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C HAPTER T WO

Doing Cultural
Anthropology
What are the aims of ethnography and eldwork?
How does an anthropologist do an ethnographic eld study?
How has ethnography changed in the past century?
How do the personalities, social status, and culture of anthropologists affect their ethnographies?
What are the special opportunities and problems in doing anthropology in ones own society?
What are some of the ethical problems raised by ethnography?
How do anthropologists use ethnographic data?

Kojo A. Dei (right), an anthropologist from Ghana, does ethnographic eldwork among

African-American youth in a major city in the United States. The focus of Deis ethnog-

raphy is on how the cultural meanings of substance use and abuse within inner city

communities both support and diverge from those in the larger society. An essential

relationship in deis ethnographic eldwork is with his key informants, among whom

are Prince Afrika.


DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 19

based on fieldwork. Fieldwork is the first-


DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY hand, intensive, systematic exploration of a
In attempting to understand human diversity, culture. Although fieldwork includes many
cultural anthropologists have developed par- techniques, such as structured and unstructured
ticular methodologies for gathering data and interviewing, mapping space, taking census
developing and testing theories. For cultural data, photographing and lming, using histor-
anthropology, the existing diversity of human ical archives, and recording life histories, the
cultures is the laboratory. The controlled lab- heart of anthropological fieldwork is partici-
oratory situation of the physical sciences is, pant-observation. Participant-observation
for both technical and ethical reasons, of little is the technique of gathering data on human
use in cultural anthropology. Anthropologists cultures by living among the people, observ-
can hardly go out and start a war somewhere ing their social interaction on an ongoing daily
to see the effect of warfare on family life. Nor basis, and participating as much as possible in
can they control in a laboratory all the factors their lives.This intensive eld experience is the
involved in examining the impact of multina- methodological hallmark of cultural anthro-
tional corporations on villages in the Amazon pology.Typically, the eld experience results in
rain forest. In place of the articially controlled an ethnography, that is, an in-depth description
laboratory, anthropologists rely on the ethno- and analysis of a particular culture.
graphic method and cross-cultural comparison.
The ethnographic method is the gather-
ing and interpretation of information based on DOING FIELDWORK
intensive, rst-hand study of a particular culture. The goal of fieldwork is to gather as much
The written report of this study is called an information as one can on a particular cultural
ethnography. In ethnology, or cross-cultural system, or on a particular aspect of a culture
comparison, the ethnographic data from dif- that is the focus of the fieldworkers special
ferent societies are analyzed to build and test interest. The data are written up to present
hypotheses about social and cultural processes. as authentic and coherent a picture of the
Cultural anthropology encompasses a wide cultural system as possible. The holistic per-
range of activities and specialties: solitary spective of anthropology developed through
fieldwork in a remote location, delving into fieldwork. Only by living with people and
historical archives, testing hypotheses using sta- engaging in their activities over a long period
tistical correlations from many different soci- of time can we see culture as a system of in-
eties, administering a community health care terrelated patterns. Good fieldwork and
clinic, and working with indigenous peoples ethnography are based both on the field-
to exhibit their art in a museum. But all of these workers ability to see things from the other
diverse activities are based on ethnography, persons point of view (the emic perspective)
which is not only the major source of anthro- and on the ability to see patterns, relationships,
pological data and theory but also an important and meanings that may not be consciously un-
part of most anthropologists experience. We derstood by a person in that culture (the etic
thus begin this chapter with a discussion of perspective).
ethnography and then turn to some of the ways Observation, participation, and interviewing
in which ethnographic data are used in cross- are all necessary in good fieldwork. The an-
cultural comparison. thropologist observes, listens, asks questions,
and attempts to nd a way in which to partic-
ipate in the life of the society over an extended
ETHNOGRAPHY AND FIELDWORK period of time.
Ethnography is the written description and Anthropology, like every other scientic dis-
analysis of the culture of a group of people cipline, must be concerned with the accuracy
20 CHAPTER TWO

of its data. Anthropology is unique among the


sciences in that a human being is the major re-
search instrument, and other human beings
supply most of the data. At least in the initial
stages of researchand usually throughout the
fieldworkanthropologists have to rely to a
great extent on informants as well as observa-
tion for their data. Informants are people
through whom the anthropologist learns about
the culture, partly by observation and partly by
asking questions. Many people in a society may
act as informants, but most anthropologists also
have a few key informants with whom they
work. Key informants are people who have
a deep knowledge of their culture and are will-
ing to pass this knowledge on to the anthro-
pologist. Anthropologists often develop deep
rapport with their key informants and even life-
time friendships (Grindal and Salamone 1995). Ruth Benedicts major work, Patterns of Culture, was

These key informants are essential not only for a best-seller in the United States when it was pub-

explaining cultural patterns but also for intro- lished in the 1930s. It is still widely used in college an-

ducing anthropologists to the community and thropology courses. Benedict worked tirelessly with

helping them establish a network of social re- Franz Boas to demonstrate to Americans that ide-

lationships.The establishment of trust and co- ologies of racial superiority had no basis in science.

operation in these relationships is the basis for The work of Ruth Benedict, her mentor Franz Boas,

sound eldwork. and her student, Margaret Mead, had a deep and

In the early stages of eldwork, the anthro- widespread inuence on how Americans think about

pologist may just observe or perform some cultural diversity. Her contributions are recognized

seemingly neutral task such as collecting by her picture on a United States stamp.

genealogies (family trees) or taking a census.


Within a short time, however, he or she will
begin to participate in cultural activities.
Participation is the best way to understand FIELDWORK AND ETHNOGRAPHY:
the difference between what people say they A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
do, feel, or think and what they actually do. It Anthropology began in the last quarter of the
is not that informants deliberately lie (although nineteenth century as a comparative science;
they may), but rather, when they are asked although its rst practitioners were not eld-
about some aspect of their culture, they may workers, eldwork and ethnography soon be-
give the cultural ideal, not what actually came its dening characteristic (Stocking 1992).
happens. This is especially true when the For a number of reasons, the earliest ethnogra-
outsider has higher social status than the in- phers concentrated their studies on the small-
formant. For psychological or pragmatic rea- scale, technologically simpler societies that had
sons, the informant wants to look good in the developed for thousands of years outside the
anthropologists eyes. Participation also forces orbit of European culture. One reason was the
the researcher to think more deeply about cul- fear that much of the traditional cultures of these
turally correct behavior and thus sharpens in- societies were disappearing under the assault of
sight into culture beyond that learned by Western culture, and so their cultures needed to
observation alone. be recorded as soon as possible. Another reason
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 21

was that these cultures were sufficiently ho- European interest in cultural differences
mogenous that patterns and processes of culture was enormously intensified by the fifteenth-
were more easily perceived than was possible century expansion of European power, which
in the large, technologically complex, heteroge- brought Europeans into contact with cultures
neous societies of the West. In addition, it was that were very different from their own. This
necessary to look at societies outside the orbit interest continued to develop and, by the
of Western society in order to learn about the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, laid the
very diverse ways of being human. foundation for the emergence of anthropology.

