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Cultural Anthropology

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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ­ SOC401
VU
Lesson 05
METHODS IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY
Fieldwork
A distinctive feature of Cultural Anthropology is its reliance on experiential fieldwork as a primary way of
conducting research.
Cultural Anthropologists collect cultural data and test their hypothesis by carrying out fieldwork in different
parts of the world. The areas where this fieldwork is conducted can include both urban and rural areas in
highly industrialized rich countries or poor developing nations of the world. Detailed anthropological
studies have been undertaken to study the way in which people belonging to different cultures and sub-
cultures think and behave.
Comments on Fieldwork
Since the credibility of ethnographic studies rests on their methods of research (often termed the
methodology), so cultural anthropologists have begun focusing on how to conduct fieldwork.
While every fieldwork situation is unique, there are a number of issues in common, like the need to prepare
for fieldwork or to obtain permission from the country's government where this research is to be
conducted. Even if a researcher is doing research within his/her own country, often permission from the
concerned level of the local government is required, particularly if thee research is considering how
government structures/institutions (like schools or health clinics for example) effect the lives and behavior
of a particular group of people.
Stages of Fieldwork
1.
Selecting a research problem
2.
Formulating a research design
3.
Collecting the data
4.
Analyzing the data
5.
Interpreting the data
6.
Selecting a Research Problem
Cultural Anthropologists have moved away from general ethnographies to research that is focused, specific
and problem oriented
The problem oriented approach involves formulation of a hypothesis which is then tested in a fieldwork
setting
Formulating a Research Design
The independent variable is capable of effecting change in the dependent variable. The dependent variable is the
one that we wish to explain, whereas the independent variable is the hypothesized explanation. If we want
to look at the effect of urbanization on family interactions, the independent variable will be urbanization.
Defining Dependent Variables
Dependent variables must be defined specifically so they can be measured quantitatively.
To ascertain family interaction, the following issues deserve attention:
Residence Patterns
Visitation Patterns
Mutual Assistance
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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ­ SOC401
VU
Formal Family Gatherings
Collecting and Analyzing Data
Once the hypothesis is made concrete, the data is collected through an appropriate data collection
technique. Once collected, the data is coded to facilitate analysis. For example, if a questionnaire is being
used to get views of 100 people in a given community, all those people who say yes to a given question
could be identified using a code to obtain a statistical number. Then, a similar questionnaire in another
community could identify people responding positively to the same question. In this way, a researcher could
compare how many people in both communities responded positively to the same question. In addition to
surveys, other research techniques can also be coded (even ethnographies can be coded) to enable
comparison of peoples' attitudes and behavior in different communities.
Interpreting the Data
Interpretation is the most difficult step in research, which involves explaining the findings to refute or
accept the hypothesis. A researcher could hypothesize that there is a link between urbanization and
increasing poverty and then go into a community to see if increasing poverty is responsible for more people
shifting into the city, based on these findings the hypothesis could either be rejected or accepted.
Findings of a particular study can be compared to similar studies in other areas to get more extensive
information about a particular problem or how different communities with different cultures deal with
similar problems. The problem of poverty and how different people react to this problem is a good example
of a research problem that can be examined by different researchers and their findings compared to see how
different cultures respond when they are faced by poverty.
Need for Flexibility
A technique originally mentioned in the research proposal can prove to be impractical in the field. Cultural
anthropologists need some options and remain flexible in choosing an appropriate technique given
surrounding circumstances.
Difficulties in Fieldwork
Research in remote locations, carries risks such as exposure to diseases or different forms of social violence
Researchers can encounter psychological disorientation, commonly termed `culture shock', when they have to
live and deal with circumstances completely alien to their own surrounds.
Researchers must also try to find a balance between subjectivity and objectivity, if they want to assure the
quality of their research and to prevent its criticism on the basis of being biased by the researcher's own
viewpoints. Many anthropological studies have been criticized for being biased or ethnocentric in their
attempt to look at how other people live.
