the extent to which it is appropriate for ethnographers to
actively influence the social, religious, or political life of the communities in which they work
-many anthropologists become advocates for the ppl they study however it is not without risk, as many face deportation
and imprisonment
-a more recent ethical issue is the idea that anthropologists have been “profiting” from the “expropriation” of
indigenous cultural knowledge
-pg 33 middle para
-Conc: complete descriptive objectivity is impossible, comprehensive understanding unattainable and ethical problems
are more easily posed than resolved.
VSI Chapter 2:
-humans most extraordinary characteristic is our capacity to conceptualize the world and to communicate those
conceptions symbolically anthropologists call this capacity “culture

Only pages 1-3 are available for preview. Some parts have been intentionally blurred.

What is Culture?
-most anthropologists agree that culture has to do with those aspects of human cognition and activity that are derived
from what we learn as members of society, keeping in mind that one learned a great deal that one is never explicitly
-the primary human means for symbolic communication is language
-in the Victorian era, Edward Tyler B’s definition endured for 30 yrs: culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic
sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and
habits acquired by man as a member of society
-during this time and to an extent today, ppl understood “culture” as something that ppl had to a greater or
lesser extent (to be more cultured)
-Franz Boas is considered the father of modern American cultural anthropology and to him “culture embraces all the
manifestations of social behaviour of a community, the reactions of the indiv as affected by the habits of the group in
which he lives, and the product of human activities as determined by these habits”
-culture is like a set of glasses, it focuses our experience of the world
-story of john and onion soup pg 38
-for John and his mixtec friends, eating is something that is part of a complex sys of ideas, perceptions, norms,
values, feelings and behaviours so that the act of eating is never just about satisfying hunger, but is also an expression of
how we have learned to see the world
-culture can be used to study both the differences between people as well as the similarities between people such as
basic classification systems
-the universal prospensity of humans to create sys of classifications has long been a subject of fascination and debate
among anthropologists
-in the US this interest led to the “ethnoscience” approach in which formal methods of analysis were applied to
domains such as colour and disease
-one outcome of this was the obs that while the content of cultural categories are means of perception
-some anthropologists now see the ability to control the content of cultural classifications as a primary source of
power in society
-back to the case of john and his mixtec friends and food, one can see the universal in the notion of etiquette and
-eating is hedged about with a system of conceptual categories such as moral values
-conc: human cultures seem to be infinitely variable, but that variability takes place within the boundaries produced by
physical and mental capacities
Where is Culture?
-there are 3 pnts of debate in the way anthropologists talk about culture
-one has to do with the extent to which a culture should be regarded as an integrated whole
-a second with the extent to which culture can be seen as an autonomous entity
-a third has to do with how we can best go about drawing boundaries around culture
-first debate:
-the idea that culture is an integrated and integrating whole is in part based on the insight that underlying
apparently discrete bits of belief or behaviour rests a more fundamental reality be it the unconscious, society or culture
-Benedict, a student of Boas, felt that the practices, beliefs and values of a given culture differed from other
cultures in a consistent and mutually enforcing way
-For Geertz (ARTICLE) , cultures can be read as texts and the trick is to seek out cultural texts that ppl of the
society themselves find compelling
-another view of integration speaks of culture as a code of program it is integrated by the internal logic of the
rules that enable it to be meaningful and productive; an ethnographer should aspire to learn enought of the social rules
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