E T H N O G R A p h y

States and Europe, attracting many con-


AnEthnographic verts from the counterculture of the
Field Study in 1960s. As part of their commitment to
India their new religion, many of these people

C
harles Brooks is an American an- went to India to help spread Krishna con-
thropologist who carried out Vrindaban sciousness in the land where it originated.
field research on the impact of Brooks was fascinated by this process
foreign Hare Krishnas in India.The fol- and his research was guided by an over-
lowers of Hare Krishna, with their orange arching question: How did a Western
INDIA
robes and shaved heads, their public pro- cultural version of Hare Krishna t itself
cessions and festivals featuring drums and into the religious culture of India? In
cymbals, and their vegetarian food, are order to answer this larger question,
well known in the United States. Brooks Brooks broke it down into smaller ques-
worked not in an isolated, small-scale so- tions, which would actually guide his re-
ciety, but rather in a large town in the search.These questions included In what
very complex society of India. The fol- specic types of situations did foreign and
lowing description of his fieldwork interest formed the background of his re- Indian Krishna followers interact?
shows what anthropologists actually do as search. Brooks was also aware of the most What were the similarities and differ-
they go about understanding cultures. visible representation of Indian religion ences in how foreigners and Indian devo-
Although each eldwork project is dif- in the United States, the International tees understood the symbols, rituals,
ferent, there are certain common steps: Society for Krishna Consciousness meanings, and goals of Krishna worship?
choosing the problem, choosing the site, (ISKCON), also called the Hare Krishna. How did Indians react to foreigners
locating informants, gathering and record- The Hare Krishna movement began in who claimed they were Hindusand
ing the data, and analyzing and writing India as a way of spreading the worship Hindu priests at that? What opinions
up the results. of the Hindu god Krishna. In this religion, did Indians have about Westerners who
devoted worship to Krishna is the main were in India to spread the word about
CHOOSING THE PROBLEM path to religious or spiritual enlighten- a religion that was originally Indian?
Like much contemporary eldwork, ment. Krishna worship was brought to the Because Hindus believe that foreigners
Brookss approach to the culture he was United States in the 1960s by an Indian cannot become Hindus, as ISKCON
studying was holistic, yet focused on a monk, Swami Bhaktivedanta, who aimed members claim they have become, how
number of specic questions.Through his to save Westerners from what he saw as was this paradox resolved? How did
graduate study, Brooks had become inter- their materialism and atheism. His move- ISKCONs presence in India affect both
ested in religion and change in India.This ment was very successful in the United Hindu religious culture and the
22 CHAPTER TWO

An Ethnographic Field Study in India (continued)

Indian and Western Krishna followers who be an appropriate site for his eldwork. iar and valid to pilgrims and town resi-
encountered each other? In sum, Brooks Brooks chose as his residence a place dents. In order to more effectively par-
was interested in the subjective experience where many foreign and Indian people ticipate in the religious culture of the
of individuals from two different cultures stay while they are on pilgrimage at town, without identifying himself with
who had come together through partici- Vrindaban.As a neutral site, it would not any particular faction, Brooks wore
pation in the same religion. associate Brooks with any particular reli- Indian clothing and accessories that were
gious faction. This would allow him typical of Indians in Vrindaban but were
PICKING THE RESEARCH SITE greater access to a variety of social situa- not specically identied with any par-
Sometimes anthropologists have a par- tions than if he had stayed at a place iden- ticular religious sect.
ticular site in mind when they begin their tified with a particular religious sect or Because of the public nature of many of
fieldwork, but in many cases they have temple. In addition, this residence was the religious interactions Brooks wished
only a general idea about a location that centrally located in the town and situated to understand, gaining entry to these sit-
might suit their research interests.The ul- near a principal pilgrimage destination uations and observing behavior was not
timate choice involves some practical where Brooks could observe from his difficult. And because he had learned
matters, such as the availability of hous- rooftop rooms the constant movement of Hindi, the main language used for social
ing, health care, and transportation, but pilgrims and the many cultural perfor- interaction in this part of India, he rarely
the major consideration is whether the mances that were held in the adjacent needed an interpreter. But recording his
site will allow the researchers to answer public courtyard. Having found a suitable observations presented more of a prob-
the questions they are interested in. place to stay, Brooks turned his attention lem. Many anthropologists use tape
Because Brooks wanted to study social to beginning the research project. recorders or take notes at the time of ob-
interaction between foreign and Indian servation, but in other cases this hinders
devotees to Krishna, his main criterion COLLECTING AND RECORDING interaction. On one occasion early in his
was to nd a location where such inter- DATA research, when Brooks was recording an
action took place. In anthropology, as in every science, interview in a small notebook, one of his
Anthropologists generally use the rst method is connected to theory.The way key informants, a guru told him, When
month or so of their fieldwork to look we collect our data is related to the ques- you are ready to learn, come back with-
over possible sites (this has changed some- tions we hope our research will answer. out your notebook. From that point he
what today, when thanks to cheaper air- Because Charles Brookss main interest stopped taking notes on the spot and
fares, many graduate students take an initial was in the way people create meanings waited until an encounter was over be-
trip of several months to pick a research for their behavior through social inter- fore writing it up.To help him remember
site, and then return for the longer eld- action, participant-observation was his and keep track of the many details of an
trip). Brookss initial choice for his research major method of collecting data. Only interaction and record them in a consis-
was the sacred pilgrimage town of Vrinda- in this way did Brooks feel he could de- tent way, he developed a schematic ow-
ban, where Krishna is said to have been velop the intimate familiarity and sen- chart into which he could fit his daily
born and lived for part of his life. This sitivity to the social world he wished to observations. A different flowchart was
town has many temples and religious sites understand (Brooks 1989:235). In order kept for each separate interaction, and
dedicated to Krishna worship, and Brooks to do this, he also had to take account of each chart incorporated information on
knew that ISKCON had also set up a his own role as an anthropologist in these the actors, the content of their interac-
temple there. He made an initial visit to interactions. tion, the symbols used, the goal of the in-
discover whether signicant social inter- Because the initial step of participation teraction, and its conclusion. In addition,
action took place among the Indian and is to nd a role through which to inter- he also recorded his experiences in a
foreign pilgrims and residents in Vrinda- act with others, Brooks dened his role more impressionistic way in a journal.
ban and whether any Indians worshipped as someone looking for personal devel- Second to participant-observation in
at ISKCONs temple. When he saw that opment, and also as a research scholar its importance for collecting data,
such interactions did occur, and that the who had been certified by the Indian Brooks also used unstructured, open-
ISKCON temple attracted many Indian government to study Vrindabans culture ended interviews. The goal of these
pilgrims, Brooks decided that this would and history. Both these roles were famil- interviews was to explore a particular
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 23

An Ethnographic Field Study in India (continued)

(left) The Hare Krishna movement has spread throughout Europe and the United States. This procession is in Russia. Charles

Brookss ethnography is aimed at understanding how Western Hare Krishna devotees were integrated into the Indian city of

Vrindaban, a center for Krishna worship. (right) One of Brookss key informants was Govind Kishore Goswami, a Brahmin priest

and the owner of the pilgrims hostel where Brooks lived during his research. Here Goswami is pictured with his wife and son

during Holi, a festival where people sprinkle each other with colored water.

