Social/Cultural Anthropology

Social/Cultural Anthropology
Topic:Lesson 2 Selected Correspondence Submission
Please submit 6 pages of Selected Correspondence according to the directions in the Syllabus and Appendices A and B.

Textbook Information
? The Interplay of Voices and The Vulnerable Observer (Anthr 101). BYU Academic Publishing.
? Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.
? Myerhoff, Barbara. Number Our Days. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.
? Strunk, William, and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 1999.
Note: All materials are available through the BYU Bookstore.
Course Organization
This course consists of six lessons that will give you a good understanding of the basics of socio-cultural anthropology. For each of the first five lessons, you will read the instructor introduction, complete the reading and video-viewing assignments, and study the instructor?s discsussion of the reading. As you read, look for opportunities to develop your ideas, redirect your thinking, and increase your understanding. You will write at least two paragraphs (approximately three-quarters to one full page) of simulated correspondence in response to each reading and video-viewing assignment (see Appendix A for requirements). Lessons 12, 3, and 5 are followed by a closed-book Speedback assignment that consists of computer-graded questions, which you will complete online. At the end of lessons 2 and 4, you will electronically compile and submit six pages of simulated correspondence. You will turn it in through the corresponding Instructor-graded Assignment along with an electronically completed copy of the Correspondence Performance Report.
Lesson 6 is a review designed to help you correctly complete and submit your final essay. You should review previous reading assignments, discussion material, and simulated correspondence. Complete the essay in response to the questions offered by the instructor according to the instructions. The paper will be 7?8 pages long and should be submitted with an electronically completed copy of the Essay Performance Report through the corresponding Instructor-graded Assignment.
Formatting Written Assignments
You will submit all of your assignments to Independent Study electronically through BrainHoney. To make sure that I can open and read your paper, please save it as an Adobe Acrobat (.PDF) file. Here is how to do it:
1. Type your paper in a word-processing program (such as Microsoft Word).
2. When you save the file, click the Save as type: drop-down list.
3. Select PDF (*.pdf).
4. Use the course number, your first and last name, and the assignment name for the filename. For example, ?ANTHR101_ZhuSheng_Lesson2Correspondence.pdf.?
5. Click Save.
6. Submit the lesson?s .PDF file through the corresponding Instructor-graded Assignment for grading.
Grading Information
Basic Standards
? You must complete and submit all 6 assignments.
? You must complete all of the assigned reading and writing assignments for Lessons 1?5 to earn a D or higher for the course. Each computer-graded Speedback assignments 12, 3, 5 contains a question that asks if you have completed all of the reading and writing assignments due. It is up to you to answer truthfully.
? You must achieve a minimum score of 60% (3 of 5 questions correct) on each of the 3 computer-graded Speedback assignments (Lessons 12, 3, 5). You may retake Speedback assignments, but a fee is required for each resubmission. Check the Speedback instructions for more information.
? Writing assignments (simulated correspondence and essay) that do not comply with all technical requirements will be rejected.You must complete and submit a Performance Report for each written assignment. These assignments may be resubmitted, but fee is required for each resubmission. Check the Independent Study policies for more information.





Lesson 2:
The Ethnographer’s Task
If cultures consist of the worlds created and inhabited by particular social groups, then the ethnographer?s mission is to enter those worlds, become familiar with them, and describe them to outsiders. If cultures consist of the stories people tell themselves about themselves, stories about what it means to be who they are, then the fieldworker?s job is to retell those stories. If cultures consist of an ensemble of acted documents, a body of texts so to speak, then the ethnographer?s work is to interpret those texts, to convey their meanings to an audience of outsiders, to re-present and represent the voices and viewpoints of the people who produce them. In short, one of the primary purposes of ethnography, according to award-winning ethnographer Keith Basso, is ?to construct principled interpretations of culturally constituted worlds and to try to understand what living in them is like.?1 This, of course, ?can be a perplexing and time-consuming business.?2 ?But,? he continues, ?when the work goes well?