Useful Terms
Ethnography: detailed anthropological study of a culture undertaken by a researcher
Ethnocentric: the view that one's own cultural is superior
Data: collection of facts
Biased: prejudiced, holding an unfair view
Culture shock: psychological disorientation brought on due to cultural difference
Suggested Readings
Students are advised to read the following chapters to develop a better understanding of the various
principals highlighted in this hand-out:
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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ­ SOC401
VU
Chapter 5 in `Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective' by Ferrarro and/or Chapter 14 and 28 in `Anthropology'
by Ember and Pergrine
Internet Resources
In addition to reading from the textbook, please visit the following website for this lecture:
Cultural Anthropology: Methods
http://www.qvctc.commnet.edu/brian/methods.html
Use the hyperlinks on the above website to read up on the following Methods of Research in Cultural
Anthropology for today's lecture:
Participant observation
Survey research
Interviews
(Document Analysis)
Archival research
Media analysis
Historical analysis
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Table of Contents:
  1. WHAT IS ANTHROPOLOGY?:Cultural Anthropology, Internet Resources
  2. THE CONCEPT OF CULTURE AND THE APPLICATION OF CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY
  3. MAJOR THEORIES IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY:Diffusionism
  4. GROWTH OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY (continued):Post Modernism
  5. METHODS IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY:Comments on Fieldwork
  6. METHODS IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY (continued):Census Taking
  7. COMPARATIVE STUDY OF PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION AND CONSUMPTION IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD
  8. ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY (continued):THE DISTRIBUTION OF GOODS AND SERVICES
  9. FOCUSING ON LANGUAGE:Languages of the World, Structure of Language
  10. FOCUS ON LANGUAGE (continued):Levels of Complexity, Cultural Emphasis
  11. OBTAINING FOOD IN DIFFERENT CULTURES:Optimal Foraging, Suggested Readings
  12. FOOD AND CULTURE (continued):Food Collectors, Food Production
  13. OBTAINING FOOD IN DIFFERENT CULTURE (continued):Pastoralism, Agriculture
  14. RELEVANCE OF KINSHIP AND DESCENT:Kinship Criteria, Rules of Descent
  15. KINSHIP AND DESCENT (continued):Tracing Descent, Primary Kinship Systems
  16. THE ROLE OF FAMILY AND MARRIAGE IN CULTURE:Economic Aspect of Marriage
  17. ROLE OF FAMILY AND MARRIAGE IN CULTURE (continued):Family Structures
  18. GENDER AND CULTURE:Gender Stratification, Suggested Readings
  19. GENDER ROLES IN CULTURE (continued):Women Employment, Feminization of Poverty
  20. STRATIFICATION AND CULTURE:Social Ranking, Dimensions of Inequality
  21. THEORIES OF STRATIFICATION (continued):The Functionalists, Conflict Theorists
  22. CULTURE AND CHANGE:Inventions, Diffusion, Donor, Conventional
  23. CULTURE AND CHANGE (continued):Cultural Interrelations, Reaction to Change
  24. CULTURE AND CHANGE (continued):Planned Change, Globalization
  25. POLITICAL ORGANIZATION:Bands, Tribal Organizations, Chiefdoms
  26. POLITICAL ORGANIZATION (continued):State Systems, Nation-States
  27. POLITICAL ORGANIZATION (continued):Social Norms, Informal Mechanisms
  28. PSYCHOLOGY AND CULTURE:Emotional Development, Psychological Universals
  29. PSYCHOLOGY AND CULTURE (continued):Origin of Customs, Personality Types
  30. IDEOLOGY AND CULTURE:Ideology in Everyday Life, Hegemony
  31. IDEOLOGY AND CULTURE (Continued):Political ideologies, Economic Ideology
  32. ASSOCIATIONS, CULTURES AND SOCIETIES:Variation in Associations, Age Sets
  33. ASSOCIATIONS, CULTURES AND SOCIETIES (continued):Formation of Associations
  34. RACE, ETHNICITY AND CULTURE:Similarity in Human Adaptations
  35. RACE, ETHNICITY AND CULTURE (continued):Inter-group Relations
  36. CULTURE AND BELIEFS:Social Function of Religion, Politics and Beliefs
  37. LOCAL OR INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE:Changing Definitions of Local Knowledge
  38. LOCAL OR INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE (continued):The Need for Caution
  39. ANTHROPOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT:Influence of Development Notions
  40. ANTHROPOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT (Continued):Contentions in Development
  41. ANTHROPOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT (Continued):Operational
  42. CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND ART:Relevance of Art, Art and Politics
  43. CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND ART (continued):Art as a Status Symbol
  44. ETHICS IN ANTHROPOLOGY:Ethical Condemnation, Orientalism
  45. RELEVANCE OF CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY:Ensuring Cultural Survival