Reflecting on Napoleon Chagnon

20 Nov

Based on the ethnographic film we watched (Chagnon + the Yanomamo), please respond to the following questions: What responsibilities do anthropologists have to the people they study? What are their obligations? At what point does “helping them” (through trade/influence/etc) actually hurt them? Is it ever possible to truly observe another culture, or does the anthropologist’s presence interfere with what is “real”? Use evidence from the video and your own thoughts.


25 Responses to “Reflecting on Napoleon Chagnon”

  1. czechmate23 November 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    When anthropologists study people that they have to have not effect the community they are studying in a the way of changing what they believe and not to introduce new items if that is different drugs or weapons. There obligations is to leave the culture how they found it while studying them. helping them through trade hurts them when it changes there culture and changes them as a hole since they have these new items or weapons. It not possible to truly observe a culture this small without effecting it i believe if you where studying a culture like Japanese culture it would be impossible for one anthropologist to change the culture but this tribe is very small and he is giving them “advanced technology” so I believe this is a yes in cases of large cultures and no in the case of small cultures.

  2. smb2860 November 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Some responsibilities that anthropologists have to the people they study is to try and help them and try to experience new things. You can’t find something out until you try something new out. In the video, the anthropologist was just trying to get information out of the people to learn something new in the world. If you don’t introduce something new into a community, you won’t know if it will influence the community for good or for bad. If it influences them for bad you try and turn it into something good. Either way, cultures are influenced with anything new.

  3. dietmtndew16 November 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    anthropology is a wishy washy subject. Ethics are always in question when submerging in another culture. They have the responsibility to STUDY not to judge and not to impact. They have an obligation to provide the unabridged truth that informs rather than ostracize. You help them with the best intention but not everything goes over so well. Sometimes their immune system on utter curiosity will lead to their demise.

  4. sap6100 November 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    I think anthropologists have very little obligation to the people that they study because if they do to much they can negitivily affect the community. However, I think they have a small obligation because the people are allowing them to so be there and observe them. I think that if you add anything to the community ir change anything that you are negitivly affecting them because you go there to study the community as they are natrually and they have survived the way that they are so theres no need to change them. I think it is possible to observe the community if you dont change anything about the community and like live how they live without adding your naturally culture.

  5. nicksulis November 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Anthropologists are responsible for obtaining information about the people or subject they are researching, but at the same time limiting everything they do so that they don’t influence any drastic changes. They must do this peacefully and intelligently, as to not disturb the culture or people being researched. If they do intervene in the other culture, it can cause anything from a insignificant thought to the death of someone or many people. Anthropologists being there are helpful, but it is inevitable that there will be an influence in the culture. Even if they don’t try to change anything, even the sight or sound of something can change how someone thinks and acts, especially if they are an under-developed culture, where anything can fascinate/harm them.

    • ericjim1 November 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      I agree that anthropologists have to limit everything they do so they don’t influence change on the community, but no matter how much they try to limit anything, there will be little changes within the culture. There are too many unknowns with going into observing and learning about a culture different than someone else’s.

      • dylans20 November 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

        I agree. I think no matter how much an insider tries to conform to the native society there will be even the smallest impact. Especially because we come from a high-technology and structured society, anyone from here would have an impact.

  6. rachaelf34 November 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    I think its helpful to help out with something they are struggling with, but when you go somewhere and the people need help but they only wanna use you for the stuff they need, that isn’t help. But helping out is a good thing when you are doing something that wouldn’t effect your life, and or the other lives. It is possible to observe there culture but somewhat it doesn’t seem ok.

  7. Jonathan Neroulias November 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    I think that anthropologists are heavily accountable for their actions

    • Jonathan Neroulias November 21, 2012 at 10:29 am #

      My actual reply:
      Is it ever possible to truly observe another culture, or does the anthropologist’s presence interfere with what is “real”? Use evidence from the video and your own thoughts.
      I think that anthropologists are heavily accountable for their actions– they are responsible for themselves, people they bring with them, the and they have to be responsible about what they bring to the cultures they study (diseases, culture breaking technology, weapons). They need to think about the pros and cons of each and every action they make, what is going too far, what rituals to participate in, and how will their being there not disrupt the culture and way of life of these groups of people. I think exposing them to new things hurts them much more than it could ever help them, for example Chagnon traded new tech
      like axes, for information. The upside was that they could use them to chop wood and make more advanced structures or fires, but the downside was that those axes were also used to hurt people. I think that it is never possible to truly observe another culture without the anthropologist interfering with the flow of the “real” culture, but I think it is important that anthropologists go and document these cultures as best they can because the world is limited. The world’s resources are slowly diminishing, and sooner or later these people would be disrupted or taken advantage of by the modern world. The corruption of these cultures is inevitable, but I would sooner have an anthropologist go in and document a culture than it find out about the world that they aren’t nearly caught up to.

  8. madelinej8 November 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Anthropologists main goal is going to new cultures and learning about them, but without interfering with their traditions. They have to learn new information but also respective with their “laws”. The answer to wether anthropologists should help people is complicating. They may help them, but it will be a risk in changing their culture. I think that anthropologists should only help them if the people ask for help. For example, lets say they need medicine, if they ask for it, then we should provide them with medicine. Tricking them to trade things is where it becomes wrong. In the video, the person traded weapons for information that goes against their culture, and I feel that the person was tricked. Also the weapons may become a problem in the near future.

