Archive for October 25th, 2013

Ethnography 1 – Introduction & Definition   no comments

Posted at 10:32 pm in Uncategorized

Researcher: Jo Munson
Title: Can there ever be a “Cohesive Global Web”?
Disciplines: Economics, Ethnography (Cultural Anthropology)

Malinowski, with Trobriand Islanders.

The archetypal vision of Anthropological fieldwork – but times have changed…

A very brief introduction to Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology forms one of the 5 pillars of the broader field of Anthropology, namely:

  • Physical Anthropology (also called Biological Anthropology)
  • Archaeology
  • Anthropological Linguistics
  • Applied Anthropology
  • Ethnography (Also known as Cultural Anthropology Social Anthropology1)

Common to all Anthropologists is their fascination with human kind.

The scope of Anthropological study is enormous:

  • Physical Anthropologists focus on the evolution of our species and the anatomical differences between different races;
  • Archaeologists lean towards analysing humans through the material remains we leave; and
  • Anthropological Linguists are interested in how our use of language reflects our view of our surroundings, our social hierarchy and social interactions.

Regardless of the application or particular nuance each sub field takes on, the focus is always on finding out more about human beings.

The traditional view of the Anthropologist in the field is the Caucasian middle-aged man living among the tribal peoples of Africa, but this no longer reflects the discipline.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, there began a shift from (predominantly Euro-American Anthropologists) exclusively studying pre-industrial, non-western populations to the study of cultures “closer to home”. The shift reflected the realisation that Anthropologists offer unique insights to society as a whole, not covered by fields such as Sociology. Further more, Anthropology has begun to gain credibility as an applied discipline useful in solving “real world” problems, no longer confined to the realms of academia.

What then, are the particular features that define Ethnography?

[1] Strictly speaking, many argue that Social Anthropology is distinct from Cultural Anthropology. The distinction is not universally defined but some suggest that historically, US Anthropologists have focused more on cultural differences between populations (and commonly adopt the term Cultural Anthropology), whilst UK Anthropologist look more at societal differences (and more commonly use the term Social Anthropology).

Definition: Ethnography (Cultural Anthropology)

Ethnography has been defined as “the study of contemporary and recent human societies and cultures.” where the concept and diversity of culture is central to Ethnographic study. It is further suggested that:

Describing and attempting to understand and explain this cultural diversity of one of [Ethnographers’] major objective. Making the public aware and tolerant of the cultural differences that exist within humanity is another mission of Ethnology.

I think this summarises the objectives of Ethnography clearly, although does lead me to ask what “culture” is to an Ethnographer.

Anthropological definition of culture

Culture has been defined in countless ways by Anthropologists. One formal definition that has been suggested is that:

Culture is the socially transmitted knowledge and behavioural patterns shared by some group of people

That is to say that culture is not defined by biology or race, but is defined by the environment in which we live. Culture is learned from other people in our social group, knowledge is shared such that the group can reproduce and understand one another and behavioural patterns are assumed such that the group functions well, with each member playing their role.

Culture is of course a far more complex concept than described above, but this gives an idea about what is important to an Ethnographer’s studies. In essence, the Ethnographer studies what is important to the human and the human’s social group, including what allows the group to function and what might challenge harmony within the group.

Next time (and beyond)…

The order/form of these may alter, but broadly, I will be covering the following in the proceeding weeks:

  • Can there ever be a “cohesive global web”?
  • Ethnography 1 – Introduction & Definition
  • Ethnography 2 – Disciplinary Approach
  • Ethnography 3 – Theories & Methodologies
  • Economics 1 – Introduction & Definition
  • Economics 2 – Disciplinary Approach
  • Economics 3 – Theories & Methodologies
  • Ethnographic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
  • Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
  • Ethno-Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”


Peoples, J. and Bailey, G. 1997. Humanity. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth.

Barnard, A. 2000. Social anthropology. Taunton: Studymates.

Image retrieved from:

Written by Joanna Munson on October 25th, 2013

Tagged with , , , , ,

Discipline One: Anthropology   no comments

Posted at 5:02 pm in Uncategorized

What is anthropology and what do anthropologists do?

Anthropologists can study just about anything that involves human behaviour. Strange (2009) states that the broadest definition of anthropology classes it as a social science involving the study of human groups and their behaviour, their interactions with each other and their physical environments.

Anthropology can also interact with many other disciplines; such as archaeology and the study of past societies, or in studying contemporary societies an anthropologist can sit alongside sociologists and psychologists to employ more quantitative methods or focus more on individuals.

Anthropology is therefore a very broad discipline with large sub-disciplinary areas – such as social anthropology, cultural anthropology, political anthropology, the anthropology of religion, environmental anthropology… basically, if it exists, anthropologists can study it.

It might seem as if nothing can unite this diversity but anthropology is holistic at heart, attempting to place whatever behaviour it examines within its social and environmental context. By nature, anthropology also aims to be very in-depth to fully understand the full range of people’s lives. To do this it relies on data collected in the field and since this is often hard to operationalize and measure, anthropology tends to be more qualitative, often employing the methodology known as ethnography to study its participants. Ethnography creates a portrait of a group and its dynamics – looking at the groups history and composition, its institutions and belief systems.

Therefore, anthropology attempts to account for the social and cultural variation in the world but a crucial part of the discipline is centred around conceptualising and understanding similarities between social systems and human relationships – therefore anthropologists ‘ask large questions while at the same time draw on the important insights of small places’ (Eriksen, 2010:2).


Eriksen, T H (2010) Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology London: Pluto Press

Strang, V (2009) What Anthropologists Do Oxford: Berg


Written by Amy Lynch on October 25th, 2013