spradely 1-6 - P A R T 0 N E 21" Culture and...

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Unformatted text preview: P A R T 0 N E 21-": Culture and Ethnography 2 of cultural anthropology. And sets anthropology apart from closely at these concepts. Culture, as its name suggests, lies at the heart the concept of culture, along with ethnography, other social and behavioral sciences. Let us look more To understand what anthropologists mean by culture, imagine yourself in etting, such as a market town in India, forgetting what you might country. You step off a bus onto a dusty street where fronted by strange sights, sounds, and smells. Men of a different style. Some women drape them- selves in long shawls that entirely cover their bodies. They peer at you through a small gap in this garment as they walk by. Buildings are one or two—story affairs, open at the front so you can see inside. Near you some people sit on wicker chairs eating strange foods. Most unusual is how people talk. They utter vocalizations unlike any you have ever heard, and you wonder how they can pos— sibly understand each other. But obviously they do, since their behavior seems organized and purposeful. Scenes such as this confronted early explorers, missionaries, and anthro- pologists, and from their observations an obvious point emerged. People living in various parts of the world looked and behaved in dramatically different ways. And these differences correlated with groups. The people of India had customs different from those of the Papuans; the British did not act and dress like the Iroquois. Two possible explanations for grou argued that group behavior was inherited. Dahomeans of the African Gold Coast, for example, were characterized as particularly "clever and adaptive” by one British colonial official, while, according to the same authority, another African group was "happy-go-lucky and improvident.” Usually implied in such statements was the idea that group members were born that way. Such think— ing persists to the present and in its most malignant extreme takes the form of racism. a foreign s already know about that you are immediately con dress in Western clothes, but p differences came to mind. Some But a second explanation also emerged. Perhaps, rather than a product of fa group was learned. The way people inheritance, the behavior characteristic 0 hese could more easily he‘explained dressed, what they ate, how they talkedwall t as acquisitions. Thus a baby born on the African Gold Coast would, if imme- diately transported to China and raised like other children there, grow up to dress, eat, and talk like a Chinese. Cultural anthropologists focus on the expla- nation of learned behavior. - The idea of learning, and a need to label the lifestyles associated with par— ticular groups, led to the definition of culture. In 1871, British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnet Tylor argued that “Culture . . . is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."1 The definition we present Primitive Culture (New York: Harper Torchboolts, Harper 8: Row, 1958: Murray, London, 187 i), p. i. iEdward Burnet Tylor, originally published by John s:=:1g—:_v«.~:-:.-..,.... A h. . .. rm M ‘ mismafé‘mfimtm “3:57,?53'38‘55959 here places it We will say 1;: generate balm Imports not behavior. from others- a they expefier system of be that moment ing that teat responses, hi how to laugh rules for whe As we 1 example, Arr live in our hc their loss cal dogs as pest: try where on often punctu by its maste: Clearly, it is the rnee cultural; it is There 2 is cultural k1 you learn th; ’ such as clot} to talk such : be explicit is have words i vations of p: words—bot} standing of Tacit c Die, as we gr egm‘ies sucl Sound categ 138m our sr Ul‘tconsciou; . to us when Anthrt . for examp], I I fences—in; .__1'1.ot his infg ‘opology. And gy apart from 1658 concepts. ne yourself in at you might y street where :l smells. Men 1 drape them— tl'. you through :- or two—story 2 people sit on alk. They utter N they can pos— nehavior seems es, and anthro— 1. People living different ways. ia had customs d dress like the to mind. Some e African Gold nd adaptive" by thority, another _ implied in such ray. Such think— sites the form of nan a product of , The way people sily be explained = ' would, if imme— 1ere, grow up to :us on the expla- ociated with par— h anthropologist )lex whole which other capabilities nition we present Harper 8.: Row, 1958; P A R T O N E Culture and Ethnography 3 here places more emphasis on the importance of knowledge than does Tyler's. We will say that culture is the teamed and shared knowledge that people use to generate behavior and interpret expeiieuce. Important to this definition is the idea that culture is a kind of knowledge, not behavior. It is in people’s heads. It reflects the mental categories they learn from others as they grow up. It helps them generate behavior and interpret what they experience. At the moment 0]? birth, we lack a culture. We don’t yet have a system of beliefs, knowledge, and patterns of customary behavior. But from that moment until we die, each of us participates in a kind of universal school— ing that teaches us our native culture. Laughing and smiling are genetic responses, but as infants we soon learn when to smile, when to laugh, and even how to laugh. We also inherit the potential to cry, but we must learn our cultural rules for when crying is appropriate. As we learn our culture, we acquire a way to interpret experience. For example, Americans learn that dogs are like little peOple in furry suits. Dogs- live in our houses, eat our food, share our beds. They hold a place in our hearts; their loss cauSes us to grieve. Villagers in India, on the other hand, often view dogs as pests that are useful only For hunting (in those few parts of the coun- try where one still can hunt) and as watchdogs. Quiet days in Indian villages are often punctuated by the yelp of a dog that has been threatened or actually hurt by its master or a bystander. Clearly, it is not the dogs that are different in these two societies. Rather, it is the meaning that dogs have for people that varies. And such meaning is cultural; it is learned as part of growing up in each group. 