Ethnology and Ethnography

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Word Count: Dana Trippe Anthropology Essay #2 10/1/2012 There are two major approaches to collecting information about human culture: ethnography and ethnology. Each approach has a specific goal. Each approach employs a variety of methods for data collection and analysis, all of which carry benefits but also challenges. Along with the challenges of data collection, field anthropologists face an additional set of logistical, emotional, and ethical obstacles. Anthropology is a difficult field but provides an important perspective on cultural diversity.

Ethnography and Ethnology both attempt at reaching certain goals. Ethnography is a written description of a culture based on data gathered from fieldwork, characterized by two methods, participant observation and interviews. When an anthropologist is researching through participant observation, they are attempting to study a culture while still trying to maintain the eye of an objective observer. Another form of getting data for ethnography is through interviews. Through interviews, either formal or informal, the anthropologist is attempting to gather and collect notable data.

Formal interviews are more scripted and reduce the situational bias the anthropologists may experience. Informal interviews are more open ended questions that allow the informant to talk about what they think is more important in their culture. These interviews can help paint a more actual description of culture of what their beliefs and lifestyles are, instead of an "ideal culture". Sterk stated that the interviewer becomes much more involved in the interview when conversations are in-depth, more than when a structured questionnaire is being used (Sterk 2000: 27).

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Compared to ethnography, the study of single groups through direct contact with the culture, ethnology takes the research that ethnographers have compiled and then compares and contrasts different cultures. Ethnology is the comparative study of cultures with the aim of presenting analytical generalizations about human culture. Anthropologists do not rely on data from just one study to make interpretive statements about human conditions (Lenkeit: 16). Ethnology also uses forms of quantification, to help make their data easily comparable, and recordable. Ethnography employs two methods of research, articipant observation and interviews. . This method can give an accurate view of the culture from an insider’s perspective. To truly discover the bits and pieces of a culture, subculture, or micro culture, one must commit to spending extensive time in that cultural environment (Lenkeit: 13). In the field, anthropologists can also deal with daily challenges. These challenges can include food problems, safety and health issues, , culture shock, and are also very prone to catching diseases (Lenkeit 2012: 56). Napoleon Chagnon endured an incident with his health while doing fieldwork with the Yonomamo people of Southern Venezuela.

Chagnon recounted that he reacted violently to something in the field, and red welts appeared all over his body. He was weak, nauseated, thirsty, and couldn’t breathe well. The pain was rough but it can be something most anthropologists will experience in the field. " (Chagnon 1974: 174) In American culture, privacy is something people expect to have, and may even take for granted. Martha Ward reported her work with the people of Pohnpeian as a constant challenge. She said that privacy is a bad word in Pohnpeian, but she craved privacy like a physical ache and lusted to be alone (Lenkeit 2012: 56).

Chagnon also yearned for privacy while in the field. He said the hardest thing to learn to live with was the incessant and often aggressive demands and threats they would make. Chagnon recounted that day and night for almost the entire time he lived with the Yanomamo, he was plagued by such demands as: ‘If you don’t take me with you on your next trip to Widokaiyateri, I’ll chop a hole in your canoe! ’ and ‘Give me an ax or I’ll break into your hut when you are away and steal all of them! ’ he was bombarded by such demands day after day, until he could not bear to see a Yanomamo at times (Chagnon 1968: 5).

It can be very challenging to become adjusted to the cultures lifestyle, where these constant problems occur. Ethnographers also conduct their research through interviews. Interviews are a direct way to gather information, but sometimes they can be faulty. Informal and formal interviews can both come with benefits. They both give in-depth information about the subjects lives, coming directly from the subject. But, there are cases where the informant will give false information, idealize their lives, and simply not want to cooperate. Chagnon used interviews to record genealogical lines of the Yanomamo people.

When Chagnon attempted to record all of the names and family lines of the Yanomamo people, they would give false information. They have very stringent name taboos and eschew mentioning the names of prominent living people as well as all deceased friends and relatives. The Yanomamo did not have much entertainment in their lives, so they took any chance they could get to mess around with the "white man" and get entertainment from it. Each ‘informant’ would try to outdo his peers by inventing a name even more preposterous than what Chagnon had been given by someone earlier. Chagnon 1968: 6) Also, it can be hard to construct interviews when there are language barriers, such as language. Chagnon did not know what language the Yanomamo spoke, because he was the first civilized white man to come into their village. Chagnon had to go back to his years of childhood, where language had to be slowly and carefully learned. It took him a long time to finally understand the language, but after, he could get descriptive information from the villagers about their history and culture (Video). Ethnology includes methodological approaches of making comparisons and quantifications.

