Last Updated 05 Jan 2023

The Influence of Social Norms on One’s Perception of the World Depicted in Marcia Rego’s The Naked Ethnographer and Beth Conklin’s Consuming Grief

Category Social Norms
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The influence of social norms and conventions on one's perception of the world

gives rise to the question of how far these subjective understandings shape one's view of reality. That is to say, if societal convention clearly dictates the perspective one has on any given thing, to what extent does this conventional understanding play a part in one's experience? The presence of a myriad of religions and spiritualities, many in contradiction to one other and all in pursuit of some overarching “truth,” seem to bring said question to center stage. If there will always be some degree of disagreement on any given topic, who's to rightfully make a claim on the true nature of anything? Aldous Huxley once said, "There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception." While perception contained in experience undoubtedly molds the reality one comes to grasp, it begs the question of where the line between the known and the unknown truly lies. In The Naked Ethnographer, researcher Marcia Rego evidently displays the assumption the Western world has come to in misconstruing nudity for sexuality; in Consuming Grief, Beth Conklin temporarily immerses herself in a former endo-cannibalistic society where there is a vastly dissimilar understanding of death from the one she is familiar with. These two accounts give insight into the degree of subjectivity that permeates experience, and the perspective which

surrounds it.

The Western world has necessitated the association of nudity with sexuality in a way that appears completely natural. In other words, the relationship between the two has come to be an assumption and conventional understanding of society with little to no hesitation in bringing the two together. With no full explanation as to why this is, business on the Western side of the world has indubitably capitalized off of it. From fast food commercials to car washes by girls in bikinis, the prolongation of this relationship has inculcated into society an immediate association between nudity and sexuality and little questioning as to why that is.

On what is known as a beach for "naturalists" in Brazil, researcher Marcia Rego

ecomes both an observer and participant on a nudist beach. Herself a member of society and convention, has by no fault of her own come to make this association between nakedness and sexuality just as any Westerner likely would. It is for this very reason that such a beach exists. To make known the inherent convention in this association is so easily done by brining to center stage this assumption, which rarely is seen as one. The notion that nudity and sexuality are of the same would lead one to believe that lack of clothing on a public beach (with outside onlookers) would necessitate this relationship, while the actual experience does exactly the opposite. What actually takes place is, "a decoupling of nudity and sexuality, so immediately associated with one another in the surrounding society" (Rego 29). This understanding of the role convention plays in such a commonly overlooked association leads to a much more fundamental comprehension of convention as a whole. One's beliefs, ideals and understandings seem to largely be a result of their experience; this realization of subjectivity looms in the background, making itself known to the select view enabled and motivated to transcend their immediate line of sight. This nature of subjective experience giving way to subjective understanding seems to be "true" all the more when faced with the assumptions one has come to make. If beliefs one holds haven't been looked at as mere beliefs for so long, there are likely a multitude of other assumptions they have neglected to come to terms with thus far.

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Furthermore, when it comes to such commonplaces events such as death, there are a variety of interpretations that further propel the view that personal influence chiefly defines one's understanding nature. In a society in which cannibalism was once practiced, Beth Conklin immerses herself in this environment and comes to see the meaning and reasoning behind this former cannibalistic ritual of the Wari. The seeming oddity from the outside is that the consumption of a posthumous body was done by family members, typically in-laws.

Western society would be abhorred by this, disgusted by the notion of eating another human body, let alone the body of a loved one. It is this very fact, however, that reveals the consumption as a tribute to the life of the person and not an act done out of savagery nor malice. It is an act of sympathy, compassion and grief, in remembrance and love of their lost loved one (Conklin 111-115). The shared love among a family is a trait common in both the Wari culture and typical Western culture; the acts of expression differ greatly, however, when describing this affection in regards to death. If such inevitable and commonplace occurrences like death receive multitudes of explanations contingent upon one's society and experience, it seems clear that much of a person's reality is a result of their convention.

There would seem to be no denial that custom and convention greatly impact the view one takes on the world, but this realization does not necessarily reveal the extent to which they play a part. The recognition of convention neither takes one out of it, nor makes them less a part of it, but simply enables the inside to be viewed from the outside, an expression of both introspection and "extrospection."

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