3; There are two basic kinds of culture, explicit and tacit. Explicit culture is cultural knowledge that people'can talk about. As you grow up, for example, you learn that there are words for many things you encounter: There are items such as clothes, actions such as playing, emotional states such as sadness, ways to talk such as yelling, and people such as mother Recognizing that culture may be explicit is important to the ethnographic process discussed below. If people have words for cultural categories, anthropologists can use interviews or obser- vations of people talking to uncover them. Because so much culture is explicit, words—both spoken and writtenmbecome essential to the discovery and under- standing ol a culture. Tacit culture is cultural knowledge that people lack words for. For exam- ple, as we grow up we learn to recognize and use a limited number of sound cat-u egories such as ldl, lel, and Ill. Although anthropological linguists have given sound categories a name (phonemes), nonlinguists lack such a term. Instead, we learn our sound categories by hearing and replicating them and we use them unconsciously. No parent said, "Now let’s work on our phonemes tonight, clear," to us when we were little. '- Anthropologist Edward Hall pioneered the study of tacit culture. HE HOtEd- for example, that middle-class North Americans observe four speaking dis— noisimhmate, personal, social, and public—wwithout naming them- (Hall' 0t. is informants, Invented the terms above.) Hall 3150 HOEiCEd that peoP 16 4 P A R T O N E {ii Culture and Ethnography from other societies observed different tacit speaking distances, so that a Latin American’s closer (than North American) personal speaking distance made North Americans uncomfortable because it seemed intimate. Because it is unspoken, tacit culture can be discovered only through behavioral observation. Ethnography is the process of discovering and describing a particular culture. It involves anthropologists in an intimate and personal activity as they attempt to learn how the members of a particular group see their worlds. But which groups qualify as culture-bearing units? How does the anthro— pologist identify the existence of a culture to study? This was not a difficult question when anthropology was a new science. As Tylor's definition notes, cul- ture was the whole way of life of a people. To find it, one sought out distinctive ethnic units, such as Bhil tribals in India or Apaches in the American Southwest. Anything one learned from such people would be part of their culture. But discrete cultures of this sort are becoming more difficult to find. The world is increasingly divided into large national societies, each subdivided into a myriad of subgroups. Anthropologists are finding it increasingly attractive to study such subgroups, because they form the arena for most of life in complex society. And this is where the concept of the microculture enters the scene. Microcultures are systems of cultural knowledge characteristic of sub groups within larger societies. Members of a microculture will usually share much of what they know with everyone in the greater society but will possess a special cultural knowledge that is unique to the subgroup. For example, a col— lege fraternity has a microculture within the context of a university and a nation. Its members have special daily routines, jokes, and meanings for events. It is this shared knowledge that makes up their microculture and that can serve as the basis for ethnographic study. More and more, anthropologists are turning to the study of microcultures, using the same ethnographic techniques they employ when they investigate the broader culture of an ethnic or national group. More than anything else, it is ethnography that is anthropology's unique contribution to social science. Most scientists, including many who view peo- ple in social context, approach their research as detached observers. As social scientists, they observe the human subjects of their study, categorize what they see, and generate theory to account for their findings. They work from the out— side, creating a system of knowledge to account for other people’s behavior: Although this is a legitimate and often useful way to conduct research, it is not the main task of ethnography. ' Ethnographers seek out the insider's viewpoint. Because culture is the knowledge people use to generate behavior and interpret experience, the ethno— grapher seeks to understand group members' behavior from the inside, or cul- tural, perspective. Instead of looking for a subject to observe, ethnographers look for an informant to teach them the culture. Just as a child learns its native culture from parents and other people in its social environment, the ethnogra- pher learns another culture by inferring folk categories from the observation of behavior and by asking informants what things mean. Anthropologists employ many strategies during field research to under- stand another culture better. But all strategies and all research ultimately rest 194,.wittcyx-Kgoxilz .mi .» t « PA]? on the cooperation of informa tific experiment nor a respm An informant is a teacher who pologist. In this unique relatio ogist’s understanding of an al: the anthropologist from a tour a child who explains how to p12 anthropologist to serve drinks elderly man who teaches the ar who explains the intricacies of acquired a repertoire of cultur: Ethnography is not as eas Americans are not taught to be our own conclusions. We like 2 tening is a Sign of weakness in c ers is at the heart of ethnograp the student role. It is also not easy for infor often lies below a conscious let mants remember their culture. Naive realism may also irr that people everywhere see the v the unwary ethnographer to asst- where or, to use our previous es in India as they do in the Unitec or her own naive realism, inside Culture shock and ethnoce phers. Culture shock is a state c understanding. Immersed alone ii few of the culturally defined rule: her hosts. The result is anxiety a' appropriately in the new context Ethnocentrism can be just belief and feeling that one's own c pther people’s beliefs and behavic if we come from a society that .' likely to react with anger-when e feeling is ethnocentric. It is impossible to rid ourse q -l_IShethnocentric when we do eth‘ I 6t nocentric feeling in the field if resent negative judgment. Finally, the role assigned to e .' 