The goal of this exercise is to observe a ‘cultural scene’ as an anthropologist would (i.e. based on everything you have learned in the course to-date). The student will analyze their observations in terms of themes from the subfield of cultural anthropology such as how it helps frame our societies (family, lifestyle, lineage, economics and language ) and, in some ways, its evolution.
Culture, as we have discussed in our readings, is an incredible advantage that has allowed humans to enter almost every niche in nature. The development and maintenance of culture are what sets humans apart from other species. Culture varies with time and location. For this assignment, students will be observing a particular setting for 25 minutes, writing up your observations, and then analyzing them. Listen to APUS anthropologist Donna Rosh give you some pointers for people-watching as an anthropologist (or read the script).
- Choose a time and location for where/when you are going to conduct your observations of an ethnographic scene (mall, public transportation, coffee shop, etc.).
- Go to the specified location and proceed with your observations. Find a place to sit quietly and simply watch what is going on. Do not talk to or interview people during this time.
- Take notes (handwritten recommended). Include details about the scene itself (time of day, lighting, furniture, plants, sounds, temperature, smell, vibe/energy, etc), details about the people around you (their characteristics, their behavior).
- When your 25 minutes are finished, leave the scene. In a quiet place, fill out your notes. At this time, you should start to think about concepts that you’ve learned in class that fit with your observations. This step is critical.
- Write a 4-6 page reaction paper about your observations Your paper should:
- Define and discuss culture using our course materials
- Include a ‘thick description’ of the location with clear detail of your observations
- Analyze your observations, identifying four anthropological concepts that fit your observations. Define the concept and analyze how it fits your observations.
- Include your field notes at the end
- Conclude with a discussion of and reflection on your experience of the situation. For example, you might write how you felt when you started to detect a pattern in characteristics and/or behavior.
Directions for 4-6 page Assignment:
What is an anthropological concept? Anthropological concepts are anthropological terms and ideas. Examples of some that we’ve studied include ethnocentrism, ethnicity, reciprocity, kinship, language, and communication. You should not use this exact list of four concepts and expect them to fit your observation scene. You may, of course, use others – depending on what concepts are relevant to your observation. Lists of additional key concepts can be found in Lessons, in the Lesson Overview section. We also have two examples to share with you from APUS anthropologists- one from Jennifer Cramer’s fieldwork in The Gambia and one from James Turner’s fieldwork in Mexico.
One common misstep is to apply the four subfields of anthropology or to apply the four parts of the definition of culture.