This website uses cookies to ensure you have the best experience. Learn more

Cultural Anthropology And Ethnographic Fieldwork Essay

1791 words - 7 pages

Cultural Anthropology and Ethnographic Fieldwork

James P. Spradley (1979) described the insider approach to understanding culture as "a quiet revolution" among the social sciences (p. iii). Cultural anthropologists, however, have long emphasized the importance of the ethnographic method, an approach to understanding a different culture through participation, observation, the use of key informants, and interviews. Cultural anthropologists have employed the ethnographic method in an attempt to surmount several formidable cultural questions: How can one understand another's culture? How can culture be qualitatively and quantitatively assessed? What aspects of a culture make it unique and which connect it to other cultures? If ethnographies can provide answers to these difficult questions, then Spradley has correctly identified this method as revolutionary.

Cultures are infinitely complex. Culture, as Spradley (1979) defines it, is "the acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experiences and generate social behavior" (p. 5). Spradley's emphasizes that culture involves the use of knowledge. While some aspects of culture can be neatly arranged into categories and quantified with numbers and statistics, much of culture is encoded in schema, or ways of thinking (Levinson & Ember, 1996, p. 418). In order to accurately understand a culture, one must apply the correct schema and make inferences which parallel those made my natives. Spradley suggests that culture is not merely a cognitive map of beliefs and behaviors that can be objectively charted; rather, it is a set of map-making skills through which cultural behaviors, customs, language, and artifacts must be plotted (p. 7). This definition of culture offers insight into the need for the insider perspective which ethnographies provide.

Foundational to the modern discipline of cultural anthropology is the assumption that, in order to accurately understand a culture, one must interpret it as a native does-as an insider. This interpretation must make meaning from the culture in the same way that natives draw meaning. According to Spradley (1979), the structural components of cultural meaning come from what people say, what they do, and what artifacts they use (p. 9). In anthropological field work, he or she attempts to observe and document these cultural aspects. In addition, and more importantly, the anthropologist must then, as accurately as possible, make inferences which parallel those of the natives.

The grandiose task of wearing another's cultural skin understandably comes with a host of opinions on how such a job can be accomplished. Anthropologists have long argued about the accuracy of ethnographies (Levinson & Ember, 1996, pp. 419-21). Much of the discussion stems from the assumption that some cultural aspects are ineffable and subconscious. Can an anthropologist approach his subject, as Spradley argues, "with a conscious attitude of almost complete ignorance"? Is it...

Find Another Essay On Cultural Anthropology and Ethnographic Fieldwork

Kula, Malinowski, and Bendict Essay

1141 words - 5 pages Benedict have had an important impact on the field of anthropology. Malinowski established the standard for effective ethnographic fieldwork as well as contributing important and inspirational theoretical concepts as a result of his work in the Trobriand Islands. He specifically focused on how cultural systems functioned to meet basic human psychological and biological needs. Consequently, he became known for being skilled at weaving his

A Reflection on Ethnographies Essay

1447 words - 6 pages how it is a long process when conducting fieldwork. “Participant observation” is another key concept described in both Henry’s ethnography, as well as Hedican’s ethnography. My personal understanding is that participant observation means living in a culture that is not your own while also keeping a detailed record of your observations and interviews. Also, it is described as a research method to gain a close relationship with a given cultural


937 words - 4 pages usually be ascribed to diffusion from one site of original invention. The German-American Franz Boas worked in this vein and, in numerous studies, insisted upon the primary of culture over inherent qualities of race, as well as on the most careful of ethnographic fieldwork. Hallmarks of this legacy may be found today in the work of almost any American anthropologist. Boas saw each element of a culture, physical or mental, as part of a cultural

The Unique Contribution of Anthropology

865 words - 4 pages Anthropology as a discipline is grossly misunderstood by those who have never taken an anthropology course or picked up an ethnographic account. Preconceived assumptions range greatly, with some viewing anthropologists as Indiana Jones-like heroes with extensive knowledge of ancient civilizations and languages. Others may visualize a group of old, white, prejudiced men who condescendingly analyze peoples they've never met, and are considerably


1497 words - 6 pages organization and culture. Additionally, this tradition is considered as correspondence with other labels such as, fieldwork, interpretive method, qualitative inquiry and case study. The ethnography is an invention in cultural anthropology, with its focus on small-scale societies and the original central concept remains paramount today; that is a concern with the nature, construction and maintenance of culture (Goulding, 2005). Furthermore