when puzzling claims are seen to make principled sense and when, as a consequence of this, one is able to move closer to an understanding of who the people involved take themselves to be?it can be richly informative and highly worthwhile. Indeed, … it is just this sort of work that makes ethnography the singularly valuable activity?and … the singularly arresting and gratifying one?it very often is.3
Given the ever-present challenges as well as the potential rewards of ?engaging and exploring different versions of the world,?4 how should ethnographers go about their business if they want to succeed, and succeed admirably? What should they do and what should they avoid if they want to construct useful accounts of other systems of thought and traditions of social practice, if they want to produce accurate and insightful interpretations of the meanings of unfamiliar artifacts, institutions, and practices? In the final chapter of his award-winning ethnography, Basso spells out ?the ethnographer?s task,?5 illuminating both its overarching aims and its ultimate outcomes, both what makes for effective fieldwork and what promotes exemplary deskwork. First and foremost, the overarching aims and the ultimate outcomes:
The ethnographer?s task is to determine what [various] acts of expression purportedly involve (why they are performed, how they are accomplished, what they are intended to achieve) and to disclose their importance by relating them to larger ideas about the world and its inhabitants. In other words, [acts of expression] are treated as actualizations of the knowledge that informs them, as outward manifestations of underlying systems of thought, as native constructions wrought with native materials that embody and display a native case of mind. And it is that cast of mind (or certain prominent aspects of it, anyway) that the ethnographer must work to grasp, intelligibly make out, and later set down in writing.6
?An assignment of this delicacy,? Basso continues, ?challenges the text-building pen as much as it does the truth-seeking mind. Mulling over imperfect field notes, sorting through conflicting intuitions, and beset by a host of unanswered questions, the ethnographer must somehow fashion a written account that adequately conveys his or her understanding of other peoples? understandings.?7But how?how does the ethnographer represent in writing another way of thinking, acting, and being? How does he or she inscribe a three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional page, transforming without deforming, flattening without deflating, enfolding without confining, embracing without smothering? How does the ethnographer embody a living world in a book and yet avoid fabricating a lifeless document? Answers reside in the intimate and parallel relationship between fieldwork and deskwork, between learning and writing, between gaining access to and then representing the natives? point of view. Keith Basso:
My own preference is for . . . narratives that move from interpretations of experience raw to those of experience digested, from moments of anxious puzzlement (?What the devil is going on here??) to subsequent ones of cautious insight (?I think perhaps I see?). Because that, more often than not, is how ethnographic fieldwork actually unfolds. It is a discomfiting business in which loose ends abound and little is ever certain. But with ample time, a dollop of patience, and steady guidance from interested native instructors, one does make measurable progress . . .
Doing ethnography can be a great deal of fun, and disguising the fact on paper, as though it were something to be ashamed of, is less than totally honest. It may also be less than effective. Current fashions notwithstanding, clenched teeth and furrowed brow are no guarantee of literary success. In crafting one?s prose, as in going about one?s fieldwork, it is always permissible?and sometimes highly informative?to smile and even to laugh.
It is permissible, too, to be pleased?and sometimes downright impressed?with things one happens to learn. From time to time, when luck is on their side, ethnographers stumble onto culturally given ideas whose striking novelty and evident scope seem to cry out for thoughtful consideration beyond their accustomed boundaries. Making these ideas available in perusable form is a worthy endeavor on general principles.8
This is essentially the tack Barbara Myerhoff takes in Number Our Days, one of the first ethnographies to employ the kind of creative nonfiction writing that makes social-cultural anthropology accessible, entertaining, moving, and enlightening?that can blow your mind, crack you up, and break your heart. Tackling what ultimately remains a utopian task, beyond the ordinary abilities of mere mortals, her innovative work remains truly ethnographic?centered on and grounded in the culturally significant social doings of interacting individuals. A fine example of the ethnographer?s craft, Number Our Days allows the receptive reader to see how ethnographic researchers go about their business, how they seek to make principled sense of diverse forms of social conduct, to figure out what people are up to when they engage in various private and public practices. This highly-praised work by an award-winning author illustrates what distinguishes ethnographic fieldwork and deskwork from other ways of doing social science; shows what participant observation and in-depth interviews actually entail; and brings to light the possibilities, the limitations, and the ethical implications of these classic anthropological methods.