topic in depth, such as the meaning interest in or knowledge of a subject. Not only were written questionnaires
of a particular symbolic object used Twenty-two of these life histories were foreign to Vrindaban culture, and thus not
in religious practice. Many of his collected, and they were particularly valu- very effective, but, although Brooks as-
interviews were with groups of infor- able in giving information about the sured informants of their condentiality,
mants.These were helpful in comparing background from which informants de- many people were nervous at the idea of
the ways different individuals interpret a veloped their interpretations of religious writing down private information. In ad-
symbolic object or act, whereas in the in- phenomena. dition, the use of such formal documents
dividual interviews people could speak Brooks also used random verbal surveys might be interpreted to conrm the be-
about more private matters.This was the to discover the castes and backgrounds of lief of many Indians that all Americans
format he used for collecting life histo- the pilgrims and town residents, and to in India are working for the CIA.
ries.The individual interviews were taped learn their opinions and attitudes toward Hardly any anthropologist could be
and more structured, organized around the foreign devotees in Vrindaban. He found today who does not take a camera
preset questions, but Brooks also allowed initially tried to use a written question- to the eld. Brooks used photographs in
the conversations to develop on their naire to gather this kind of information several specific ways related to his re-
own if an informant showed a particular but dropped that as counterproductive. search project: documenting the physical
24 CHAPTER TWO

An Ethnographic Field Study in India (continued)

aspects of Vrindabans religious complex, As the study uncovered some ways that understandings of caste may be incom-
such as the temples and pilgrimage sites; outsidersthe foreignerscould be ac- plete and even incorrect: that Brahmin
documenting the different people who cepted in a Hindu religious and social status, for example, may be achieved as
visited and lived in Vrindaban and their universe, it opened up new perceptions well as acquired by birth.
clothing and appearance as a way of pre- of social organization in India, indicat- Like all good ethnography, Brookss
serving a record of cultural diversity; and ing that in religious settings, caste iden- study of one town in India has a wider
photographing the sites and participants tity, which is normally essential in social application, as it reveals the processes by
of social interactions as an aid to remem- interaction, could be subordinated to which social reality is transformed into a
bering and interpreting them. evaluations of the sincerity of a persons meaningful universe.As people from dif-
devotion. The acceptance of foreigners ferent parts of the world increasingly
ANALYZING AND INTERPRETING as Hindus and even Brahmins highlights come into contact with one another and
THE DATA the complexity of Indian culture and participate in common social systems,
Brookss data indicated that there is sig- demonstrates its exibilityits ability to they are forced to rethink traditional cul-
nicant interaction between Indians and deal with novel and contradictory situa- tural concepts and their own and others
foreigners in Vrindaban. The ISKCON tions. Thus caste, which has popularly cultural identities.
temple is accepted as a legitimate place of been viewed as a rigid hierarchy, can be
worship for Indian devotees of Krishna, deemphasized, superseded by other social Critical Thinking Questions
and ISKCON members are accorded le- statuses, or held irrelevant for determin- 1. How might the social processes
gitimacy as Krishna devotees by Indians. ing individual social position. revealed in Brookss study apply
The interaction of people from different In the case of Vrindaban, as is true to the multicultural society of
cultures in the religious complex of in many other parts of India, religion the United States?
Krishna worship has led to changes in the is of prime importance in determining 2. If you were to study a situation
meanings of the symbols involved in this individual social position and social in the United States like the one
worship. interaction. This is evidenced by the Brooks studied in India, what
On a more theoretical level, Brookss importance of religious competence groups would you study and why?
research challenges some popularly held and extreme devotion, which override
conceptions about Indian culture and so- caste as indicators of rank and status.The
From Charles Brooks, The Hare Krishnas in
ciety, especially concerning the impor- fact that foreigners can be considered India. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
tance of caste in social interaction. Brahmins in India shows that our Press, 1989.

Anthropologists attempted to grapple with the explorers, missionaries, and colonial officers
signicance of the cultural differences between who had recorded their experiences in remote
Europeans and other cultures, initially by plac- corners of the world. In the nineteenth and
ing the cultures they encountered on evolu- early twentieth centuries, much of anthropo-
tionary scales of cultural development. In these logical theory, including much of cultural evo-
scales, characterized by different stages of tech- lutionary theory, was developed by armchair
nology and social institutions (such as the form anthropologists who had not done eldwork
of family or type of religion), European culture themselves and who based their theories on the
was placed at the pinnacle and these other, often ethnocentric and unsystematic writings
primitive societies were viewed as earlier of the amateurs.
forms of its own development. By the early twentieth century, eldwork and
The earliest observers of the societies later ethnography became the hallmarks of cultural
studied by these nineteenth-century anthro- anthropology. Twentieth-century anthropolo-
pologists were typically amateurstravelers, gists hoped that detailed ethnographies would
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 25

illuminate the richness and human satisfactions criterion of good ethnography that grew out of
in a wide range of cultures and increase respect the work of Malinowski and Boas was that it
among Europeans and North Americans for grasp the native point of view objectively and
peoples whose lives were very different from without bias. This goal was based on the
their own. It was particularly after the devasta- assumptions of positivism, an empirical
tion, demoralization, and disenchantment with scientic approach that dominated the nine-
European civilization following World War I teenth and most of the twentieth centuries.
that academically trained ethnographers began Positivism and empiricism emphasized the
doing intensive eldwork in distant places and possibility and desirability of observing and
among peoples whose cultures were not only recording an objective reality.Anthropology re-
different from but often in striking contrast to, flected this scientific view: The basis of the
Western culture (Tedlock 1991). This empha- ethnographic method was the condence that
sis on eldwork is linked particularly with the trained, neutral investigators could, through
names of Franz Boas in the United States and observation of behavior, comprehend the ob-
Bronislaw Malinowski in Europe. jective reality of a culture.
Franz Boas, the primary inuence in anthro- After World War I, and even more so after
pology in the United States in the rst half of World War II, anthropological eldwork took
the twentieth century, turned away from arm- yet another turn, expanding fieldwork and
chair anthropology and urged anthropologists ethnography to peasant and urban societies,
to do more fieldwork before small non-Western
cultures disappeared. Boas himself produced an Anthropologist Franz Boas was the most inuential
enormous amount of ethnographic data on na- American anthropologist of the rst half of the
tive American cultures, particularly those of the twentieth century. He carried out eldwork among
Pacic Northwest. For Boas, the status of an- the KWakiutl of the Northwest Coast of North
thropology as a science would depend on the America in collaboration with his key informant,
most complete and objective gathering of George Hunt, and was instrumental in establishing
ethnographic data on specic cultural systems. ethnography as the hallmark of anthropology.
He insisted that grasping the whole of a culture
could be achieved only through eldwork.
Malinowski, whose eldwork was carried out
in the Trobriand Islands, saw an essential goal
of the ethnographer as grasp[ing] the natives
point of view, his relation to life, to realize his
vision of his world ([1922] 1961:25). Only an
anthropologist who could learn to think, feel,
and behave as a member of another culture
could enter into another cultural experience.
And this could be done only through field-
work, living among the people, observing their
behavior firsthand, and participating in their
lives. With the publication of Malinowskis
unmatched ethnographies of the Trobriand
Islands, doing fieldwork and writing ethnog-
raphy became the dominant activities identied
with cultural anthropology.
Boas and Malinowski together set the high
standards for fieldwork, the unique method-
ology of cultural anthropology. The major
26 CHAPTER TWO

