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Q: anthropological studying of culture ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: anthropological studying of culture
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: akjs123-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 05 Sep 2003 04:27 PDT
Expires: 05 Oct 2003 04:27 PDT
Question ID: 252532
I need a detailed answer to :
how are anthropological studies of culture and society differ from
other disciplines that study humans. how "entering the field" is
different in different ethnographic contexts and why the
anthropological field worker must keep one foot in both cultures??

Clarification of Question by akjs123-ga on 05 Sep 2003 04:31 PDT
kindly provide the references(the websites or the books and the
author) where you took information from
Subject: Re: anthropological studying of culture
Answered By: digsalot-ga on 05 Sep 2003 23:38 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello there

I am going to begin with a published essay which addresses many parts
of your question and provides a basis for answering the rest, and
perhaps even does.  I will quote it in its entirety with the full
permission of the author.

Studying anthropology and what makes it different from the other

Most of you know that anthropology is the study of humans.  If you
didn't know, then I doubt if you would be here reading this.

Other disciplines also study humans.  Sociology studies humanity
within societies, philosophy studies human thinking, medicine studies
human anatomy.  Anthropology includes all of these things and a lot
more, but from a viewpoint which is unique.  What makes that viewpoint
unique is that, anthropologists, no matter what the subject of their
research, must always remember that they are seeing only a single
possible way out of the nearly limitless ways humans can think and
perform in this world.

Anthropology studies the ways cultures differ from each other. 
Anthropology also studies what makes humans differ from other types of
animals; and culture is always at the center of anthropological

When we study how humanity differs from the rest of the animals,
physical anthropology looks at how human evolution has led us to our
capacity for culture.  Physical anthropology compares human culture to
that of non-human primates.  Physical anthropologists also study how
culture is imprinted on the human body.  Years of sitting at a desk,
just as years of field excavation under a desert sun, actually leaves
a physical mark which can be identified.

Cultures do change over time and from place to place.  Those of us who
are archaeologists study human societies using things they left behind
or threw away instead of by the words they wrote down.  These
artifacts may be thousands of years old or they may have been
discarded early this morning.

Those who engage in social anthropology look at current human
societies, whether tribal cultures in the Sudan or the cultural
dynamics of downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

Linguistic anthropologists are interested in how culture and language
interact.  Linguistic anthropologists may also work closely with
archaeologists.  While we as archaeologists may unearth an inscribed
object in Egypt, it is the linguistic anthropologist, or an
archaeologist trained in linguistics, who actually takes over the work
when it comes to reading and cataloging the inscription itself.

There are many who might confuse the disciplines of cultural
anthropology with sociology.  While the two are related, anthropology
has a distinct focus and a much wider arena than does sociology. 
Anthropology covers all past and present human cultures, languages,
forms of social interaction and organization, as well as the social
interactions of our nearest animal relatives such as the great apes.

The closest branch of anthropology to sociology would be social
anthropology.  However it is different than sociology in that
cross-cultural comparisons are central to any social anthropology
study while sociology generally deals with only one culture or

For most, anthropology is a very libertarian and liberating type of
discipline.  We are not bound by established parameters to study only
one aspect of a culture or society or use only a specified
methodology.  That alone makes anthropology different from other
disciplines which study humans.

However, anthropology is often not liberating for the cultures
studied, at least not by our mere presence.  In as much as social
anthropologists are 'observers' it often means we need to sit back and
remain uninvolved even when watching what we would otherwise consider
the most reprehensible of actions or social injustices.  It is often
not a discipline which would have much appeal for the altruist who
feels the urge to step in and offer immediate assistance or
intervention.  Our best method of giving aid to those societies which
we feel need it is to remain dispassionate in our observations and
then make an accurate report to those who can give such help and make
needed changes.

While this may seem cold blooded and heartless, it is only because of
our willingness to make observations without interference with those
we observe that gains us admittance to many cultures and communities. 
What benefits we bring to those communities, we should do in an
indirect manner.  Unlike a physician, we should not intervene on the
moment to bring healing.  Unlike a social worker, we should not
intervene on the moment to end an injustice.  And unlike clergy or
counselers, we should not even step in to bring comfort.  If we do so,
we have defeated our mission as being "observers."  We may not be
permitted to return to a specific culture and our actions may well
mean few other anthropologists are given the chance either.  This too,
makes anthropology different than other disciplines involved with the
study of humans.  Even a news reporter can get involved with his or
her story.  We should not.

We must also realize that the general guidelines mentioned above are
usually necessary with only the most primitive and isolated societies.
 For the study of more advanced cultures, where there is increased
interaction with the world, it is far easier to get actively involved
with the study subjects without breaking as many social taboos.   When
going into an area of study, it is important to know as much about the
ethnological and cultural characteristics of the subjects as possible
before you arrive.  You would not want to get off on the wrong foot by
breaking taboo within minutes of getting there.