A comparison of Behar’s The Vulnerable Observer and Tsing’s In the Realm of the Diamond Queen

1350 words - 5 pages broken in order to fulfill the need to the overarching state. Also, throughout this ethnographic piece it is evident that there is some divide in the way men and women are treated. This relates to Mascia-Lee’s piece on Gender and Anthropology as it examines the borders that (usually, women) are faced with throughout the field of anthropology. On page 20 of this article, it discusses the implications that borders and limitations impose on the

The Pros and Cons of Ethnographic Reflexivity

843 words - 3 pages knowledge is intrinsically incomplete and relative” (84). Thus she suggest, that the best path to studying cultures is to acknowledge our bias, assumptions and that of our informants to trace the “parameters, the limits and possibilities of our located understandings” (86). In Renato Rosaldo’s Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage. he finds that an anthropologist who is disciplined in field (cultural anthropology) even for years will not fully understand

Franz Boas Discuss the Contribution of Anthropology

1741 words - 7 pages is shaped exclusively by the environment, recognizing the importance of language as a determinant as well. Language indeed, is more than simply a mean to make yourself understood, but it is part of the essence of the culture, as a vehicle to transmit cultural identities (Stocking, 1974). Anthropology was beginning to take form and develop when Boas entered the picture. It offered him an opportunity to get some ideas of the dynamics of culture

Sex in Anthropology

962 words - 4 pages , missionaries, explorers, ect. as informants for their ethnographic presents. All of the latter professions were practiced by men only, as were the roles of anthropologists when fieldwork was introduced. This was in turn reflected through the way that societies were depicted and influenced.The Trobriand Islanders are a society in Papaua New Giuenia. They are composed of about, twelve thousand people in sixty villages. The Trobrianders have been penetrated by

Ethnographic Writing and Relationships with Research Subjects

1361 words - 5 pages Anthropologists conduct research in order to answer specific questions about a particular group of people and their culture. Most anthropologists use fieldwork to collect their data, which is then interpreted within their ethnographic writing. When collecting their data, anthropologists use many different approaches such as developing relationships with their informants, but do not illustrate these relationships in their actual writing


1015 words - 4 pages anthropology to study about the past and how understand more about the culture of ethnic groups. Both of these fields emphasizes on the significantly useful for an anthropologist. According to the book ethnography is "a detailed description of a particular culture primarily based on fieldwork, which is the term all anthology use for on-location research." Ethnography study includes describing and analyzing details of cultures. In other words, these type

Similar Essays

Examining Evolution From The Perspective Of Biological And Cultural Anthropology

988 words - 4 pages are four sub-fields: Biological, Cultural, Linguistic, and Archaeological. Each of these sub-fields can be beneficial to study the theory of evolution, and all of the sub-fields are important in their own respect. However, the biological and cultural fields are, perhaps, more significant than the others regarding evolution. Evolution can be defined differently within each sub-field of anthropology. However, biological anthropology is defined as

Anthropology: Examining The Physical And Cultural Characteristics Of Humankind

516 words - 2 pages Anthropology: Examining the Physical and Cultural Characteristics of Humankind This course has provided interesting field studies of cultures that are drastically different than what I would consider “everyday life.” Anthropology examines not only who we are as a people, but also, importantly, who we were as a people. The studies of past cultures is a good place to start to answer questions about societies and cultures today, and to

Understand The Meaning Of Anthropology, European Colonialism, Ethnocentrism And Cultural Relativism

710 words - 3 pages According to Keesing et al, Anthropology is described as the study of human beings relating to their physical and cultural behaviours. This is the term used to illustrate the time when European Anthropologists went out of Europe to the colonies in order to observe and describe the particularity of non European countries, attending to their traditional culture forms or their subjection to modern social change. For example, John Owen who was born

What Anthropology Is To You And How This Course Has Affected How You See The World... Include Concepts Such As Ethnocentrism, Cultural Relativity, Race, Tolerance, Globalization

992 words - 4 pages Untitled Niya Doncheva Eric C. Paison Final Exam Anthropology 2 What Have I Learned I have learned many new theories I have never known before, there are a great many objectives and thoughts that I had never even knew existed before. Learning about the history of anthropology has opened my mind of thinking in all these different schools of thoughts. One thing that has shocked me is that I have learned the early evolutionists