At first he was worried that the ox was not big enough and that a fight would really break out, but then he got so tired of all the wisecracks that he resolved to serve the cow anyway, and to hell with them.
5 When they finally slaughtered the cow, everyone stood waiting while they cut through the hide to see how much fat the cow had, because the fat of a cow is highly prized in this culture. The cow had an enormous layer of fat. Lee shouted out, "Hey look, that ox is loaded with fat. You were all wrong!" "Fat," someone yelled back, "You call that fat? This wreck is thin, sick, dead!" And then everyone started doubling over with laughter. Lee finally understood that the whole thing had been an elaborate joke, and it caused him so much grief because he had, for an entire year, not learned something fundamental about Ju/’hoansi culture.
6 It turns out that the Ju/’hoansireally can't stand arrogance. If someone comes home from a hunt, they never announce, like a braggart, that they killed a huge animal. Instead, they sulk and sit in silence until someone comes up and asks about the hunt, with them responding about the shame they feel in only having caught a tiny animal. Lee thought that this one ox would make up for a whole year of stinginess, but the Ju/’hoansi played a collective and calculated joke on him to let him know that this act was not so special. To kill an animal and share the meat with others was what they do for each other every day and with far less fanfare. Through this one giant blunder on his part, Lee learned something he had missed for over a year –the importance of sharing to their way of life and the skepticism they feel about the good intentions of outsiders. What this story points to is the fact that such things, the specifics of cultural understandings, can only be acquired by the intimate and particular knowledge that comes through the process of fieldwork. This is the kind of information that cannot be learned through books, statistics, surveys, or questionnaires; but only through experiencing the mundane day-to-day life of people in their cultural surroundings.
7 Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski and the Beginnings of Fieldwork Both fieldwork itself and the major methodology of fieldwork, known as participant-observation, were not always a part of what anthropologists did. It was mainly through the work of two people –Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski –that fieldwork became standard practice for anthropologists. Franz Boas, as we discussed in a previous lecture, first stressed the importance of fieldwork in his opposition to the evolutionary and comparative approaches to culture back in the 1890s. He argued that we had to get to know cultures intimately before we begin to compare them. Then, in the 1920s, a polish anthropologist named Bronislaw Malinowski attempted to formalize the methodology of fieldwork and introduced the practice of participant-observation. He was also the first anthropologist to devote an entire chapter of his ethnography, "Argonauts of the Western Pacific," to a description of what he actually did in the field. This has now become a standard practice in most ethnographies.