That does not mean there is no room in anthropology for those who
would have an emotional involvement with the people or primates they
are studying.  The situations encountered by many social
anthropologists are rather unique to that particular field.  As
mentioned, anthropology is a liberating kind of discipline and its
very broadness gives scope for most any personality type.

For social anthropologists, this 'keeping a lid' on the emotions, even
when a situation may tear their hearts out, could be one of the
reasons anthropologists often have a highly developed 'mortician's
sense of humor' and find humor where others see none, and/or often
become passionately involved with issues outside their professional
sphere, such as politics or other social agendas.  What is bottled up
professionally emerges elsewhere.

The study of anthropology helps us question our assumptions about, and
relationships with, the rest of the world.  Anthropology helps us see
the answers to life's mysteries and problems from another point of
view.  And while we may get deeply involved in these studies, we need
to always be aware of one of the most common dangers facing many
anthropologists.  That danger is in getting so completely submerged in
the subject of study that we forget who we are.  Some call it "going
native."  When we lose the perspective our own society provides, we
have also lost the ability to be objective about the culture we are
studying.  When the subject's exclusive way of thinking becomes our
exclusive way of thinking, we have lost the ability to comfortably
move between worlds.

Anthropologists are unique.  We are a profession which can stand at
the margins of worlds others have yet to dream of.  In my years I have
stood at the borders of the ancient world and that of the far future. 
I have stood within societies yet to emerge from the Stone Age and
those planning voyages to the planets.  I stand at the margins of my
own culture and I am overawed by what I have seen.

You will find the above at - I
know you want the name of the author for the material but I am in a
catch 22 situation.  I am allowed to send you to my own website
providing I make full disclosure that the website does belong to me. 
When you get there, you will also find that the essay is mine. But by
the same token, according to our rules, I cannot give you my name

Scroll about halfway down the page and find "Why is Anthropology
Different than the Other Humanities."

Below you will find additional material related to your question and
being anthropologists you may (and probably will) come into contact
with views which are different than my own.  I also won't be able to
give you a block quote as I did above.  We are limited as to how much
we can quote without an author's consent.  Some items I will try and
paraphrase for you but if that attempt  holds a danger of changing the
original meaning, then I will simply send you to the website.

This article from Bellevue Community College also gives a definition
as to why anthropology is different from other disciplines studying
humans. - "What makes anthropology different from other human studies
is that its practitioners take an "holistic" view of the subject and
consider the concept of "culture" to be in some way crucial to their
study. Additionally, they consider all human populations and
societies, from the present to millions of years ago, grist for their
mill, not just western peoples and current western civilization. By
"culture" anthropologists mean those things humans learn from and/or
teach to other humans. Whatever the specific focus, an anthropologist
often seeks to demonstrate how any part of a human cultural system
relates to and influences the others." - Quote from "About
Anthropology" - Website of Bellevue Community college

What I will be giving you here is somewhat an exception to the "hands
off" approach to cultural study I mentioned in my essay.  It may be
something you can modify and use in conjunction with what I provided
above.  This too will be a fairly large quote but represents only a
small fraction of the total article.

"Throughout the early years of anthropology and until the 1950s,
anthropologists operated within what might be called an Essentialist
paradigm which means that they believed that people everywhere were
essentially the same but with different layers of social and cultural
influence overlaying their primordial human core. These
anthropologists believed that industrialization had caused many of
these social and cultural layers to collect over the core of modern
human beings, so they sought to study people who had been unaffected
by industrialization. This early anthropological paradigm might also
be called a primitivist one since those operating within it sought out
primitive tribes of people to study with the idea that learning about
these people would teach them about the basic, essential aspects of
human culture which they assumed were the same for the more complex
industrial world. Clifford Geertz, who was a practicing anthropologist
in the 1950s, operated within this essentialist, primitivist paradigm
until he discovered that it was not adequate for truly understanding
the people he was studying. He spent a lot of his time in the 50s and
60s studying the people of the Balinese Islands, a non-industrialized
tribal society in the Western Pacific Ocean. During these field
studies. Geertz realized that taking an objective scientific view of
the Balinese Islanders--standing back and documenting their
behaviors-- was not the best way to go about understand their rituals
and ways of life. He found that he must learn their language and enter
into their community before he would truly understand their worldview.
But he found that even once he had learned their language and entered
their community he still could not fully understand the way they view
the world because he was always hopelessly influenced by his
experiences outside their social world--he could never shrug off his
own social and cultural heritage in order to fully understand theirs.
That is, Geertz discovered that the social scientist cannot ultimately
see beyond or through his own worldview into that of another people.
His interpretations of his Case studies would always be fundamentally
incomplete and inaccurate since his worldview could never be
thoroughly meshed with theirs. In a sense, his studies would always be
fictions that he constructed based on his experiences in the lives of
the Balinese Islanders. Geertz wrote a famous essay in the 1960s,
entitled Thick description explaining what he saw as the shortcomings
of traditional (essentialist-primitivist) anthropology and how he
perceived the new interpretive paradigm. In that essay he explained
the connection between the Latin word fictio and his new way of doing
anthropology. He also explained what he meant in the title of the
essay by Thick description For Geertz the anthropologist will never
Get to the bottom of a culture that he is studying (as the physical
scientist hopes to someday get to the bottom of the phenomena of
gravity or evolution), he will simply interpret the various layers of
meaning of a culture--the more he interprets, the deeper he delves
into the culture, the thicker his description of the culture. In the
end, the finished anthropological study will be a story based on
reality, a fiction (from the Latin fictio) about a social world
written by one who participated in that social world.

