Cultural Diversity: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Anthropology 101 – Cultural Diversity: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Jenna Musket, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology. Department of Anthropology.
Final Project/Paper, Fall 2018 Worth 35 points or 35% of grade.
Assignment #2, a one page proposal, due on Thursday November 8th (Worth 5 points/ 5% of grade) &
Assignment #3, your Final Ethnography, which is due in hard copy Tuesday, December 4th Bring a “hard copy” to class! (Worth 30 points or 30% of grade)
Overview: In the opening paragraph to Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, our course text, the editors write: “Culture, as the name suggests, is at the heart of cultural anthropology. And the concept of culture, along with ethnography, sets anthropology apart from other social and behavioral sciences.” (McCurdy, Shandy and Spradley 2016: 2) In this, your challenge for your Final Paper is to compose a 5-8 page first-hand personal study of American culture, an ethnography. In this course, “Cultural Diversity: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,” your ethnography should explore and investigate, experientially, exactly what ‘America’ means to its diverse people(s)?
In exploring anthropology, you need approach your investigations of culture with an open mind where you take nothing for granted including the most ordinary, mundane items and events…as these are all “clues” in examining the dynamics of American culture. Keeping this in mind, your final project is to investigate, describe and analyze American culture using an ethnographic research method i.e. participant-observation, interviewing or autoethnography. Please review the following options, and choose which seems most interesting to you.
1) Participant Observation (students may opt to do this as a “team-based” or an individual assignment)
Describe and analyze “American culture” by conducting participant observation for a two to three hour period at a specific site (this can include the home, attendance at an on-campus event or activity, a holiday gathering, a community walk on a particular street or intersection in a particular neighborhood, identification of and engagement in a “little routine”, a workplace, a store, a public space, a religious service, a restaurant, a mural, a concert or music venue, etc.) Identify a topic and a site where you can examine, first hand, diversity in American culture. Plan to immerse yourself in that environment. Commit to a day and time.
Before engaging in participant observation, do some background history on your “site.” Jot down any assumptions you have prior to going “there” and engaging in this activity. Contrast your pre-immersion assumptions with what you actually “find” in that environment. Write up field notes on what you see and notice: sights, sounds, tastes, textures, etc. Make note of how the space is organized; boundaries, cultural markers, how people shape or use the space; how people are dressed, how they talk, interact, etc. Include snippets of real language from the environment: signs, conversations overheard, insider language, words, phrases especially if you talk to anyone. Be sure to include reflections after you engage in your participant observation exercise. Please note that while two or more students can work together on this assignment i.e. go to the same neighborhood or event as a team …each student must submit a final paper that presents their participant observation, investigation and analysis of American culture.
2.) Interview someone (over a holiday or in a relaxed space) who is culturally different from yourself [race, ethnicity, age, religion, gender, class, etc]. Identify a topic for the interview; what’s the purpose of the interview? What do you want to know? Make a beginning list of 10-15 questions that you think can help with the flow of your interview. Add new questions as you immerse yourself in the topic, and in the rapport of where the interview takes you. Be sure to ask when and where they were born. How do their responses reflect important cultural beliefs, values or knowledge? Although a “personal” interview, how can you apply a socio-cultural analysis of their story? That is what key terms and core concepts from the book are most suitable for “framing” the interview?
If you choose this option, you will need to ask them to sign an “informed consent form” (posted to BB Learn in the Assignments file) for educational purposes. This option requires that you submit your questions, transcript of the interview or the audio or videotape of a 45 minute to one hour interview along with your final paper. An oral history interviewee or person interviewed during the course of your research may be considered an attributed source of knowledge. You will need to ask your interviewee if they would like to be cited as a source in your paper, or if they wish to remain anonymous, if anonymous, you may want to create a pseudonym for them in the telling of their story as well as pseudonym initials in the transcript of the interview.
3)Auto-ethnography As a genre of writing, autoethnography combines the
characteristics of life writing (such as autobiography, memoir, personal narrative) with the research practices of ethnography and anthropology, which study and describe cultures. Autoethnography is a form of writing that lets us reflect on how we create meaning through experience, storytelling, and knowledge. An auto-ethnography is writing culture from a first person perspective.
Autoethnographies study the self within the structures and the dynamics of power in culture(s), and, paradoxically, also study cultural concerns through an acknowledged awareness of self. This assignment asks you to write your own autoethnography, to consider how keywords and concepts from the course help you understand your own experiences with race, class, gender, sexual orientation, dis/ability, community, and/or nation as well as how your personal experiences help you to understand course concepts and keywords.
Auto-ethnography is NOT simply your autobiography. Auto-ethnography offers the opportunity to use your own experiences as examples and illustrations to support or challenge some of the more abstract ideas we have read this semester. If you choose to do an auto-ethnography, you can focus on journaling about experiences and interactions that explore cultural beliefs about orientation to the world, space, time, language, relationships and social interactions, gendered roles or expectations, clothing styles, food preferences or people considered important or significant to a particular social group in a particular environment. This challenge of composing an autoethnography is to “frame” it with a socio-cultural analysis that entails inclusion, explanation and illustration of key terms and core concepts learned over the term.
#4: Propose an idea for an independent project based on the notion of “investigating culture” that you think is suitable for a course on Cultural Diversity: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Identify a topic, a site, a qualitative research method to explore that topic. The challenge as with any of the other options, is to write an ethnography that includes a socio-cultural analysis of American culture that includes key terms, core concepts in the framework of your final paper. Which terms and concepts…which chapters will be most useful in providing a framework of analysis for your ethnography?
Feel free to meet with me during office hours, stay a bit after class or chat by email to discuss ideas that you may have for your final paper.
EXPECTATIONS- ALL OPTIONS: Your final paper should make good use and connections to anthropological theory, terms, and concepts learned during the term. The final paper must be typed and double-spaced. You should present one or two “findings” from your engagement with your project, and offer plenty of “evidence” to support claims throughout the paper. What did you really learn after your engaging in your ethnographic project? What insight can you assert as a thesis? In asserting a main idea, use “evidence” from your descriptions in your fieldwork, and support or challenge this with key terms, core concepts, ideas, authors, theorists presented in the course text and three additional sources. The expected page length of the final paper is 5-8 pages narrative. Cite sources appropriately both within and at the end of the paper on a works cited page.
If you have any questions or concerns, make an appointment to discuss your project with me, or email me at