Ethnography 2 – Disciplinary Approach   no comments

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

7'7" Manute Bol and 5'3" Muggsy Bogues.
Ethnographers concern themselves with studying the
cultural differences and similarities between humans

An Ethnographer’s approach to studying humanity

Remembering then that Ethnography can be thought of as:

the study of contemporary and recent human societies and cultures

and that:

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

I now consider what makes Ethnogaphers’ approach to the study of humans distinct from that of say, Sociologists. There are three concepts particularly central to Ethnographic study:

  • Holism – the concept that no one aspect of a society can be understood without understanding how it relates to all other aspects of that community.
  • Relativism – the concept that the observer of a community should not judge the observed community with the prejudices and values of their own culture.
  • Comparativism – the concept that for something to be considered “universal” to all humans, the diversity of global human culture must have been considered.

Relativism and Comparitivism together highlight a particular feature observed amonghst Ethnographers – they tend to fall somewhere between two extremes:

  • Relativists – who concentrate on cultural differences between human socities; and
  • Anti-Relatives – who concentrate on the similarities between cultures, or “human universals”.

The approaches and theories of Cultural Anthropologists has evolved over time, with Evolutionary and Functionalist ideas making way for new ideas. In the same way that Ethnographers can be thought of as Relativist or Anti-Relativist, modern Anthropology considers Materialism and Idealism:

  • Materialists – Materialists believe that the material features of a community’s environment are the most important factor affecting its culture.
  • Idealists – Idealists believe that human ideas affect culture more than any material features.

As with all extremes, the reality is more likely a mix of the two opposing schools of thought.

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.

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Written by Joanna Munson on October 27th, 2013

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