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MANE-003: Comparative Ethnography

MANE-003: Comparative Ethnography

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Assignment Code: MANE 003/AST/TMA/2022-23

Course Code: MANE-003

Assignment Name: Comparative Ethnography

Year: 2022-2023

Verification Status: Verified by Professor


There are two sections ‘A’ and ‘B.’ Attempt five questions and at least two questions from each section. All questions carry equal marks. 20x5




Q1) Define ethnography? Discuss its emergence of in anthropology.

Ans) The term ethnography refers to a shift in perspective from comparative studies of human cultures and societies that was done when the discipline was ruled by evolutionary theory, to structural functionalism and cultural historical perspectives. From a premise of comparing cultures, the norm of cultural relativism was adapted, and detailed study of unique cultures became the standard method of anthropology. Thus, cultures were seen either as closed, static systems with interdependent parts or as unique products of their history. In either case a method of constructing a detailed account of one culture by a long term and close association of the scholar with it, as participant observation, gave rise to a product called ethnography.


Emergence of in Anthropology

According to Strathearn, anthropological writing derived from fieldwork is ultimately only an “Imaginative re-creation of some of the moments of fieldwork itself,” moreover, “the ideas and narratives which make sense of everyday field experience have to be rearranged to make sense in the context of arguments and analyses addressed to another audience” thus “ethnographic writing creates a second field.” Thus, what one reads is not the field as it actually was, but another one, neatly constructed with appropriate terminology for consumption by those who speak the same language as the fieldworker. The two fields are tangentially placed, only touching upon each other at certain points but deviating significantly at other points.


The only person who inhabits both is the fieldworker whose subjective consciousness both mediates and creates. Since the field is not simple or linear, it is a complex situation where things can happen both predictably and unpredictably, one dilemma is always to sift through a myriad of sensory perceptions, to decide what to include, what not to include and also how to include. Since the ultimate aim of any ethnography is to add to knowledge to explain, it is difficult in the face of impinging sensations to decide or even to know, what it is that will explain and what will build up a reasonably realistic description of what is happening in the field.


Since no one really knows what one will come across and things also keep moving while one is observing and in the field, it is upon the intuition of the fieldworker to recognize certain “ethnographic moments,” moments that will serve to later bring together both the fact of observation and analysis, that will provide the key to explanation and understanding of certain phenomenon essential to an overall understanding of the culture.


One may recreate this moment again and again in the process of writing and use it in a multiple situation of analysis. These can be moments that appear extraordinary or moments that may not take one by surprise when they occur, but in conjunction with other observations, become significant later. While writing even as one deciphers notes and tapes, one may be struck by one of those moments that may have etched themselves in memory.


Q2) Critically examine the kinship ties as depicted in the ethnography Web of kinship among the Tallensi.

Ans) For Tallensi, the term "kinship" is a general term that encompasses all types and degrees of genealogical links, no matter how distant they may be. The fundamental social units that organise company activity are the maximal lineage and clan. The largest group of individuals of either sex who are linked to one another through a shared patrilineal line traced through known agnatic antecedents are said to be in a maximum lineage. A clan is a localised group made up of either the entire maximal lineage or a designated portion of it. A clan often comprises of two or more related maximum lineages of independent patrilineal ancestry whose connection is explained by a myth, distant kinship, or long-standing local solidarity.


The lineage head serves as the shrine's caretaker. The maximal lineage is not only an organic genealogical unit but also an organic ritual unit, and its founding ancestor is worshipped as its patron. Multiple segments of a maximal lineage are identified by reference to each segment's founding ancestor. On the genealogical tree of the entire maximal lineage, a point is designated where that segment's line of descent connects with the other lines of descent that originated from the maximal lineage's founding ancestor. Every maximal lineage is thus divided into one or two parts, which are referred to as major lineages. The minimal segment or minimal lineage, which can be described as the household group made up of the children of one man, is the lowest order of segmentation. This is the smallest agnatic group to which an individual belongs. Segments at the three levels have some liberty to conduct their own ritual, legal, and economic activities.


The Tallensi distinguish clearly between in-lawship and kinship. Marriage indicates that the parties have no family links. The marriage links are artificial and contractual in nature because the family relationships already exist in and of themselves. Rights and obligations that did not previously exist are now a part of marriages. The act of coitus between a man and a woman results in the release of sexual fluids, but procreation also depends on the active principle known as naamis, or the mixing of the male and female sex fluids. Therefore, the male's role in reproduction is just as crucial as the female's.