'ity ofwhat can b _ ‘ e learn . I C165 m this ed Ethnog section illustrate. Uni s . 7 . Dr’t lnteI‘VIEWS, ethnography FBI Mamwmmwmwmww.._;um.wm..math.u MM. P A R T O N E Culture and Ethnography 5 on the cooperation of informants. An informant is neither a subject in a scien- tific experiment nor a respondent who answers the investigator’s questions. An informant is a teacher who has a special kind of pupil: a professional anthro- pologist. In this unique relationship a transformation occurs in the anthropol— ogist's understanding of an alien culture. It is the informant who transforms the anthropologist from a tourist into an ethnographer. The informant may be a child who explains how to play hopscotch, a cocktail waitress who teaches the anthropologist to serve drinks and to encourage customers to leave tips, an elderly man who teaches the anthropologist to build an igloo, or a grandmother who explains the intricacies of Zapotec kinship. Almost any individual who has acquired a repertoire of cultural behavior can become an informant. Ethnography is not as easy to do as we might think. For one thing, North Americans are not taught to be good listeners. We prefer to observe and draw our own conclusions. We like a sense of control in social contexts; passive lis— tening is a Sign of weakness in our culture. But listening and learning from oth- ers is at the heart of ethnography, and we must put aside our discomfort with the student role. It is also not easy for informants to teach us about their cultures. Culture often lies below a conscious level. A major ethnographic task is to help infor- mants remember their culture. Naive realism may also impede ethnography. Naive realism is the belief that people everywhere see the world in the same way. It may, for example, lead the unwary ethnographer to assume that beauty is the same for all people every- where or, to use our previous example, that dogs should mean the same thing in India as they do in the United States. If an ethnographer fails to control his or her own naive realism, inside cultural meanings will surely be overlooked. Culture shock and ethnocentrism may also stand in the way of ethnogra— phers. Culture shock is a state of anxiety that results from cross-cultural rnis- understanding. immersed alone in another society, the ethnographer understands few of the culturally defined rules for behavior and interpretation used by his or her hosts. The result is anxiety about proper action and an inability to interact appropriately in the new context. . Ethnocentrism can be just as much of a liability Ethnocentrism is the belief and feeling that one's own culture is best. It reflects our tendency to judge other people’s beliefs and behavior using values of our own native culture. Thus - if we come from a society that abhors painful treatment of animals, we are likely to react with anger when an Indian villager hits a dog with a rock. Our feeling is ethnocentric. It is impossible to rid ourselves entirely of the cultural values that make us ethnocentric when we do ethnography. But it is important to control our ethnocentric feeling in the field if we are to learn from informants. Informants resent negative judgment. Finally, the role assigned to ethnographers by informants affects the qual- ity of what can be learned. Ethnography is a personal enterprise, as all the arti- cles in this section illustrate. Unlike survey research using questionnaires or short interviews, ethnography requires prolonged social contact. Informants 6 P A R T O N E Culture and Ethnography will assign the ethnographer some kind of role and what that turns out to be will affect research. The selections in Part One illustrate several points about culture and ethnography. The first piece, by the late James Spradley, takes a close look at the concept Of culture and its role in ethnographic reSearch. The second, by Richard Lee, illustrates how a simple act of giving can have a dramatically dif- ferent cultural meaning in two societies, leading to cross—cultural misunden standing. Laura Bohannan's article deals with the concept of naive realism and its role in cross-cultural misunderstanding. When she tells the classic story of Hamlet to African Tiv elders, the plot takes on an entirely different meaning as they use their own cultural knowledge in its interpretation. In the fourth selec— tion, Claire Stark describes how she conducted ethnographic field research under difficult circumstances. She sought to learn the culture of prostitutes working in New York City and Atlanta as part of a broader research interest in the spread and control of AIDS. The fifth article, by George Gmelch, explores how naive realism nearly ended a student's field research in Barbados. Key Terms culture p. 2 informant p. 4 culture shock p. 5 microcultures p. 4 detached observer p. 4 naive realism p. S ethnocentrism p. 5 respondent p. 5 ethnography p. 4 subject p. 4 explicit culture p. 3 tacit culture p. 3 James P; Spradley Most Americans associate sca observe whatever we 1411's]: to z ofwhar is going on, and explai lion, James Spradley argues t; Bil-mography is the work ofdi: culture is the teamed, shared i zorand interpret experience. Tr meanings of action and experic View. Many ofrhe examples L anthropology to the study of CI Ethnography and Culture" from Par _b-v H01“ Rinfihflrt. and Winston, Inc. ...
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spradely 1-6 - P A R T 0 N E 21" Culture and...

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