Comparisons can help the anthropologist compare current and previously recorded data. They can see differences across different cultures, and changes that have occurred over time within a culture. Comparisons are commonly made within one culture. Sterk found that there were vast differences between the prostitutes living on the streets, and those living in crack houses. Those who lived in crack houses were less likely to give informal interviews because they always had their pimp looking over their shoulder. Also she made comparisons on when the women made their customers wear condoms.

They would make their decisions depending on the different types of partners, types of sex acts, and social context. (Sterk 2000: 26). Another form of comparisons is across two different cultures. When Laura Bohannon was doing fieldwork with the Tiv of West Africa she found that the village was formed around story telling. They wanted to hear a story of hers so she went on to tell the story of Hamlet, and could instantly pick up on differences in their cultures. When Bohannon told them that Hamlet was sad his mother had married so quickly, and had not waited the two year mourning period.

The villagers objected “two years is too long! Who will hoe your farms for you while you have no husband? ” and when she said Hamlet talked to his dead father, they screamed "Omens cannot speak! " The villagers changed the story to their liking, so that it would fit their standards better (Bohannon 1966: 2). Cultures all are unique and have different standards that go hand in hand with them. Other comparisons are ones that can be made over time, which can also be the faultiest data. When Margaret Meade went to Samoa for fieldwork in the 1930's, she collected data that the girls in Samoa were quite promiscuous.

When Anthropologist, Derrick Freeman, went to Samoa to update the data in the 1970's he reported that the girls were actually very shy and not promiscuous. Comparisons can lead to misleading data, because a culture may have changed drastically over a certain period of time. This comparison is variable because the definition of "promiscuous" could have changed over that many years and even the Samoan standards could have changed. (Lecture 9/10/12) The other ethnological method is that of quantification. Quantification is the anthropologist translating their studies into numerical or quantitative data.

Humans can see information quantified every day, from the daily weather reports, to political poles. (Lecture 9/10/12) Numerical data gives good magnitude and is easy to compare. Usually to collect this data they use samples. They can use a random sample that tries to eliminate bias by giving everyone an equal chance to get interviewed. Samples can usually be very faulty, for the reason that sample sizes are usually not big enough, and to not represent enough people or information to make an accurate assessment of a culture.

This data gives people a better understanding of data but can sometimes be manipulated and misleading (Lenkeit: 64). Ethnology and Ethnography can each come with their own sets of logistical, emotional, and ethical obstacles. These issues usually appear when the anthropologist is in direct contact with their research and subjects. Numerous ethical and moral issues appear when the anthropologist is in the field of participant observation and it can be hard for them to stay objective. Anthropologists prepare themselves for these challenges with resources like the American Anthropologist Association.

Because Anthropologists can find themselves in complex situations and are subject to more than one code of ethics, the AAA code of ethics provides a framework, not an iron clad formula, for making decisions. (Lenkeit: 50) Claire Sterk was doing fieldwork with a group of prostitutes in the New York area, where she came across these kind of decisions. The women would repeatedly refuse to make the men they slept with to wear condoms, even though the risk of HIV and AIDS was huge in their lives. She as concerned for them, but also could not get too involved in fear of insulting the women. There is an ethical line for anthropologists that can often become blurry. (Sterk 2000:26) With these methods, there is the challenge of ethnocentrism, because if an anthropologist thinks that their culture is the center of the world, they will not be able to comprehend other cultures in an objective way, and instead think of them as primitive beings that are not living the right way. Anthropologists must remember to enter their fieldwork using the perspective of cultural relativism.

Cultural relativism is the idea that and aspect of a culture must be viewed and evaluated within the context of that culture. In cultures like the Massai, where female circumcision is regarded from a different perspective by the rest of the world, people must use cultural relativism to understand their practices. According to their traditions and practices, it is meant to have a positive rather than a negative effect on the girl. It is supposed to reduce a woman’s desire for sex and reduce immorality. Another thing is that traditionally, it is a rite of passage.

It marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. The fact that their practices are much different than those of more developed cultures shouldn’t lead to them being seen harshly or as less intelligent. (Olekina 2006) With this perspective anthropologists can more objectively describe a cultural system and all of the customs, beliefs, and activities, that fit into it. This approach leads to a greater awareness, tolerance, and acceptance of the culture the anthropologist is studying. (Lenkeit 2012:17) Anthropologists collect most of their data through ethnology and ethnography.

They must overcome the obstacles in order to get to the goals that Ethnography and Ethnology try to reach. When doing fieldwork, moral and ethical issues can plague anthropologist’s research, and they learn to adapt to these issues in order to gather necessary data, observation, interviews, comparisons, and quantification all have their own ways of deriving information. Each method has its faults, and can be misleading, but all anthropological methods attempt to unravel all of the bits and pieces that make a culture what it is.

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Ethnology and Ethnography. (2017, May 04). Retrieved from

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