which were enmeshed in more complex re- erful culture than the ethnographic subject, this
gional and national systems.This required some is a particularly important factor in under-
changes in the way eldwork was practiced as standing the ways in which anthropologists
the study of these part cultures is not amen- have interpreted and represented other cultures.
able to the same holistic perspective derived Postmodernism has thus challenged the
from the study of a small-scale, seemingly iso- ethnographer as the sole, or even most author-
lated culture.This shift to the study of smaller itative voice in presenting cultural descriptions.
units in complex societies led to new method- From a postmodern point of view, ethnogra-
ologies as well as new theories about culture, phies are stories, just like other stories about
in particular about the relationships of small- experienced reality, and there is an increasing
scale cultures to larger systems. Indeed, in attempt, as a result of postmodernism, to write
todays global community, the connections more experimental ethnographies that use
between cultures are so central that no society, multiple voicesof many people in a culture,
no matter how seemingly remote, can be among whom the ethnographer is only one
studied as if it existed in cultural isolation. In the as a more accurate account of cultural reality
example of Charles Brookss eldwork on the (see Brown 1991; Abu-Lughod 1993; Harding
Hare Krishna of India, we see very clearly and Myers 1994). It must be kept in mind,
the diffusion of cultural patterns in our global however, that these multiple voices are still
society and the importance of the anthro- selected and presented by the ethnographer.
pologist having a global perspective. The perspective that ethnography is just an-
other story about reality has led to an interest
in the ways in which, consciously and uncon-
CHANGING DIRECTIONS sciously, ethnographers give authority to their
IN ETHNOGRAPHY stories, that is, how they make them believable
Since the 1970s, many of the assumptions of (Geertz 1988). This emphasis on ethnography
twentieth-century eldwork and ethnography as narrative also raises questions about how the
and condence in the possibilities of discover- projected audience for an ethnography, as well
ing an objective reality have become the sub- as cultural and political biases of the ethnogra-
ject of intense debate in anthropology (Lee pher, shape the interpretation and representa-
1992a). These debates result from the increas- tion of other cultures.
ing importance of postmodernism in anthro- By the 1990s, the earlier trickle of interest in
pology as well as in other social sciences and raising explicit questions about the methodol-
humanities. A basic assumption of postmod- ogy of participant-observation and the writing
ernism is that all knowledge is inuenced by of ethnography had turned into a ood, with a
the observers culture and status in society and new emphasis on the process of eldwork it-
that there is no single objective reality, or truth, selfwhat Barbara Tedlock (1991:69) calls the
but rather many partial truths, depending on observation of participation. Contemporary
ones perspective. Postmodernism has caused anthropologists are, in a more focused and ex-
intense reection on why, how, and with what plicit way, raising questions about subjectivity
goals cultural anthropologists have done, are and objectivity in eldwork, bias in the inter-
doing, and should be doing ethnography. pretation of eld data, the accuracy of traditional
Current perspectives in anthropology, as in- ethnography as a representation of culture, the
fluenced by postmodernism, are more sensi- relationship of ethnography to anthropological
tive to issues of history and power. Because theory, and the usefulness of denitions of cul-
many (if not most) of the ethnographic en- ture itself (see Chapter Three).These concerns
counters of the twentieth century took place have been differently viewed as a challenge, a
in colonial or neocolonial situations, where the threat, a crisis, or a fad. In fact, although almost
ethnographer came from a much more pow- all contemporary ethnographies now include
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 27

some reflection about the conditions under Middle East.Western views of the Middle East,
which the fieldwork was carried out, ethnog- the Muslim religion, and Arab culture have
raphy continues to be dominated by fairly been very signicantly biased by historical en-
straightforward cultural descriptions and counters between Islam and Christianity, the
analyses. historical colonization of the Middle East by
Traditionally, the dominant requirement in Western powers, the contemporary politics of
anthropology, at least in writing ethnography if the Middle East, and the recent Gulf War (Said
not in the eldwork itself, was to write like a 1978, 1993; Hale 1989).
scientist.This often led to omitting the lifeblood Anthropology, as well as other disciplines, has
in a culture, describing norms and structures and been affected by these encounters, particularly
patterns but leaving out any mention of specic in the study of gender, which has been shaped
events and individuals, including the ethnogra- by ethnocentric stereotypes about the domi-
pher.With a few notable exceptions, such as E. nance of the shame/honor dichotomy, the
E. Evans-Pritchards classic The Nuer ([1940] domination of men, the total submission of
1968), only occasionally, in an introduction or women (symbolized by veiling), and the sharp
a preface, were explicit accounts of the eld- segregation between the two sexes. Signicant
work process included in ethnographies. Until in this ethnocentric view of the Middle East
the 1970s, few ethnographies considered, in any has been the overemphasis on Islam as the cul-
central way, how interactions between ethnog- tural determinant of gender roles and womens
rapher and informants affected the gathering, status.As one anthropologist (Waines 1982:652)
interpretation, and reporting of data. noted, too much of the literature assumes a
This began to change in the 1960s with the priori the existence of a universal Islam which
publication of some first-person, experiential mysteriously moulds behavior from above.
accounts of eldwork (Berreman 1962) and by These assumptions and generalizations have,
the 1970s, more ethnographies began to appear until quite recently, resulted in neglect of other
in which the observation of participation had factors in studying the Middle East, such as
as central a place as more standard cultural de- history, economics, political dynamics and ide-
scriptions; indeed, such concerns have moved ologies, the formation of social classes, and the
from the margins of anthropology to the cen- variety of cultural contexts. Middle Eastern
ter (although it is a center that continues to be realities are more complex than they have gen-
shared by other interests and issues). erally been portrayed by many anthropologists.
Participant-observation leads anthropologists For example, overemphasis on separation and
to reect more consciously on how their own subordination in gender relations has led to a
statuses, personalities, and cultures shape their neglect of study of the places, such as the family
view of others and how they personally inter- or the workplace, where men and women meet
act with the other to produce cultural data. and interact.
Thus, there is a new focus on the interaction
between the self and the otherthe ethnog-
rapher and her or his informantsand the THE INFLUENCE OF FEMINIST
kinds of communication they engage in as part ANTHROPOLOGY ON
of the fieldwork experience and the written ETHNOGRAPHY
ethnography. Fieldwork and ethnography, from Ethnography of the Middle East raises partic-
this perspective, become a dialogue, a copro- ularly important questions about ethnocentrism
duction between the self and the other, the and gender bias in cultural anthropology, but
ethnographer and the native informant both of these biases extend beyond Middle
(Crapanzano 1980). Eastern ethnography. The examination of the
We can see the effects of these changes in the degree to which culture and gender are pow-
ethnography of what Westerners call the erful biases in ethnography and cultural theory
28 CHAPTER TWO

