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Introduction to Anthropology: Cultural

Second Midterm Essay Assignments

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."

-- Wade Davis



There are two options for the second midterm essay involving direct anthropological investigation. Focus on either Linguistics (body language or sociolinguistics) or Economics (see below). Any of these options should result in a paper of 1200 – 1700 words (2.5 to 4-pages) worth 50 points (10% of your grade for the class).

Follow the “Guidelines for Written Work in Cultural Anthropology.” Be sure to use a spell-check and check for grammar. Outside references are not required for a passing grade, but they are recommended (and expected for an “A” grade). If you are discussing a situation or making a comparison to a culture for which you do not have first-hand experience, you should cite your references according to the rules described in the “Guidelines for Written Work in Cultural Anthropology.”


Practice participant-observation to make an ethnographic description of a communication event, focusing on either body language (option A) or (sub)culture specific dialect and vocabulary (option B).

Option A: Body Language

Body language is an extensive and complex topic, but the purpose of this assignment is modest: to provide a brief introduction and heighten your awareness of the extent to which people communicate with their bodies. This exercise will make you a better student of ritual and of ethnographic representation in general. You body language report will include two sections: an objective description of the event and an analysis of it.

Procedure: Either (1) describe a communication event between two people that does not involve words or (2) describe the non-verbal popution of a communication event which does involve words. The description section should be as objective as possible, noting only those events that would be evident on a videotape to an observer unfamiliar with the individuals and cultural contexts involved. Your analysis of the communication event can include its social, cultural and emotional context, and may include a comparison of other work on body language in this or another culture.

Option B: Sociolinguistics

In this paper, you will identify and spend some participant-observation time in a distinct speech community of your choice (recall some of the regional accents and dialects you saw in American Tongues). You will describe and analyze particular conversational characteristics, such as the use of a dialect, specialized or particular vocabulary, and/or any other linguistic characteristic, as appropriate. Your paper should have a methods section, a transcription of the actual event (this will be the bulk of the paper), and your analysis and conclusions based on what you recorded.

Procedure: Choose a distinctive speech community to observe. In your methods section, note how and why you chose this particular community, your relationship to it, how many people were involved in the communication event and the physical setting. You should also describe how you conducted your field research: did you tape sessions, take notes, or both? Did you edit your transcript (and if so, what and why)?

The majority of this paper should be a transcript of the actual communication event (noting who said exactly what and any distinctive features of how it was said).

Consider the following questions in your analysis and conclusions: How do your subjects categorize the communication event you recorded (“small talk,” “girl talk,” “arguing,” “bullshitting,” etc.)? How might outsiders view the conversation and its participants? How did their communication style convey cultural distinctions? How does it compare to similar conversations in different (sub)cultural groups?


Choose any product that is available to you as a consumer: anything from a stereo system, to a computer chip, a mail-order shirt, a bottle of shampoo, or a bicycle. Try to find out everything you can about how the price you pay as a consumer is established. This should include information about where and by whom the product is made, grown, assembled and/or packaged. What are the manufacturing costs (material inputs, energy and labor)? Are there any middlemen involved, and what exactly is their role and their percentage? What are the other costs, such as marketing and distribution?

Make every effort to contact the company headquarters (by writing, email and/or phone) of any corporation that manufactures or assembles components, ingredients or inputs for the product, and attempt to find out where their assembly/manufacturing facilities are located, how many people are employed and what their working conditions are (wages, benefits, safety provisions, work hours, etc.). See "The Story of Stuff" website for more ideas. The paper should consist of a detailed log of your attempts to get this information (note all email addresses, web addresses and names of contacts that you learn) and any findings resulting from these efforts.

Follow the "Guidelines for Written Work in Cultural Anthropology."

Contact Me if you have questions or concerns.



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Last modified 23-Sep-2009