Patrilineal ancestry is the foundational concept of social organisation and the means through which social structure continuity and stability are maintained. A man gets his political rights, his clan membership, his right to inherit land and other property, and the ritual requirements that are necessary to win the ancestors' favour, all from his father. Maternal parenting, which is founded on sentiment and affection rather than rights, is a key tenet of social organisation. It is based on the idea of sibling equality, the tie between sisters and brothers, and the relationship between the sons of the mother's sister and her first-degree brother.


Q3) Discuss feminist influences in writing ethnographies.

Ans) In the radical milieu of Western Universities in the 1970s, papers and panels presented by young academics at conferences marked the nascent stages of feminist anthropology. One such contribution was Woman the Gatherer: The Male Bias in Anthropology by Sally Slocum, which challenged the male-dominated academy's androcentric and overly simplistic biases toward the roles of men and women as well as the evolution of the species. It was presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Women in the Field, edited by Peggy Golde, was also published in 1970.


The subject of how being a woman affects the experiences of anthropologists performing their study in various locales and eras was raised by this ground-breaking collection of articles by women anthropologists. The foundation of Rosaldo and Lamphere's book was the idea that men and women's relationships varied throughout civilizations and societies. "We find that women are excluded from particular economic or political activities, that their roles as husbands and mothers are connected with fewer powers and prerogatives than are the roles of men," they write. The conclusion that all modern cultures are largely male dominated seems reasonable. Sexual asymmetry is a universal reality of human social life, despite the fact that the level and manifestation of female subjugation varies widely.


The fact that women are typically restricted to the home or private sphere is an important finding. Contrarily, men predominate in the public sphere, giving them more access to and authority over resources in the fields of business, politics, and society. These two volumes' release heralded a virtual upheaval in the area. The writings of Friedrich Engels, a collaborator of Karl Marx, attracted new attention. Feminists saw Engel's Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State as a key text. "Socialist" feminists studied the difficulties faced by poor women all around the world.


Women in civilizations with less complex economic and political institutions and more equitable social structures were compared to women in western capitalist societies to assess their situation. Feminist anthropologists were able to reach quite different conclusions from those of conventional male-centered investigations by placing women at the centre of analysis. For instance, Annette Wiener's well-known re-study of the Trobriand Islands, in which she went back to the location of Malinowski's seminal work and in fact included women's voices in her ethnography, gave us a different portrait of the Trobrianders than the one he depicted.


By the late 1980s and early 1990s, gender anthropologists began to focus less on the experiences of women as a whole and more on how gender and other analytical categories intersect and interact in various social and cultural contexts. For instance, the Indian setting demonstrates quite clearly how challenging it is to distinguish between gender, caste, and class; women's experiences and levels of marginalisation as they are shaped by the junction of these categories. Due to their status in the caste, class, and gender hierarchies, we might say that Dalit women are "thrice marginalised."




Q1) Outline the features of structural-functional approach. Add a note on its criticisms. 20

Ans) The second variety of functionalism that arose in Great Britain takes the needs of society and not the needs of individuals as its starting point. Its adherents became known as Structural Functionalists because they believed that the function of some particular cultural element is the contribution it makes to the persistence of social structure. Social structure refers to the enduring pattern of relationships between individuals and groups. The leading proponent of this approach was A.R. Radcliffe- Brown who imagined that human societies are in some ways like living organisms.


Radcliffe-Brown’s Brief Life History

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown was born in 1881. He started his career as a student of W.H.R. Rivers, a British diffusionist, who was strongly interested in history. Rivers sent Radcliffe-Brown to Andaman Islands in 1906 with the task of reconstructing the cultural history of these non-literate Andaman Islanders. Averse to making conjectural and hypothetical reconstructions, he dutifully recorded Andamanese myths, ceremonies, and customs. Much delayed his book on the Andaman Islanders appeared in 1922.


Radcliffe-Browns Theory of Social Structure

Although Radcliffe-Brown used the concept of ‘social structure’ while delivering a lecture in Birmingham as early as 1914, he described it in detail only in 1940 while delivering his Presidential address at the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. On that occasion he divided anthropologists into students of ‘Society’ and ‘Culture.’ He was of the opinion that Social anthropologists main concern was with the study of ‘society’ and its ‘structural features.’ In his book, Structure and Function in Primitive Society, he has elaborately dealt with his concept of ‘social structure’ and the features of ‘function.’


