FACES OF CULTURE: The Nature of Anthropology Faces of Culture Film Synopsis: The Nature of Anthropology provides an introduction to general topics in anthropology touching briefly on ethical issues that have risen from certain exploitative 19th century anthropological practices. This film is best used as a visual guide on the first day of class but portions of it also could be integrated throughout the lecture as you discuss each of the topics below.
Beginning with a clip of fieldwork by the McDougals, the question of globalization/westernization is raised by contrasting herders in Turkana, Kenya with Europeans and sedentary housing. The diversity of cultures is next shown through clips on rituals. Biological anthropology is introduced via adaptation (pp. 5-7 and 13-4), using the example of the Tasmanians and how they were studied as a human variation oddity. This brief history of an indigenous population driven to extinction introduces cultural imperialism and the ethics of studying human remains through the fate of Truganini, the last full-blooded Tasmanian. An exciting moment is a clip of Franz Boas’ 1914 ethnographic film featuring a Kwakiutl war ritual that exemplifies the value of cultural relativism. Another early anthropology ethnographic film clip is from Margaret Mead’s fieldwork in Samoa on how cultural environment influences behavior (pp. 20-2). An overview of how the two main divisions in anthropology, cultural and biological (pp. 10-1), attempt to both study world cultures and their peoples without ethnocentrism. Lastly, preservation of cultures threatened by westernization is seen via a sacred poll, taken from the Omaha by Alice Fletcher and housed at Harvard’s Peabody museum, as it is returned to its people.
Faces of Culture Film Guide: What differences do you notice in the rituals at the start of the film?
What happens to the Tasmanians and why?
What happened to King Billy?
What is Truganini’s worst fear?
What did Mead discover in Samoa?
What happened to the sacred poll of the Omaha?
Kottak Text/Faces of Culture Film Links: Given Kottak’s discussion of human adaptability (pp. 5-7), what examples of cultural and biological diversity do you see in the first segment of this film?
Kottak discusses how culture shapes biology (pp. 8-9). Can you apply this concept to the Tasmanians and their colonial and post-colonial history?
Thinking About Anthropology Beyond the Film:
The film clip on snake-handling is provocative. What is your response to this? Why is this performed? Do you see any elements of danger (even if heavily masked or symbolic) in religious rituals with which you are more familiar?
What is your response to the period from 1803-1876 when the indigenous Tasmanian population was destroyed as a result of the establishment of Tasmania as a British penal colony consisting of rapists, arsonists, and murderers? Do sovereign states have rights over territories that have been historically occupied by indigenous populations that do not recognize state boundaries of territories? Can we resolve this conflict in perception of territories?
From an ecological perspective, should humans alter environments to the extent the British did by importing sheep to Tasmania, which then prospered and drove the indigenous populations from their traditional hunting grounds?
The final fate of Truganini, the last full-blooded Tasmanian, was to be displayed in a museum as an artifact of a vanished culture by the very people that drove that culture to extinction. Do humans have the right to study the remains of other humans and to what extent?
Do you agree with the statement: “all cultures are at risk?”
The film states that the task of many cultural anthropologists is to preserve vanishing cultures. Should vanishing cultures be preserved? Additionally, using the example of the sacred poll of the Omaha, has anthropology been guilty of stripping cultures of their meaning by removing artifacts from the context in which they were created?
Kottak, Cultural Anthropology, Tenth Edition
Chapter 12: Methods and Ethics in Cultural Anthropology
I. FACES OF CULTURE: How Cultures are Studied Faces of Culture Film Synopsis: How Cultures are Studied introduces ethnography (p. 324). This is particularly interesting in light of the recent AAA inquiry into Napoleon Chagnon’s ethics in fieldwork among the Yanomami. This film may be shown in its entirety, preferably after delivering a lecture discussing the techniques one would use in the field so that students have a point of reference, along with their assigned reading for the day, while viewing the film. Because the techniques that Chagnon uses in the film are not presented in the same order that Kottak presents them, it might be cumbersome to attempt to show a clip that is relevant to each particular subheading in Kottak. If you would like to integrate the film into the lecture, the best method is to organize your lecture on field techniques according to the synopsis below (rather than Kottak’s organization) so that you are able to stop the film at key points and discuss the techniques and them resume the film again after.
Punctuated with Chagnon (p. 320-1) delivering a lecture to an anthropology class, the film highlights clips from his fieldwork in 1964 among the Yanomami in South America (located mostly in Brazil but also in Venezuela). The Yanomami are tribal hunters and gatherers who engage in small-scale cultivation to supplement their diet. Ethnographic tools such as participant observation (pp. 324-5), interviews (pp. 324-6), key cultural consultants (p. 328), cultural relativism (p. 329), kinship charts (p. 327), census taking, mapping, and frame substitution are highlighted. Chagnon’s comprehensive fieldwork resulted in data on social organization, mapping of living spaces, linguistics, ritual and religion, symbolism, warfare, and socio-economics.
Faces of Culture Film Guide: The film begins with a scene of children playing an imaginary game. What is the game they are playing? Would American children play this game? Why or why not?
How does Chagnon conduct his census?
What cultural practice makes census taking difficult and resulted in him discarding one year’s worth of kinship organization charts?
What are the hekura?
How do the hekura exemplify cultural specific perceptions of illness that create a conflict between Chagnon and Dedeheiwa?
What are the two social rules that Chagnon indicates as determinants in the apportionment of living space?
What is fission-fusion and how does it occur according to Chagnon’s documentation of the phenomenon?
How does fission-fusion help maintain population levels?
Kottak Text/Faces of Culture Film Links: Kottak provides a list(p. 324) and detailed explanations of ethnographic field techniques
(pp. 325-9). What examples do you see of these, if any, in the Chagnon film? Do you see any data collected not discussed in Kottak?
Given Kottak’s narrative about the accusations brought forth against Chagnon for unethical behavior (pp. 320-2) and his discussion on ethics in ethnography (pp. 322-4), do you see any evidence of misuse of judgment in Chagnon’s field work methods?