is a signicant contribution of feminist anthro- anthropology. Discussions and debates over the-
pology (further discussed in Chapter Ten). ory and method in contemporary anthropol-
In the past, much eldwork wasand con- ogy highlight the wide range of approaches
tinues to bedone by men who have limited, cultural anthropologists bring to the question
or even no, personal access to womens lives. of what it means to be human. Anthropolog-
This is particularly true in cultures where men ical studies focus on the other and ourselves;
and women lead very separate lives and are its goals embrace those of a comparative science
often hostile to each other, as in New Guinea and also a unique, humanistic inquiry. Many
(Hammar 1989) or in the Middle East, where ethnographies continue to emphasize objec-
cultural notions of honor and shame severely tive descriptions of a culture, whereas other,
restrict the interactions of men and women more experimental ethnographies try in differ-
who are not related (Abu-Lughod 1987). ent ways to incorporate the many voices that
The description of whole cultures based on make up a culture. In their eld studies some
male activities grew out of a (largely uncon- anthropologists still try to be the proverbial y
scious) assumption that the most important cul- on the wall, observing and reporting from the
tural activities were dominated by men.A good position of outsider, but political activism and
example is the work of Malinowski himself. His advocacy for the people one is studying have
descriptions of exchange among the Trobriand also come to be important goals. In meeting the
Islanders almost completely excluded womens challenges of a changing world, anthropologists
gift exchanges, an omission rectied more than are increasingly reecting on the work they do
50 years later by a woman whose restudy of the and its place in contemporary global society.
Trobriand Islands focuses on exchanges among These reections have raised new issues. One
women (Weiner 1976). of these is the particular challenge of doing
Gender bias had its effect not only on ethnography in ones own society.
the accuracy of ethnographies, but also on the
development of theories about culture. When
the culture of a small society is based on infor-
mation from just one segment of the commu- SPECIAL PROBLEMS IN
nitythat is, menthe culture appears to be CONTEMPORARY ETHNOGRAPHY
much more homogeneous than it really is. STUDYING ONES OWN SOCIETY
When such inaccurate descriptions accumulate, The demand for more self-conscious eldwork
anthropologists can conclude that cultural means that anthropologists need to be more
homogeneity and integration are character- aware of their own reactions in the field and
istic of such societies. This conclusion may be to see themselves not only as the instrument of
theoretically misleading; it is also a source of observation but also as the subject of observa-
concern for those who believe that it helps per- tion. These observations of the self emerge as
petuate oppression of women by ignoring their part of the interaction with others that is cen-
perspectives on their own culture, which are tral to fieldwork and can be the source of
different from those of men (Keesing 1987; the special insights that make fieldwork such
Hammar 1989). As we see in Chapter Ten, the an exciting but risky enterprise for cultural
recognition of the androcentric bias of an- outsiders.The emphasis on more reective eld-
thropology has led to a new concern with the work and ethnography affects all anthropolo-
lives, thoughts, and activities of women and also gists but particularly anthropologists studying
to a new interest in mens lives, activities, and their own societies, or native anthropologists.
the whole subject of gender and sexuality. When anthropologists study a culture differ-
These new emphases in ethnography are one ent from their own, their main methodological
more element of the diversity and dynamism task is to perceive cultures emically (that is, from
that have always characterized the history of the point of view of its members). Although
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 29

training in anthropology is designed to increase 1988). Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod started


awareness and perhaps ultimately overcome cul- her fieldwork among the Bedouin accompa-
tural bias, even well-trained anthropologists slip nied by her father, an event that rst irritated
into projecting their own culturally determined and embarrassed her. But she later concluded
feelings and perceptions on other peoples. In that her fathers insistence that a young, un-
studying their own cultures, anthropologists married woman traveling alone on uncertain
must try to maintain the social distance of the business would be suspect and have a hard
outsider because it is all too easy to take for time persuading people of her respectability
granted what one knows. In addition, as distin- was culturally appropriate.This was all the more
guished anthropologist Margaret Mead once true because Abu-Lughod had lived in the West
noted, remaining objective, or relativist, may be and was subject to the negative stereotypes the
easier when confronting problematic patterns Arabs have of the morals of Western women.
in other cultures, such as cannibalism or infan- Abu-Lughod had confidence that she could
ticide, than when confronting problematic overcome this suspicion by her own culturally
situations such as child neglect, corporate greed, sensitive behavior, but she did not realize until
or armed conict in ones own society. she reflected on her fieldwork that a young
Some of the problems and the rewards of woman alone would be seen to have been
studying ones own culture are found in the abandoned or alienated from her family.
work of Barbara Myerhoff, an American an- This would cast doubts on her respectability
thropologist. Myerhoff contrasted her earlier (1987:9) and hinder her fieldwork, or even
work with the Huichol of Northern Mexico make it impossible, among the conservative
with her work among elderly Jewish people in Egyptian Bedouin whom she was studying.
an urban ghetto in California (1978). She notes Another dilemma experienced by many
that in the rst case, doing anthropology was an anthropologists, but particularly poignant for
act of imagination, a means for discovering what native anthropologists, is whether one should
one is not and will never be. In the second case, be a disinterested researcher or an advocate
eldwork was a glimpse into her possible future, for the people one studies and whether it is
as she knew that someday she would be a possible to be both. Delmos Jones, an African
little old Jewish lady. Her work was a personal American anthropologist in the United States,
way to understand that condition. Because in experienced some of these conicts in study-
North American culture the lives of the elderly ing the role of voluntary organizations in
poor are often invisible, Myerhoff s ethnogra- effecting political and social change in African
phy of elderly Jewish people who had struggled American urban communities (1995). An im-
to overcome and had triumphed in many small portant nding of his research emphasized the
ways over the disabilities of being old and poor contradictory demands on organizational lead-
in North America was, for her, a valuable and ers, who often had to compromise their mem-
rare experience: that of being able to rehearse bers expectations in order to remain effective
and contemplate her own future. with local power establishments. Leaders some-
In other cultures, both similar and different times emphasized the importance of these
problems arise for cultural insiders. Although connections with powerful outsiders to stifle
Middle Eastern ethnography has substantially dissent within their organizations staff and
improved through the work of native women membership.
anthropologists, their eldwork accounts sug- Joness finding on dissension between the
gest that the ethnographers insider/outsider leadership and the membership of these orga-
position still poses special difculties in cultures nizations presented him with a dilemma, one
where womens public activities are limited and that rested partly on his being a native anthro-
where respectability, honor, and shame are cen- pologist. On the one hand, Jones acknowledged
tral cultural values (Altorki and Fawzi El-Solh that he was given access to the leadership of the
30 CHAPTER TWO

