Does personality shape culture, or does culture shape personality? Should one’s value system be relative to personal experience? Is it possible to understand another culture? How personal is the fieldwork experience?

The course syllabus is here.

The course textbook is William Haviland’s Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge (11th ed.) A link to the course reader can be found here; selected articles are also available below:

Eating Christmas in the Kalahari (Richard Borshay Lee) – Examines the fieldwork experience, ethnocentrism, and the challenges of participant observation.

Body Ritual Among the Nacirema (Horace Miner) – An anthropologist’s observations about private rituals.

Shakespeare in the Bush (Laura Bohannan) – Cultural relativity and participant observation.

Towards a Native Anthropology (Delmos J. Jones) – Anthropology is often concerned with the “outsider’s” perspective. But what if you belong to the culture you’re studying?

The Initiation of a Maasai Warrior (Tepilit Ole Saitoti) – An essay about a coming of age ritual.

We will watch some of the following films in class; all of them are useful for thinking more critically about “coming of age” and how to document it:

Devil’s Playground (2002) – A documentary that examines the Amish coming of age experience, Rumspringa. (IMDB)

Exiled (2008) – An MTV series that poses important questions about ethnocentrism. (MTV)

Girlhood (2003) – Documentary chronicling America’s justice system. Follows two female inmates – victims of horrific violence and tragedy – who are serving time in a Maryland juvenile detention center. (IMDB)

Jesus Camp (2006) – A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham. (IMDB)

7 Plus Seven (1970) – Director Michael Apted revisits the same group of British-born children after a 7 year wait. The subjects are interviewed as to the changes that have occurred in their lives during the last seven years. (IMDB)

16 and Pregnant (2009) – Produced by MTV, this series follows 16-year-old girls through their experience with teenage pregnancy. (IMDB)

Faces of Culture: How Cultures are Studied (1983) – The third in a series of episodes that examine the human experience, How Cultures are Studied is an introduction to ethnography that focuses on Napoleon Chagnon’s work with the Yanomamo. (Series information here; all videos here; film available on YouTube in three parts – one, two, and three.)


What challenges do anthropologists face in the field? | After reading Shakespeare in the Bush and Eating Christmas in the Kalahari, define the ideas of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism and analyze the anthropologists’ experiences in terms of these concepts.

Who are you? | Create a short (~1-minute) film that answers this question. You’ll probably use it as an introduction to your colleagues abroad.

Dim sum documentary | In groups (~6), create a short film that documents the dim sum experience using ethnographic methods. Watch How Cultures are Studied, below.

Cultural probes | What does “16” look like, sound like, eat like? Complete the activities outlined here and post them to this website, and we’ll use your artifacts to find answers to those questions. (Read this for more information about how ethnographers use cultural probes.)

What is anthropology? | How has this course changed the way you view the world around you? Use evidence from three readings to explain your understanding of culture, value systems, beliefs, and coming of age.

Final mini-documentary | In your “country” groups, create a short documentary (less than 10 minutes) to share your findings about what “16” really is. What does coming of age look like in New York City and elsewhere?


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