Types of Social Structure

Radcliffe-Brown distinguished ‘social structure’ from ‘structural type.’ According to him in actual structure the relations of persons and groups of persons change from time to time. New members come in by birth and immigrations while others go out by death and migration. Besides this, there are marriages and divorces, whereby members change several times.


Radcliffe-Brown’s Structural-Functional Approach

To illustrate the relationship between structure and function, Radcliffe-Brown turned to biology. The structure of an organism consists of an ordered arrangement of parts. The function of the parts is to interrelate in the structure of an organism. Similarly, social structure is an ordered arrangement of persons and groups whose function is to inter-relate the structure of society. Social function is the interconnection between social structure and social life. Like an organism, the social life of a community may be defined as the functioning of its social structure.


Criticism of Structural-Functional Approach

Despite the above cited contributions, the structural functionalists failed to answer many questions adequately. First, because of their emphasis on steady states, they did not produce an adequate theory of why cultures change. Such a theory is a reasonable requirement of any approach because change occurs everywhere at varying rates. Second, most structural functionalists treated widespread conflict as an abnormal state: if individuals and groups regularly quarrelled or fought with one another, structural functionalists believed that something had gone wrong with the mechanisms that restored equilibrium. Most anthropologists now recognize that conflict is a normal condition in almost all people.


Q2) Discuss how Futhwa had looked at traditional remedies in his work in South Africa.

Ans) Setho-Afrikan Philosophy and Belief System, written by Fezekile Futhwa, is a thorough examination of African thought and belief. It defines "Setho" as a belief system and describes its distinctive traits, cultural components, mythological connections, rites and rituals, and norms and practises that are prevalent in African civilization.


In South Africa under apartheid, the author Futhwa was born. He became a Christian and began practising worship as such after being baptised. His family was eventually evacuated to a homeland called QwaQwa in 1979 after becoming weary of the abuse. He made the decision to be African and hasn't entered a church since. He came to the realisation that "faith and belief is the proper term and not religion" while searching for the African belief system. As Africans, we do not adhere to the commercialization of religion, which is the result of religion.


Intellectual Context

The conceptual context is that it is necessary to record people's knowledge because there is a strong likelihood that it will eventually be lost. This endeavour can be referred to as "salvage anthropology."



The Basotho people of South Africa were the subject of intensive fieldwork using the accepted anthropological techniques. The author spent a lot of time with the participants while undertaking numerous observational and interview techniques. Additionally, case studies of various individuals were gathered.


Analysis of Data

About the Area and the People: The Basotho people of South Africa are the subject of the book. The Sotho people's forefathers made many migrations to the region south of the Limpopo river. They eventually split into four subgroups, the Tswana, North Sotho, South Sotho, and East Sotho, and spread out throughout the vast interior plateau between the eastern escarpment and the parched western areas. While those who settled in the southern regions chose the name Basotho, those in the western regions favoured the name Batswana.


Understanding African Thought & Belief System-through the lens of Futhwa: A vital component of both human life and society is faith and belief. A person's psychological condition of holding a proposition or premise to be true is known as belief. Faith is a firm belief or faith in something or someone's veracity or dependability. Therefore, everyone believes that their interpretation of God is accurate and legitimate. However, since faith is a belief, neither can ever be verified.


Mythology for Creation of State

  1. The African Basotho people hold that Ntsoana Tsatsi, a location in the Far East, was the site of human beginnings. The term "Ntsoana Tsatsi" refers to a location where the sun rises.

  2. The three emblems in creation mythology are: the Mythological, the Sun, and the Water.

  3. The sun is revered as a creator who bestows hope by bringing sunshine. East represents the start and finish of life.

  4. River is a metaphor for the passage between life stages and for the gap between this realm and the rest of the spirit world. Traditional healers were endowed with their healing talents in the river itself, and the river provides shelter to "reptiles," who are living embodiments of the spirit world.

  5. Reeds, a sign of purity, stand watch between the physical world and the spiritual realm. They contain the information that governs the subconscious mind and are at the entrance to the spirit world.

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