particularly when the group being studied has


been oppressed by the larger society. Indeed, he
noted that the very concept of a native an-
thropologist is itself problematic. As he and
other native anthropologists have pointed out,
an individual has many identities, which in-
clude those of race and culture but also of gen-
der and social class. Being a native in one
identity does not make one a native in all ones
identities (Narayan 1993; Cerroni Long 1995).
Furthermore, for all anthropologists who share
Delmos Joness view that the most important
goal of research and ethnography is to demon-
strate the ways in which social systems may
exploit, alienate, and repress human possibili-
Soo Choi (center) is an anthropologist from Korea who studied in the ties, both cultural insiders and cultural outsiders
United States and returned to do eldwork in a Korean peasant village. face similar dilemmas.
As an insider, Choi had the advantage of knowing the language and As exotic cultures disappear, it becomes
culture of his eldsite. But as an outsider, he also had the advantage of much more difficult for Western anthropolo-
social distance that allowed him to gain a fuller understanding of gists to limit themselves to studying others,
both the ideals and realities of village culture. . and many more anthropological studies are
being carried out in North America and
Europe by natives of those cultures. But
whether it is Western or non-Western anthro-
community organizations because he was pologists studying their own societies, the
African American and also because he shared dimensions of native anthropology will become
their concern about improving the position of increasingly important as subjects for reection.
African Americans in the United States. On the On this subject, M. N. Srinivas, a distinguished
other hand, many of the members and staff of anthropologist from India who has studied his
the organization were more suspicious of Jones own society, coined the term thrice born for what
because they identified him with the leaders he called the ideal anthropological journey. First,
(who had given permission for the study) to- we are born into our original, particular culture.
ward whom they were antagonistic. Nor was Then, our second birth is to move away from
his finding of dissension between the groups this familiar place to a far place to do our eld-
leadership and their membership palatable to work. In this experience we are eventually able
the leadership. Jones asked himself whether he to understand the rules and meanings of other
should omit reporting on the socially destruc- cultures, and the exotic becomes familiar. In
tive aspect of the organizations tension be- our third birth, we again turn toward our na-
tween its leadership and its members in the tive land and nd that the familiar has become
interest of racial unity or whether he should exotic. We see it with new eyes. Despite our
describe how racial unity could be used as a deep emotional attachment to its ways, we are
slogan by the leadership to silence dissent able to see it also with scientific objectivity
among the organization members. (quoted in Myerhoff 1978).
Reflecting on his research experience, Srinivass ideal anthropological experience is
Delmos Jones concluded that although being becoming more real for many anthropologists
a cultural insider offers certain advantages today. It is also an experience completely con-
for an anthropologist, such as access to the sistent with one of anthropologys original
community, it also poses special dilemmas, goals: that of eventually examining our own
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 31

cultures in the same objective way that we have carry on eldwork in a manner that appropri-
examined other cultures, and of bringing what ately involves working in collaboration with
we learn back home. their informants but also doing ethnography
in a way that most accurately represents both
ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS the culture and the collaborative dialogues
IN FIELDWORK through which cultural description emerges.
Ethical considerations come up in every eld-
work experience and anthropologists are always ETHNOGRAPHY
required to reflect on the possible effects of AND THE DILEMMAS OF
their research on those they study.Three main DANGEROUS SITUATIONS
ethical principles that must guide the field- Increasingly, anthropological studies are con-
worker are acquiring the informed consent of ducted in locations where conflicts between
the people to be studied, protecting them from ethics and national law are common.These may
risk, and respecting their privacy and dignity. also involve situations physically dangerous to
The current concern with ethics in participant- anthropologists or their informants.These situ-
observation is an important, often agonizing ations call for greater reection and perhaps ad-
matter, much more so than in the past, and sur- ditional training.
rounded by both professional codes and federal Anthropologist Jeffrey Sluka studied the pop-
regulations (Murphy and Johannsen 1990). ular support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Some serious transgressions of ethical conduct, and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
such as the past participation of anthropologists in a Catholic-nationalist ghetto in Belfast, the
in counterinsurgency work, have caused con- scene of a violent and long-standing conflict
cern within the profession. Fieldwork is based between Irish nationalists and the British gov-
on trust, and as anthropologists involve them- ernment (1990). In such tense, ongoing conict
selves in a continually expanding range of re- situations in which emotions run high, no
search situations, ethical dilemmas will increase. neutrals are allowed, and in any case, as Sluka
In trying to address these issues, the American points out, people will define the side they
Anthropological Association adopted a state- think the anthropologist is on and act accord-
ment of ethics in 1983, which holds that the ingly. At the same time, he found that it is not
anthropologists paramount responsibility is to necessary to become an active partisan. One
those being studied; anthropologists must do can indicate ones feelings through sympath-
everything within their power to protect the izing with grievances and problems; walking
physical, social, and psychological welfare of the softly around issues that involve illegal activi-
people and to honor their dignity and privacy. ties, such as the location of guns and explo-
This includes the obligation to allow infor- sives and the identication of guerrillas; being
mants to remain anonymous when they wish honest about research interests; maintaining a
to do so and not to exploit them for personal heightened awareness about dangerous situa-
gain. It also includes the responsibility to com- tions; and being exible enough to redirect the
municate the results of the research to the in- research in the face of imminent danger.These
dividuals and groups likely to be affected, as are useful techniques for building rapport and
well as to the general public (AAA 1983). avoiding danger in the eld.
Anthropologists obligations to the public in- Slukas suggestions for minimizing danger by
clude a positive responsibility to speak out, both using foresight, planning, skillful maneuvering,
individually and collectively, in order to con- and a conscious effort at impression manage-
tribute to an adequate definition of reality ment, becoming well acquainted with people
that may become the basis of public opinion, in the community, meeting well-respected
public policy, or a resource in the politics of people who will vouch for the researcher,
culture. Thus, anthropologists must not only and avoiding contacts with the police are also
32 CHAPTER TWO

relevant for anthropologists working in the already quite sophisticated about ethnography.
substance abuse eld in the inner cities of the On her third day there, one of the Toraja told
United States (Williams et al. 1992). Ethnogra- her, As an anthropologist, you should write a
phers studying the use and sale of crack co- book about the real Toraja identity and history,
caine, for example, are exposed to the irrational both the good and the bad . . . [the] authentic
and often violent behavior of crack users, the and the true . . . the Toraja without make-up
routine violence used by drug dealers, the pro- (Adams 1995).
liferation of guns and random shootings, and Toraja society was traditionally based on a
the possibility of being robbed or mugged. ranking of aristocrats, commoners, and slaves. In
However, there has been little violence in these the last several decades, however, for a variety
ethnographic settings against anthropologists of reasons, including wage labor outside the re-
who follow the rules Sluka suggests. gion and the income from tourism, lower-
Because ethnographic situations of these status people had begun to achieve some wealth.
kinds involve people breaking the law, who As the aristocrats became more insecure about
have every reason to hide their identities, the relevance of their own royal genealogies, an-
locales, and activities, ethnographers in these thropological accounts became an important re-
special situations need to be meticulous about source, shoring up their claims to noble status,
following the rules of professional conduct and and elite Toraja competed for anthropological
ethics, that guide (or should guide) all eld re- attention. Indeed, Adams became a featured
search and ethnography. event on tourist itineraries in the region and
tour guides led their groups to the home of her
host, not only validating his importance in the
NEW ROLES FOR THE village but also bolstering the tourists experi-
ETHNOGRAPHER ence of theToraja as a group sufciently remote
Another important issue affecting fieldwork to be studied by anthropologists.
and ethnography is that, contrary to the situa- The manipulation of anthropologists by the
tion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth local politics of culture is another of the
centuries, anthropology today is well under- changed conditions of ethnography that rein-
stood in many of the societies which anthro- forces our recognition that the concept of a
pologists study. People from those societies are bounded, isolated tribal or village culture is no
attending universities in greater numbers, and longer a viable basis for ethnography.Whether
some have become anthropologists themselves. working in cities, villages, or with tribal groups,
In some cases, members of the societies studied almost all ethnographies take into account the
resent anthropological representations of them- interaction of these local units with larger, even
selves, but in other cases ethnographic data are global social structures, economies, and cul-
viewed as useful to a society, serving as a basis tures. It may mean following informants from
for the revitalization of traditional cultural ele- villages to their workplaces in cities or collect-
ments and the creation of cultural identities that ing genealogies that spread over countries or
have been nearly effaced by Western impact even continents. This new conceptual frame-
(Feinberg 1994). work raises questions about how typical ones
In societies where different versions of a cul- unit of study is within a larger cultural pattern,
ture are competing for validation as authen- or even whether it is a culturally legitimate unit
tic in the construction of national identities, at all. In addition to expanding the research site,
both anthropological data and anthropologists contemporary ethnography more often uses
may be incorporated as important sources of techniques other than participant-observation,
cultural authority.When Kathleen Adams car- such as questionnaires, social surveys, archival
ried out her fieldwork among the Toraja of material, government documents, and court
Sulawesi, Indonesia, she found her informants records.
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 33