So Geertz himself is the best example of what he refers to in the
opening quotation as a transition in social science from a Laws and
instances ideal of explanation towards a cases and interpretations one
While the physical scientists search for laws that connect Planets to
pendulums (that is, laws that show how the motion of pendulums and
planets operate under the same principles) the social scientists must
focus on the sort of thing That connects chrysanthemums and swords The
latter connection is a symbolic one, a poetic one--one that does not
involve the discovery of objective laws but instead the exercise of
interpretation and thick description." - Quote from "A CASE STUDY:
Clifford Geertz's Postmodern Anthropology" - Website of San
Antonio College

When it comes to keeping the worlds of 'study' and 'home' separate and
having only one foot in each, once again there are differences of
opinion among anthropologists.  Here you will find material that seems
to indicate that situation is not always the best.  The article from
which the quote is taken is very long but also very much worth the

"In Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field
Science Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (Gupta & Ferguson 1997: 1-46)
discuss "the field" as site, method and location in anthropology. One
of their objectives is to sketch out how the notion of "the field" and
"fieldwork" developed and to start discussing alternatives. They
describe three key consequences of the construction of the field of
anthropology through the practice of fieldwork. First is the radical
separation of "the field" from "home". The data is collected and
written up in the field while the reflective, polished and theoretical
aspects of the work are developed at home. Entry and exit from the
field authenticate and authorize the academic work that follows.
Connected to this notion of field vs. home is a hierarchy of purity of
field sites. Africa is more field like and consequently more
anthropological than industrial corporations. Second is the
valorisation of certain kinds of knowledge to the exclusion of other
kinds. There is also a hierarchy of topics or objects of study. Things
that are unfamiliar and different from home become suitable as
anthropological objects. Third is the construction of a normative
anthropological subject (an archetypical fieldworker, which is
believed to be a middle-class Euro-American white male with a faculty
position), and the existence of an anthropological "self" against
which anthropology classifies its "Others". Anthropological objects
are assigned positions based on degrees of "Otherness". Field sites
that stand most clearly opposed to a middle-class self are favoured by
the hierarchy of field sites. This notion of "us" vs. "others" have
strong political implications and becomes problematic for those which
anthropological project is not about the exploration of "Otherness." -
Quote from "How am I to be classified? Insider anthropologists in the
era of the hybrids" - website of NTNU - Norges
teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet

When it comes to "entering the field" in different ethnographic
contexts, the most useful thing I can do for you is to point to an
example and direct you to a basic reading.  I don't know how long you
have till you need the information you have asked for so I'm
attempting to simplify things as much as possible and provide the
widest scope of information at the same time.

"After the initial orientation or entry period, which may take 3
months or longer, the researcher follows a more systematic program of
formal interviews involving questions related to research hypotheses
and specialized topics. Several different methods of selecting
informants are possible. Usually a few key informants (between 10-20)
are selected for in-depth sessions, since the investigation of
cultural patterns usually calls for lengthy and repeated open ended
interviews. Selection of such a small number does not allow for strict
assurance of a representative sample, so the anthropologist must be
careful to choose subjects who are well informed and reliable.
Ethnographic researchers will also train informants to systematically
report cultural data and recognize significant cultural elements and
interconnections as the interview sequences unfold." - Quote from
"Method and Theory in Cultural Anthropology"
- website of the University of Manitoba

I would also strongly recommend you read "Handbook of Methods in
Cultural Anthropology" by H. Russell Bernard

Search - Google
Search strategy - my own work in the field, anthropological
methodologies, ethnographic methodologies, anthropology +and living in
two worlds

If I may clarify anything, please ask.

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