Anthropology 101-04
The Anthropological Perspective
Fall 2008

Writing Assignments

Professor Ann Marie Leshkowich
Beaven 230
Office Hours: M 10-11, 1-4, W 1-2:30, F 1-3


Assignment Objectives

Learning how to do anthropology requires practicing two different, but closely related skills: 1) defining and analyzing theoretical models and 2) constructing a project and methodology that will provide information to address these concerns. Weekly written assignments will give you the opportunity to develop and practice both of these skills.

While the assignments vary from thought experiments to ethnographic exercises, each asks you to relate your ideas or findings to the readings for that week. For each assignment, make sure that you formulate a thesis statement, present it in the introductory paragraph, and use it to guide your arguments in the body of your paper. These assignments are the only papers you will write for this class, so use them to hone your skills in formulating and supporting anthropological arguments; you'll need these skills for the mid-term and final as well.


Arguments and Thesis Statements

Response papers are relatively short, but they each require you to reflect critically on the course's material, themes, and modes of inquiry. Each paper MUST have an introductory paragraph with a clearly articulated thesis that states the argument which the rest of the paper will advance. A thesis statement is not a declaration of fact, a broad claim, or an obvious assertion. A thesis statement is an interesting and specific contention about which one can reasonably debate and disagree. A thesis statement also serves to orient the reader by highlighting the major themes which will be discussed in the rest of the paper. Each of the assignments below pose questions which are intended to guide you in formulating a provocative and insightful thesis.

Examples of thesis statements:

BAD: Culture plays an important role in American life today. (This statement is both obvious and general; nobody would be likely to disagree.)

BETTER: Culture has played an important role in contemporary American discussions of racial difference. (This statement relates discussions of culture to another hot topic in American life, but it doesn't specify culture's role and hence can't easily be contested. The reader has no clue as to how or why culture is important.)

GOOD: In contemporary America, the term "culture" is often used to explain supposed racial differences in behavior and temperament. While an improvement over earlier descriptions of racial differences as inborn or genetic, this use of culture is in fact a misuse because it is fundamentally at odds with anthropologists' insistence on culture as a product of socialization, not biology. (These sentences introduce a specific characterization of the way the term "culture" is used today and make a clear, but arguable statement as to the nature and/or significance of this usage.)

For an excellent, detailed discussion of how to formulate a thesis statement, take a look at this guide from Harvard University's Writing Center.


Paper Requirements and Grading

The specific assignments for each week are listed below. Unless the assignment indicates otherwise, each paper should be 2-3 double-spaced pages. Assignments are due by email before class on the dates listed below. There are eleven assigned papers, of which you must complete eight. Each of the papers will be graded according to a three point scale, for a total of 24 points toward the final course grade. For more info on grading standards, click here. A ninth paper can be completed for extra credit up to a maximum of 24 points. Late papers will not be accepted.

NOTE: Several of these papers require you to complete a specific ethnographic field exercise. These papers require advance preparation, so be sure to select your sites or arrange for interviews well in advance of the due date.


Assignment 1: Sociocultural Anthropology and Evolution (due September 10 by e-mail before class)

In class and in the readings assigned for this unit, we've seen that sociocultural anthropologists originally embraced but then vehemently opposed applying concepts such as evolution, primitive, and civilized to human societies and cultures. How does the fate of Ishi and his remains reflect this history? As a student embarking on your study of anthropology, what key lessons about culture, science, and identity politics do you take from Ishi's story and legacy? (Hint: you may want to organize your paper with a primary argument and thesis statement that addresses the second question and then use your answer to the first question as a way of organizing the substance/building blocks of your analysis.)


Assignment 2: Approaches to Fieldwork (due September 17 by email before class)

In class last Monday, you performed a skit illustrating the fieldwork methods that Bronislaw Malinowski or Dorinne Kondo might use to learn about a specific situation in the U.S. This assignment asks you to write up your results and reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of their respective approaches. First, briefly describe the method the anthropologist you were assigned (either Kondo or Malinowski) would use to analyze the specific situation you enacted. Next, assuming the voice of this anthropologist, explain why this method might be superior to that of the other anthropologist (i.e. what are its strengths, why are the weaknesses the other anthropologist might identify for the method in fact not significant in the opinion of your anthropologist?) Finally, in your own voice, use this exercise to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the two methodologies: Is one clearly better than the other? Might they be usefully combined? If so, how? Are they each better suited to certain types of fieldwork situations, and not others? (Hint: Remember to include an intro paragraph that will present a thesis previewing your overall conclusions about these two methods.)


Assignment 3: The Social Organism (due September 22 by email before class)

Imagine that you are a functionalist anthropologist (Malinowski or Rappaport) and have just completed your study of a culture/society with which you are familiar (i.e. Holy Cross, a dorm, your hometown, a place to which you have traveled). Briefly present your findings. Based on your analysis, what do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of functionalism, and why are these significant?