Five. However, these comparative approaches


CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISON still depend on intensive field studies of par-
AND THE USES OF ticular societies and are well within the den-
ETHNOGRAPHIC DATA ition of the ethnographic method.
The gathering of good ethnographic data
through participant-observation is the hallmark
of cultural anthropology and the foundation CROSS-CULTURAL SURVEY
on which anthropological theories are built. An entirely different kind of cross-cultural
Under the influence of anthropologists such comparative method is the cross-cultural
as Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas, the survey, or controlled cross-cultural com-
aim of anthropological eldwork was the de- parison. The goal of the cross-cultural sur-
scription of a total cultural pattern.Today, how- vey is to test generalizations about culture,
ever, many anthropologists go into the field using statistical correlations of culture traits
with the aim of focusing on specific theo- based on a wide survey of many different cul-
retical problems, much as Charles Brooks did tures.The data base for the cross-cultural sur-
in his study of the Hare Krishna in India. Some vey method is the Human Relations Area
of these field studies may be comparative, File (HRAF). The HRAF is an extensive fil-
studying the same cultural pattern or social ing system containing ethnographic data
institution in several cultures, as in the com- about hundreds of societies (past and present)
parative study of preschools in China, Japan, from the main ethnographically distinguished
and the United States described in Chapter areas of the world: Africa, Asia, native North

G l o b a l i z a t i o n

Ethnographic Data in the Global Economy


nal cultural borders violates important

I
n todays global economy, ethno- domain, and multinational corporations
graphic data have a new commercial or governments may use the data with no religious values.
value. Huge multinational pharma- legal obligation to get permission from The increasing concerns of indigenous
ceutical companies, for example, contin- the societies who are the source of the people over the appropriation of their
ually search new natural habitats in hopes information or to remunerate the mem- cultural knowledge will undoubtedly af-
of finding new miracle drugs. These bers of those societies financially or in fect eldwork and ethnography, as these
searches sometimes include interviews any other way (Greaves 1995). peoples exercise greater control over
with native healers, who are most knowl- Concern over this issue is part of a what ethnographers can publish. Recog-
edgeable about medicinally effective larger issue of the cultural rights of nition of the cultural and intellectual
plants in their environments, but much of indigenous people to protect their property rights of indigenous peoples and
the multinationals research relies on dig- own cultural knowledge and cultural efforts to protect those rights are some
ging out information from ethnographic products. In many cases these areas of of the adaptations ethnography must
publications. knowledge and products are associated make in a changing world character-
Once ethnographic and ethnobotanical with secret societies and practices and ized by a global economy and global
data are published, they are in the public their dissemination beyond their origi- communication.
34 CHAPTER TWO

and South America, and Oceania. Based on indifferent to family stability and that societies
ethnographic information about these soci- with lower divorce rates usually have social
eties from books and articles, hundreds of cul- devices, such as marriage payments, arranged
tural features are cross-indexed in the HRAF. marriages by parents, and prohibitions against
Thus it makes accessible information about adultery, to support marital stability.
specific cultural patterns in a particular soci- Most often, the cross-cultural survey is used
ety, and it also facilitates inquiry about cul- to test hypotheses about cultural correlations
tural patterns that are found in association and causes. For example, anthropologist Donald
with each other. Horton used this method to test his theory that
Thousands of different kinds of questions can the primary function of drinking alcohol is to
be answered by the cross-cultural survey reduce anxiety (Horton 1943). One of the
method (Ember and Ember 1996). For many hypotheses he tested as part of his larger
example, in the 1950s, when divorce was theory was that drinking alcohol would be re-
becoming more common in the United States lated to the level of anxiety in a society and that
and the increasing divorce rate was causing a major source of anxiety would be economic
some alarm, anthropologist George Murdock, insecurity.
one of the important pioneers in this method- To test this hypothesis, Horton first classi-
ology, used the HRAF to determine how mar- ed societies in the HRAF for which there was
riage instability in the United States compared information on drinking behavior into those
with that of other cultures ([1950] 1996). having high, moderate, or low subsistence in-
Using a random sample of eight societies security. He then classified the same societies
from the five major ethnographic divisions into those having high, low, or moderate rates
of the world, Murdock ascertained that of insobriety. Horton found a significant sta-
thirty-nine of the forty societies in his sam- tistical correlation between high subsistence
ple made provision for the termination of insecurity and high rates of insobriety. With
marriage through divorce. When Murdock significant statistical correlations found for
surveyed his sample for the frequency of many of the other hypotheses that were gen-
divorce, he found that while fifteen societies erated from his theory, Horton considered his
had more stable marriages than the United theory conrmed.
States, twenty-four societies (60% of the sam- There are both advantages and disadvantages
ple) had less stable marriages. He also in- to the cross-cultural survey. A major advan-
vestigated the grounds for divorce and found tage of the method is that it encourages for-
that the great majority of societies recognized mulating hypotheses, which can then be tested
only certain grounds as adequate and few by finding statistically significant correlations
societies condoned divorce for a mere between two or more cultural traits. However,
whim. The most common bases for divorce a problem that arises is whether the correla-
were incompatibility, adultery, barrenness or tions found have explanatory power, that is,
sterility, impotence or frigidity, economic whether they indicate causality. For example,
incapacity or nonsupport, cruelty, and quar- although Hortons study found a statistically
relsomeness. signicant correlation between economic in-
Murdock concluded from his cross-cultural security and high rates of insobriety, his nd-
survey that the American divorce rate was ings cannot conrm that subsistence insecurity
well within the limits that human experience causes high rates of insobriety. To confirm
has shown that societies can tolerate with causality one needs to test the association of
safety. He also concluded that most societies, many different features and to disprove alter-
even those with high divorce rates, are not native hypotheses.
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 35