Like Keith Basso, Barbara Myerhoff ?proceeds on the premise that ethnographic fieldwork is centered on discerning the meanings of local symbolic forms,?9 forms of symbolic action, that is?action that symbolizes, that expresses or displays ideas, beliefs, values, and attitudes. She also subscribes to Basso?s more specific claim that ?language is everywhere a symbolic form without parallel or peer, and that the activity of speaking, of enacting and implementing language, is surely among the most meaning-filled of all [forms of symbolic action].?10 And so she too ?seeks to interpret social and cultural systems,? to make sense of social conduct, ?through the manifold lenses afforded by language and speech.?11Number Our Days therefore pays close and careful attention to various forms of talk: everyday conversation, friendly and heated argument, scripture-based debate, graduation speeches, informal group therapy sessions, personal experience narratives, prayer, poetry, song, and autobiography. ?Conveying these worlds [of meaning],? as Keith Basso observes, ?capturing with words both the richness of their content and the fullness of their spirit, requires an exacting effort at linguistic and cultural translation that can never be wholly successful.?12 ?The problem,? he explains,
is that verbally mediated realities are so densely textured and incorrigibly dynamic that one?s own locutions for representing them fail to do justice to the numerous subtleties involved. Unavoidably, delicate proportions are altered and disturbed, intricate momentums halted and betrayed, and however much one explicates there is always more (or so one is tempted to suppose) that might usefully be done. Despite these persisting uncertainties, however, enough can be learned and understood so that we … may come away from certain kinds of speech events instructed and impressed and sometimes deeply moved. 13
Once again, this is the kind of response Number Our Days tends to provoke in sympathetic readers, most of whom ?come away . . . instructed and impressed and sometimes deeply moved???despite . . . persisting uncertainties??by how these intriguing people strive to make their lives meaningful; by how they seek to make sense of themselves and of the experiences that shape them; and by how they aIDress the compelling question of what it means to be a human being, what it means to be a certain kind of human being?in their case, what it means to be Jewish.
? Recognize the culture of the people described in Number Our Days as their way of interpreting experience, and see how that culture informs both their social life and their individual psychology, shaping and coloring how they perceive and act in the world.
? Grasp the social scientific principles and reasoning that guide how Barbara Myerhoff pursues the ethnographer?s task, and recognize the value, limitations, and ethical implications of her way of making sense of social conduct.
? Acquire an informed awareness of the cultural world described in Number Our Days an appreciation of their ways of being human?of believing, behaving, and belonging, including their ritual, economic, and political practices.
o Learn to see your personal beliefs, values, attitudes, and conduct?including your ritual, economic, and political practices?from the perspective of these people, who possess different ideas about the way the world works.
? Develop an increased ability to write effectively.
1. Read the instructor?s introduction to the lesson.
2. Complete these 8 reading assignments in Number Our Days: Foreword by Victor Turner (xiii-xvii)
a. ?So What Do You Want from Us Here?? (1-39)
b. ?Needle and Thread: The Life and Death of a Tailor? (40-78)
c. ?We Don?t Wrap Herring in a Printed Page? (79-112)
d. ?For an Educated Man, He Could Learn a Few Things? (113-52)
e. ?We Fight to Keep Warm? (153-94)
f. Teach Us to Number Our Days (195-231)
g. ?Jewish Comes Up in You from the Roots? (232-68)
h. Epilogue and Afterword (269-81)
3. Review the study questions listed in the following sections.
4. Write at least 2 paragraphs (approximately ??1 full page) of simulated correspondence in response to each of the 8 reading assignments (See Appendix A and Appendix B).
5. Study the instructor?s discussion of the reading, looking for opportunities to develop your ideas, redirect your thinking, and increase your understanding.
6. Prepare 6 pages of selected simulated correspondence and submit to the instructor via the Internet through Independent Study.
7. Submit the Performance Report (Appendix B) to the instructor via Independent Study.
1. Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), 69.
