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Anthropology...in the field; not for the squeamish

Updated on December 18, 2017

Definitions

In simple translation; Anthropology is the study of 'Man' or 'Human'. There is the archaeological aspect, which is the study of the past, and the study of Human culture, which often is in the present.

It is not just digging up a pot and dating it to 4004 B.C. but understanding why it was made this way and what it was used for.

Today, anthropologists go out into the field, unlike the "Father of Anthropology", Tylor, who was known as an 'Armchair' ; as he never left his home. Tylor took stories from sailors, many of them ridiculous, but since he did not bestir himself, he didn't know he was being played.

Because of this, a great deal of rubbish wrapped in scientific book covers was published.

As an aside; When Marx wrote his original work along with Engles they had depended on Tylor's research into human culture. This is why the famous 'Gen' system is flawed.

Let that be a lesson; do your own research and don't trust the work of anyone
who hasn't been there and seen for him/herself.

Further, remember; history belongs to the Victors. Those who were in power then, or who are in power now, will often 'spin' the data, and leave out information, so you virtually are on your own.

The Locals

Everyone grows up in a culture.
You don't appreciate the various
cultural biases you have because
'everyone' in your district/country
does pretty much what you do,
how you do it.

You think this is 'Universal'.
It isn't.
Everything from burial practices, to the preparation of food, to the way one
speaks to another is culturally determined.

There is no one exact right and no exact wrong. It depends on the culture and what their historical knowledge consists of.

The most 'primitive' people did not die in the 2004 tsunami; they knew when the sea pulls back it's going to come in very far very fast, so they raced to higher ground.
Modern people, watched.


And died.

Hence, make no value judgement on what the people you are about to study do. They know their environment. They've survived in it for quite sometime.

How to Maintain Balance

Often an Anthropologist will find him or herself amongst people they find
odious. This will make collection of data difficult.

Everything is a problem, everything is between ick and ptui.

No one is going to pay for a study of ick and ptui. Hence you must find
something that you can study.

Whether it is music, house decoration, agricultural practices. something that you can manage. Yes, your thesis will be limited, but you may become the leading expert on tattoos.

Understand you are here to observe, not to interfere. You are to learn, not teach. If you can get away for a few days, do so. If you can't, take a few days off, to clear your mind.

Make no assumptions, let the people tell you why they do something. They may lie, they may behave as if they are schizophrenic and if you're astute you'll catch it, (but not let them know).

Always consider that someone is going to read your work and accept it as true, and act upon it. Hopefully, not to their detriment.

Focus and Discover

In many societies, whether you're studying Stockbrokers on Wall Street or Market Vendors in Kingston, you'll find the dichotomy.

That is, people know they are supposed to say/do/believe and although
they might say, may not do nor believe.

In conversations to 'one of their own' they might admit some pretty excoriating things. In conversation to an 'outsider' the word is persiflage. This 'duality' will give you the clearest insight into what the people really believe and why they do what they do.

A lot of 'fanatics', for example, be they religious, political or social, actually don't
really believe in their cause.

They are talking and behaving to convince themselves, to create the self that is
a 'true believer' so resort to the most blatant and violent (whether verbal/physical)
actions.Their mouth may say something, their body may do something else.

Only a clear eyed anthropologist can see this dichotomy and carefully map it.

Understanding 'Ick'

In every culture, even your own, there are things you do which other people
may consider disgusting.

I'm not just talking about nose picking and fart laying, (although those count)
I am talking about what people eat, how they treat each other, how they speak.

For example, eating snails.

The French and Italians consider it a delicacy. Trinidadians eat it. Jamaicans
will vomit if you tell them they ate a snail.

Understand that if you eat snails you think they are tasty, if you don't you think
they are disgusting.

This is pattern you must adopt when observing a culture.

How 'they' see it is important, how you see it, isn't.

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