Another problem with the cross-cultural sur-


vey is that there is often ambiguity about what
constitutes a particular cultural trait and how
to measure it. Because the cross-cultural sur-
vey method uses cultural traits taken out of
context, it is not always clear that a trait has the
same meaning in the different societies in
which it is found. Insobriety, for example,
would be constructed differently in different
cultures, and its measurement may be some-
what arbitrary. Still another problem is that for
many societies, information on the particular
cultural trait the investigator wants to measure
may be missing from the ethnographic source.
Because most of the ethnographic data in the
HRAF were collected without HRAF cate-
gories in mind, not all societies have data on
all of the same cultural patterns. Anthropol-
ogists using the cross-cultural method have
tried in different ways to overcome these prob-
lems, and many continue to nd the method
of substantial advantage. Ethnographic data on drinking behavior can be useful in cross-cultural com-
Carol and Melvin Ember, anthropologists parisons. These comparisons require caution, however, to make sure that the
prominently associated with the cross-cultural behavior being studied has the same meaning in the compared cultures. The
survey method, note that an important func- ritual of drinking kava which occurs in many Pacic Islands, as illustrated
tion of the cross-cultural survey is that it pre- here, is quite different than drinking for social reasons in a neighborhood
vents generalizing about human nature or bar in the United States.
making assumptions about cultural correlations
based on only a few cultures (Ember and
Ember 1996).They note that the thousands of
such cross-cultural surveys carried out have
produced conclusions that support common- cultural perspective, providing new insights into
sense expectations and also hold some surprises. possible solutions.
On the question of violence, for example, cross- Undoubtedly, as more anthropologists learn
cultural comparative studies conrm that soci- to use the HRAF through the annual Summer
eties that have a lot of violence in one aspect Institutes in Comparative Anthropological
of culture tend to have a lot of violence Research, sponsored by the Human Relations
throughout the culture. Societies that more Area Files and the National Science Founda-
often engage in warfare, for example, also tend tion, cross-cultural comparisons will become an
to have a high degree of other forms of vio- increasingly important part of anthropologists
lence, such as homicide, assault, wife beating, work.The use of cross-cultural surveys and the
capital punishment, and male socialization prac- HRAF data base emphasizes the need for good
tices that permit or encourage aggression. Such ethnography. The use of both methods con-
studies, like George Murdocks study on rms anthropologys status as the most human-
divorce noted earlier, are also important in istic of the sciences and the most scientic of
putting contemporary social problems in cross- the humanities.
36 CHAPTER TWO

greater activism by anthropologists, working with


SUMMARY indigenous peoples, to nd ways to protect cul-
1. The main method of cultural anthropology is tural knowledge and products.
ethnography, or the intensive, rst-hand study of
a particular society through eldwork.The major
technique in eldwork is participant-observation.
An ethnography is the written account of a cul- KEY TERMS
ture based on eldwork. androcentric bias
2. Charles Brookss field experience in India illus- controlled cross-cultural comparison
trates the steps in doing fieldwork: choosing a cross-cultural survey
research problem, picking a research site, nding empirical science
key informants, collecting and recording data, and ethnographic method
analyzing and interpreting the data. ethnography
3. An essential ability in eldwork is to see another ethnology
culture from the point of view of members of that eldwork
culture. Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas genealogy
were two twentieth-century anthropologists Human Relations Area File (HRAF)
whose meticulous eldwork set a standard for the informant
profession. key informant
4. With the postmodern emphasis on multiple voices native anthropologist
in ethnography, anthropological accounts of participant-observation
other cultures increasingly describe the field- positivism
work experience and raise questions about postmodernism
how anthropologists status and culture inuence random sample
their perceptions and representations of other
cultures.
5. Doing fieldwork in the anthropologists own
culture presents similar and different problems SUGGESTED READINGS
from doing eldwork in another culture.Although Agar, Michael. 1996. The Professional Stranger: An
native anthropologists may have advantages of Informal Introduction to Ethnography. Second edition.
access and rapport in some cases, they also experi- New York: Academic Press. Agars informal and
ence special burdens more intensely, such as often humorous style makes this a good source
whether to expose aspects of the culture that may of the whys and hows of ethnography for the in-
be unfavorably received by outsiders. troductory student.
6. Anthropological ethics require protecting the dig- Allen, Catherine. 1989. The Hold Life Has: Coco and
nity, privacy, and anonymity of the people one Cultural Identity in an Andean Community.
studies and not putting them at risk in any way. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. A sen-
This may require extra caution when the research sitive and beautifully written account of anthro-
setting is a site of ongoing violent conict. pological fieldwork in a Latin American
7. In addition to ethnography, anthropologists agricultural community.
may also use the rich ethnographic data of the Altorki, Soraya, and Camillia Fawzi El-Solh, eds. 1988.
HRAF in cross-cultural surveys in order to test Arab Women in the Field: Studying Your Own Society.
hypotheses about human behavior and cultural Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. Six
processes. women anthropologists, each of whom is socially
8. In the global economy and with the global reach part Westerner and part Arab, write about the per-
of information, ethnographic data, particularly sonal, ethical, practical, and intellectual problems
from indigenous cultures, is increasingly being of doing eldwork as an Arab woman in a range
used for commercial purposes. This has led to of Middle Eastern societies.
DOING CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 37

Bernard, Russell H., and Jesus Salinas Pedraza. well as some of the pitfalls of planned change
1995. Native Ethnography:A Mexican Indian Describes among the police in England.
His Culture. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press
(Sage).An innovative ethnography based on native
researcher collaboration in which Salinass ethnog- INTERNET EXERCISES
raphy of his own people, written in his own lan- Do you want to get a feeling for
guage, was guided, translated, and annotated by the what doing a eldwork-based pro-
American anthropologist. ject in anthropology is like? Check
DeVita, Philip R., ed. 1991. The Naked Anthropologist: out anthropologist Laura Zimmer
Tales from Around the World. Belmont, Calif.: Tamakoshis Web site http://www.truman.edu/
Wadsworth. An anthology of original and often academics/ss/faculty/tamakoshil/index.html.
amusing articles by anthropologists who have been Professor Tamakoshis site covers information on
taught some important lessons by their informants planning her eldwork, her experiences in
in the process of doing eldwork. Papua New Guinea, and her experiences after
Gottlieb,Alma, and Philip Graham. 1993. Parallel Worlds: she returned.The site is well constructed and
An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa. New full of great color photographs of New Guinea.
York: Crown.A compelling ethnography with al- Dr.Tamakoshi provides good personal discus-
ternating chapters by anthropologist Gottlieb and sions of establishing rapport, culture shock, and
her ction writer husband, which emerged from writing eld notes. She also includes many
anthropological fieldwork among the Beng of quotations from other anthropologists.
West Africa. Another good place to begin to get an idea of
Narayan, Kirin. 1989. Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: what cultural anthropologists do is at the Center
Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching. for Social Anthropology and Computing of the
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. A University of Kent at Canterbury. You can nd
delightful book whose rich portraits of the an- their home page at http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk. There
thropologist and the swami who is her key infor- you will nd a variety of resources for learning
mant become the vehicles for learning about one anthropology.These include the texts of numer-
important kind of religious experience in India. ous ethnographies, stories about anthropologists,
Young, Malcolm. 1993. In the Sticks: Cultural Identity in and brief pictorial exhibits that are informative
a Rural Police Force. Oxford, England: Clarendon and fun to look at. One particularly useful part
Press. A fascinating ethnography by an anthro- of the site is the database of basic information on
pologist who spent over 30 years on the English many different cultures.You can access this at
police force, which describes his culture shock as http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/societies.html.