2. Ibid., 37.
3. Ibid., 37.
4.Ibid., 37-38.
5. Keith Basso, Western Apache Language and Culture (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990), xiii.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., 110-11
9. Basso, Western Apache Language and Culture, xii.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 103.
13. Ibid.
(Back to top)
?If you want to understand what a science is,? counsels Clifford Geertz, ?you should look in the first instance not at its theories or its findings, and certainly not at what its apologists say about it; you should look at what the practitioners of it do.?1
And ?in . . . social anthropology,? he continues, ?what the practitioners do is ethnography.? In other words, if our goal is ?grasping what anthropological analysis amounts to as a form of knowledge,? we should begin, he advises, by ?understanding what ethnography is, or more exactly, what doing ethnography is.?2
Number Our Days gives us a good look?up close and personal?at an intelligent and talented ethnographer doing effective ethnography, gaining access to, figuring out, and representing the culture?the world of meaning?of a particular group of people, the assumptions, understandings, and beliefs-about-the-world in light of which their moods, motivations, and conduct make principled sense. And when we look, we not only see Barbara Myerhoff enter the site and situation of her field research; establish rapport and develop relationships with members of the group; observe and participate in a variety of activities; write fieldnotes; conduct and record in-depth interviews; and collect life histories. More importantly, we see her read the history, language, and literature of the people to acquire the background knowledge necessary to make sense of what she sees and hears and learns. Most significantly, we see her devise insightful interpretations of the various events she observes (we even hear her dreams about the latent meanings of enigmatic events)?and we watch her debate her conclusions with a key consultant (debates that include a lively imaginary dialogue she concocts after the death of this close friend and confidant).
And of course we witness how she uses description and dialogue to depict how people act, to display what they say, and to explain why they behave and feel as they do?in short, to make sense of how they make sense of themselves and their experiences. Along the way, we learn how these particular people handle, and mishandle, the panhuman problems endemic to social life, the unexpected as well as the everyday. And we learn how at least one ethnographer interprets and talks about the cultural meanings and the social and psychological significance of a range of topics typically of interest to cultural anthropologists, topics of concern in both the humanities and the social sciences:
? social and individual identity, its construction and maintenance
? survival strategies, physical, psychological, and social
? values and attitudes, and how they shape social and individual conduct
? symbols and ceremonies, sacred and secular rituals
? narratives and myths, communal and personal, spoken and written, biographical and historical
? the exercise of political authority, effective and inept, legitimate and coercive
? conflict, political and interpersonal, its management and its relation to social solidarity
? the role of supernatural forces, benevolent and malicious, mystical and magical
? extra-market economic exchange, reciprocal and redistributive.
We also learn how a successful ethnographer copes with the ethical issues and practical problems that inevitably arise when working among another people; the difficult decisions Myerhoff makes to confront the commonplace realities intrinsic to ethnographic fieldwork and deskwork: questions of selecting and working with native consultants; questions of maintaining confidentiality and protecting privacy; questions of what to include and exclude from the final product; and questions of how to provide fair, unbiased, and believable representations?how to avoid distorted images?ethnocentric elaborations at the one extreme, romanticized embellishments at the other. We see how Myerhoff merges diverse viewpoints to solve some of these problems, weaving an intricately textured tale that tells more than a single, simple story: we see how she mingles the outlooks of ordinary members; of heroic exemplars like Jacob Koved; and of diverse insider-outsiders like Shmuel, Kominsky, Cohen, and herself as an interested ethnographer possessed of a comparative, cross-cultural perspective.
Finally, in the many ways mentioned above (and in others discussed in the next lesson), Number Our Days also confirms the accuracy of Clifford Geertz?s ?more precise answer to our generative question: ?What does the ethnographer do???He writes.?3 Or in the consummate case of Barbara Myerhoff, she writes. And she writes in a way that epitomizes the point made in his more specific argument: what the ethnographer typically does?observe, record, and analyze?are not actually three separate and distinct ?phases of knowledge-seeking? but a single unified process.4
1. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 5-6
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 19-20.


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