Assignment 4: The Mead-Freeman Debate (due September 29 by email before class)

In class on September 29, we will have a roundtable discussion about the Mead-Freeman debate. You will be assigned to represent the views of one of the following: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, Samoan adolescent girls, or Samoan chiefs. To prepare for the debate, write a position paper in which you represent your character's response to the issues raised by the Mead-Freeman debate. For example, if you are Margaret Mead, how would you respond to Derek Freeman's critique of your research methods and intellectual bias? What is your position in light of his critique, and why do you feel it is valid? To take another example, if you are a Samoan chief, how do you feel about Mead and Freeman's characterizations of your behavior? Who was right, who was wrong, and why? (Note: Since so many points arose in the course of Freeman's critique of Mead, feel free to pick just one or two which you feel are most important to address.)


Assignment 5: Cultures as Texts (due October 3 by email before class)

In "Deep Play," Geertz writes that the Balinese cockfight is "a Balinese reading of Balinese experience, a story they tell themselves about themselves" (448). Following Geertz's example, pick an event such as a sports match and analyze it as a social and cultural text. If possible, try to attend the event you've chosen (or watch it on television with others). What does your analysis suggest to you are the strengths and weaknesses of Geertz's "culture as text" approach? (Remember: Geertz tells us that although the cockfight is a violent blood sport, its popularity doesn't mean that Balinese are violent. In fact, he tells us, they are quite eager to avoid violence and look down on anyone who displays it. So, why is such a violent sport so popular? Geertz says it's because it is meaningful. The cockfight isn't a direct representation of Balinese life, but a meaningful commentary on the issues of violence and competition which Balinese confront or are concerned with in the course of daily life. Be sure to keep this in mind as you write your account of an American event.)


Assignment 6: Interpretive Drift (due October 15 by email before class)

Luhrmann writes that the central question of her study is belief or "how people come to make certain assertions and to act as if they were true" (7). The answer to this question lies in something which Luhrmann calls "interpretive drift." Pick a specific example of what Luhrmann would call interpretive drift from your own experience, from that of someone you know, or from the book. Based on this example, address the following questions: What does Luhrmann mean by "interpretive drift"? How does it link interpretation, experience, and rationalization? Do you find her model convincing? Why or why not?


Assignment 7: Kinship (due October 27 by email before class)

Your assignment this week is to chart your own kinship tree. Use triangles for men, circles for women, and cross off people who have died. Go back as far as you can, and as far out laterally as you can. After you draw your relations, indicate which ones are most important to you. For the paper, choose one of the following topics: 1) describe an incident in which kinship roles were significant and explain what this reveals about kinship ideas in your family and community; 2) explain why certain relatives are more important to you than others and compare this with the formal and informal experiences of Chinese kinship depicted in Wolf or Small Happiness; 3) Critique the strengths, weaknesses, and underlying assumptions of this method of recording and analyzing kinship relations. (Hint: Make sure that your paper is organized around a central thesis statement which relates your family tree to the more general issues of kinship covered in class!)


Assignment 8: Paris Is Burning, Travesti and the Performance of Gender (due November 5 by email before class)

Pretend that you have been asked to write a brief (2-3 pages) review comparing the film Paris Is Burning to Kulick's book Travesti for a student journal of anthropology. Your assignment is to highlight what ideas about gender are portrayed in the film and book, how they compare to each other, and how they contribute to anthropological debates about gender. Pay particular attention to how the anthropologists we have read and discussed have debated the links between gender, social relations, culture, and biology. Does Paris is Burning reinforce or question Kulick's analysis? In what ways? With what broader lessons about how we should understand gender?


Assignment 9: Illness and Healing (due November 14 by email by 5pm)

Describe and analyze an illness episode in your or your family member's or close friend's life. What beliefs about medicine, sickness and health came into play? In light of Farmer's book, what does this suggest to you about the relationship between biology, culture, economics, and/or politics in conceptions of illness? How might anthropology alter our understandings of health and medicine?


Assignment 10: The Meaning of Things (due November 24 by email before class)

This assignment asks you to construct a social and cultural biography of an object or service. You can select anything: an heirloom, a piece of clothing, a food item, a restaurant meal, a computer, a travel service, a class being taught. Interview the current possessor of the object or service, such as its owner or an employee at a store which intends to sell it. What you will then do is try to trace the history of the item/service: Where did it come from? How was it acquired? What skills or relationships were necessary to acquire it? How were they acquired or formed? Who will purchase or get the item next? How and why? What is their relationship to the current possessor? How is this relationship transformed by the item/service? Try to track the history of this object's ownership as far back as you can. Does the nature or meaning of the object change at any given point? Does it, for example, go on and off the market? Why? Based on the material yielded by your investigation of this one item or service, what kinds of relationships between people and cultural ideas get expressed through contemporary forms of exchange? How might your example be used to support or critique Mauss, Marx, and/or Carsten's theories about exchange and capitalism?


Assignment 11: Globalization in Advertising (due December 5 by email before class)

There's been a growing trend in print and television advertisements to link a product with some aspect of global culture and difference. Some ads, for example, emphasize how technology might be breaking down difference, while others celebrate cultural diversity. Pick an ad with some kind of global theme and analyze what it says about globalization and cultural difference. Based on your analysis, do you think globalization is producing homogeneity or heterogeneity? In what sense?


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