  9. Tenzin. November 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Anthropologists are responsible for acquiring any information for their research, but that should be limited so they don’t have any effect on the other culture. Whether it was their intention or not it will affect the people being researched. Every nation speaks their own and has their own unique culture so it’s better to leave at its own and not influence them to turn into America. Every country should be able to be independent and be able to support its own people and I get that sometimes, they need help in developing their country. But if we always lend them a hand, they will never be able to be independent and always depend on someone else to help. But, if someone is really sick and need help, then I guess it will be good to save a life but at the same time they should be able to handle it themselves without having another country help them.
    (I am not really sure where I would draw the line… )

  10. smw8884 November 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    I think that anthropologists must stay true to the culture and society they are in to some extent. I think anthropologists have responsibility to report exactly what is going on in the society but I do not think they must do what the other culture is doing if they feel it is violating a humans right. Besides that I think when you are an anthropologist you must completely immerse yourself in the culture and not have any judgement, which is outrageously hard to do. I think that when you begin to give the society to many things that they don’t already have it begins to hurt them. I think when you give them to much it will lead to negative outcomes because it is changing them and not making them true to who they are. All of those things factor into why being an anthropologist is very hard.

  11. juliettemartinez November 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    When anthropologists are studying other people and their culture they shouldn’t go and try to change the way other people live their lives and the way they see things. They don’t have the right to go into a village, community, etc., and change things just because they don’t agree with the way things are done in a certain place. I think that an anthropologist’s presence can influence people and how they do things.

  12. musamatiwane November 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    in our discussion it became obvious to us that there is a fine line in the work of an anthropologist. In my opinion a true anthropologist will do anything they can to their limit to respect the cultures of the group they have to study. I believe that there obligations are to study but maintain their impact on the studies. For example, in the video we watched in class Napoleon Chagnon traded machetes and other tools in exchange for interviews. I believe that it will never be truly possible for an anthropologist to do their job. Our own beliefs are to strong to fairly judge.

  13. luthfab November 20, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    I feel that the since the anthropologists are trying to help these people is very thoughtful of them. But I feel that when trying to help these people, they have to consider the fact what the consequence will be and how they would react to these new things. It can hurt them in very several ways since they aren’t use to these things.

  14. karenmejiaworldlit November 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    I don’t think that anthropologists should have responsibilities to the culture they study. Anthropologists should just keep to themselves. They can learn about other cultures, but they should not try and change them. There is no obligation for them to do that. Let me use the example given in class by Ms. Jenkins, “what if you had a cure for malaria and gave it to a community whose people are dying from that disease”. I would personally give it to them because I am helping save people, but then the community that we help would become dependent on us because of this cure we provided. Or a good example is the movie, Chagnon traded weapons to have the Yanomamo tell them who’s who in the family. Now, in the Yanomamo they’re are not suppose to speak the persons name, if they do something bad happens to them. Now, why would Chagnon disrespect and intrudes the Yanomamo’s culture like that? So this process that anthropologists cant just “observe” a culture, because the culture would be curious of why they are being watched and the interaction can harm itself.

  15. ericjim1 November 20, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    The responsibilities that anthropologists have to the people that they study, are to not have a negative impacts on their society/community. Their obligations are that they should observe the people, but not to have any kind of impact on those people, to leave them exactly as they are. When weapons, and things like medicine, basically items that only have come along through evolution and technological growth, that are supposed to “help” the people, actually end up hurting them. Napoleon Chagnon was charged with genocide because he brought the measles vaccine over as a gift, as there was an outbreak in the community. The measles vaccine actually gave some the disease when they got vaccinated, others just died as a result. I feel like an anthropologists presence in a foreign community will interfere with what is actually going on within that community, but I think that it is possible to still observe that culture, though there may some minor differences from they way the culture actually is.

  16. fishsimmons November 21, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    The responsibilities that anthropologists have when they study people is to gather information and learn how people in that culture lives. Their obligations are to respect the culture, and commit to living that lifestyle around the culture. Helping them actually hurts them when you go through trade because if you give them things like weapons, then theres no promise that they will use it in a peaceful way, just like what happened with Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomamo’s.

  17. dylans20 November 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    anthropologists’ discover new things about people who live in different places. They study the interaction between one human with another, their language, their beliefs, etc… I think anthropologists have many responsibilities regarding their actions when it comes to venturing to a new country/place. I feel it’s not right for anthropologists to trade goods, show any type of unknown attitudes or actions, or opinions because it can disturb or change the natural culture.

  18. tainas2 November 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    As an anthropologist it is your responsibility to study people without judging their culture. They must leave the culture the same way it was when they arrived without changing it. In trying to “help” you can change the culture for example trading certain foods, weapons, clothing, or medicine it could forever change their behavior and how they do things. I don’t think it is 100% possible to observe a culture without changing it because your presence makes some type of difference or impact in someone or the entire group.

  19. adriannaj5 December 8, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    I think anthropologists have no care as to how they are affecting or changing the culture they are studying. this is not good for them to introduce new things to the culture because the culture is seeing things they are no very use to and they might look at it in a different way and feel that their culture is bad or under the other culture s because of the things they do.

  20. jasminehiraldo December 9, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    I think that as an anthropologist you have to be very respectful of the culture and you have to make sure not to cross any boundaries. Napoleon Chagnon crossed a lot of boundaries by bringing over the measles vaccine and weapons.

  21. maxleu January 9, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    One resoponsibility anthropologists have to the people they study is to not alter their way of life and have the smallest possible effect on them. By trying to “help” them they can end up hurting them very badly. For example, if an anthropologist gives a group of people a certain vaccine for a disease it can actually proove deadly to them and kill them. Giving them tools and weapons may also hurt them as they could use up all their resources faster or end up starting much deadlier wars. An anthropologist can observe other cultures, although it would be near impossible for them to completely understand it. They have already developed their own opinions and can’t change that.

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