Research Paper On Cultural Anthropology And A Field Ethnographer’s Observations
Type of paper: Research Paper
Topic: Culture, Family, Clothes, Anthropology, Homelessness, Society, People, Children
Culture is one of the most important aspects of anthropology as it informs anthropological study. Culture is generally considered to include the rites, symbols, ideas and artifacts produced by human beings within a particular group. Culture can differ from society to society or be unanimous as is often the case with consumerist culture. The human species is prone to creating culture, cultural symbols, cultural taboos and cultural norms. These attributes can differ widely from culture to culture. Culture, which is common to all human species, can also be created and shaped by the environment. Culture is defined in the lecture notes as the beliefs, customs, arts and ways of thinking and behaving of a particular group within a particular time or place. Anthropology in general is the study of human groups and can include historical, biological, environmental and genetic information. Cultural anthropology limits its study to the symbols, cultural productions, beliefs, customs and ideas generated by a particular society at a given time and place.
The term ethnographer connotes that the ethnographer or observer is blended in seamlessly with the group or culture being observed. One of the greatest difficulties of ethnography is “being objective” (Chun, 570, 2000). It is very difficult for an ethnographer to draw conclusions about a group without allowing their own emotions to influence their observations. An additional consideration is the importance and accuracy of field notes. Brian Hoey (2014) advises that filed notes are as important as a good background in anthropological studies because accurate field notes are the basis for any anthropological study or discovery.
As an ethnographer, I choose to study persons in a park. The park is in a downtown district of a larger US city. There are tall green trees, shrubs and green grass throughout the park. The park features typical features, such as benches, a playground and swing sets and trails throughout. The scene is noisy as traffic circles the park on all four sides; however, the park is several blocks long but only one block in width. There is a bit of haze in the air as well from the passing cars and other industrial parts of the city. The air is warm and there is much noise in the air. The screams of children, passing cars and busses and other usual noises of the crowded city streets fill the air.
In this city park, there are many kinds of people, coming and going, from different walks of life. For instance, there are homeless people with their shopping carts full of items, such as CDs, dirty clothes, aluminum cans and other items discarded by the regular society. There are also families at play or engaged in other leisure activities within the park. Some of these families are on picnic. The families are dressed in nice, clean clothes and their children play on the swings or in the playground. The families are a great contrast to the homeless persons. Additionally, there are young people in the park talking on their cell phones or engaged in conversation with one or two other young people. Many older persons also walk in the park, either with their dogs on a leash or with a friend or two. From the perspective of an ethnographer, this scene looks like a normal cultural scene. There are several age groups all playing harmoniously in the park. There are homeless people looking for money and other things they badly need. There are young people at play, and older persons out getting exercise. The families too represent an important part of this cultural scene.
There are many important clues in this scene that help an observer to understand and interpret the scene. For instance, the kinds of clothing people are wearing gives away their profession or class. The families are all dressed in nice clothing that appears clean and unblemished. The homeless however are dressed in rags and dirty clothes, which alludes to their position in society. It is easy to see that these homeless are the outcasts or dregs of society, barely hanging on to life. Ann Dornfield (2008) comments that the homeless are a definite part of culture, though “the more complex a society gets, the more marginalized the homeless get” (Dornfield, 2008). As can be evidenced in this observation, the homeless are quite marginalized from regular society. The older persons are dressed in nice clothes as well though these clothes are typically not fashionable. There manners of dress gives them away as older persons. The young persons in the park are, however, dressed in flashy clothes in order to show off their young bodies. Additionally, there are runners and even business people who pass through the park on their journey across town. The runners are dressed in running clothes or other athletic clothes. The business persons are dressed in suits or fancy dresses and seem to have an air of dignity about them. As Karen Hansen (October 2004) confirms, clothing is one of the most important cultural productions put on by any group. Secondarily, the kinds of activities these persons are involved in also give meaning to their position and role within the cultural group. The younger persons who are mostly on the phone or talking with friends are primarily engaged in fun, social activities. The older peoples too are mostly involved in social activities, talking with their fellow walkers or dogs on a leash. It is easy to see that the most important peoples in the park are the families with their little children as all other persons in the park keep a respectful distance from the children and their parents at play.
Acting as an ethnographer and viewing this cultural scene, one can interpret many of the cultural symbols, productions, beliefs, customs and ideas generated by this particular society within this particular time and place. For instance, it is easy to see that the children are protected unilaterally. The parents spend a great deal of their energy protecting the children, and the other persons in the park keep a respectful distance as if to show their added concern for the safety of those children. Additionally, there are symbols throughout the park, such as signs dictating the kinds of behaviors that are acceptable in the park. These signs serve as cultural iconography as they speak to all humans within the group. The homeless persons and other degenerates within the park are obviously outcasts as can be seen from their manner of dress and continued calling out for alms and other necessities. The many people involved in different kinds of physical activity shows that exercise and sports are important to this culture. The children playing on the swing sets or playground are involved in playing, which is a way of imitating the actions of adults. This cultural scene reveals the complexity of human culture as it unfolds and manifests in a city park. It can be determined from this scene that culture is an important part of anthropology, for if the ethnographer viewed this same scene after all the humans went home and the park was empty, the ethnographer’s conclusions would be much different.
Chun, A. (November 01, 2000). From Text to Context: How Anthropology Makes Its Subject. Cultural Anthropology, 15, 4, 570-595.
Hansen, Karen Tranberg. (October 2004). The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing, Fashion and Culture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 33, 369-392.
Hoey, Brian A. (2014). A Simple Introduction to the Practice of Ethnography and Guide to Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Marshall University Digital Scholar, 2014, 1-10.
Dornfield, Ann. (May 30, 2008). Seattle Woman Studies Anthropology of Homelessness, OPB. Retrieved from: http://www.opb.org/news/article/seattle-woman-studies-anthropology-homelessness