Definition and importance of ethnographic fieldwork in cultural anthropology
Ethnography refers to a branch of anthropology that offers scientific interpretations and descriptions of human behavior. Ethnography fieldwork focuses on the systematic study of a particular group of people through observations, and the fieldwork focuses on the interactions and actions of the humans. Ethnographic field work can also be defined as a recording and an analysis of society or culture and it depends on the observations of the participants which result in a written account of an institution, people or place. Ethnographic field work focuses on specific aspects of the society (Gioia, 2014).
Ethnographic fieldwork enables the cultural anthropologist to engage and observe people in their natural habitats hence they get a clear picture of how they go about their lives on a daily basis. Ethnographic fieldwork allows the cultural anthropologists to study particular groups of people to for a long time thus they comprehend the periodic changes in the lives of such people. Moreover, the cultural anthropologists get a chance to draw information from various sources and this increase the reliability of the research findings. All in all, ethnographic fieldwork enables the anthropologists to obtain data directly by involving the targeted people (Gioia, 2014).
Strengths and weaknesses of Ethnographic Fieldwork
The first strength of ethnographic fieldwork is that it uncovers true attitudes and behaviors of human beings thus it helps in making sense of meanings that are hidden. Secondly, it offers interpretations and explanations by relations to theories that are existent. Thirdly, it offers descriptive accounts that are in-depth because it utilizes methods such as interviews and in-depth notes. Fourthly, it offers deep insights into specific contexts. Through ethnographic studies, people get a chance to preserve their heritage and to record their cultures. There are cultural practices that are peculiar to particular cultures, and they are passed down to subsequent generations through the ethnographic studies. Additionally, ethnographic fieldwork enables the cultural anthropologist to deliver a faithful and detailed representation of the people’s attitudes and behaviors (Robben & Sluka, 2012).
Regarding weaknesses, it is time intensive and expensive due to the extensive research that is to be conducted during the study. Furthermore, the covert and over impacts of the researcher's presence ought to be considered. Furthermore, ethical issues may arise due to the correctness of a participant's participation. Accordingly, covert participation can breach the privacy of individuals whiles overt participation may interfere with the manner in which the people behave because they are aware that they are being observed. Markedly, ethnographic fieldwork does not offer quantifiable and specific answers and the findings of the fieldwork cannot be generalized to specific contexts. Cultural differences and human biases inherent in cultural anthropologists may lead to misinterpretations or misunderstanding of some observations in a particular culture (Robben & Sluka, 2012).
Personal thoughts of ethnographic fieldwork
In my opinion, ethnographic fieldwork offers convincing accounts concerning social life. In my opinion, ethnographic fieldwork can change misunderstandings and preconceived notions concerning a specific culture into comprehensions that are positive. The fieldwork offers credibility to interpretations of studies of certain cultures that were conducted in the past. In addition to that, the fieldwork increases the people's understanding of their culture. On the other hand, ethnographic fieldwork consumes a lot of time because the cultural anthropologist must learn the culture and language of the people to be studied. It may be dangerous for the anthropologist if he/she dies not understand the taboos and traditions of the concerned people. The high dependency on the researcher’s observations makes the method too subjective. Furthermore, the cultural anthropologist must take time before gaining the respect and trust of the group to be studied.
How biology and culture determine behavior
The relationship between culture and biology plays a critical role in the behavior of an individual. In other words, the correlation between Nature (genetics and biology) and culture is strong. The interaction between biology and culture leads to the formation of societies, rituals and norms among other culture representations. Culture encompasses the share languages, values, symbols, norms and way of life that are passed on to subsequent generations. Values define the standards of things that are undesirable, desirable, bad or good. Besides, culture, human beings have biological requirements such as such water and food. Failure to attend the biological requirements leads to death ("Culture and Biology", 2015).
Human beings have specific abilities and particular forms that stem from biology and genetics. The forms and abilities set limits on the activities that human beings can use to express their culture. Since human beings are made up of flesh, blood, and bones, they are biological. The genes of human beings are expressed in the physical characteristics that impact the bodily aspects including eye color and skin tone. The manner in which human beings live in the complex cultures depicts that human beings are more than the biological beings (Willmer, 2013).
Early beliefs about biology and culture indicated that there existed cultural differences in various races due to biological differences. The anthropologists and socialists in the contemporary world have recognizes the fact that the relationship that exist between biology and culture is complex. To illustrate, before 4000 BCE, most human beings could not produce a protein that could help them to digest lactose after weaning. Subsequently, the Europeans started drinking milk that was obtained from domesticated animals and thus there was a rapid spread of the genetic adaptation which favored the consumption of lactose. This illustration shows that a cultural shift, which is the domestication of animals, in this case, can contribute to variations in behavior which impact on biology. The biology that was impacted on in this illustration is the genetic adaptation to the digestion of lactose (Willmer, 2013).
Neither biology nor culture is superior to the other; hence biology and culture interact in ways that are complex. Both culture and biology play a big role in gender differences. Gender encompasses the behavioral, psychological, cultural and social features that are associated with being either male or female. The gender identity is defined by the psychosocial and biological considerations. On the other hand, sex encompasses the biological features of being either male or female (Wyer, 2014). Gender roles are influenced greatly by culture, and they depend on the manner in which an individual was raised thus it may not be necessarily in conformance with the gender identity of an individual. Gender differences are caused by various nature and nurture elements. The nature elements include biology whereas the nurture elements encompass socialization ("Culture and Biology", 2015).
The notions about the male and female genders give rise to gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes are the culturally defined behaviors or attitudes that are viewed to be appropriate for one gender and inappropriate for the other gender. For example, in past women were expected to stay at home and give birth to children whereas men went fend for their families. However, things are different in the contemporary world because women do jobs that were considered to be for men and examples of such jobs include physicians, business owners, scientist, executives and lawyers among others (Wyer, 2014).Finally, the gender stereotypes are a depiction that biology and culture influence the behaviors of an individual to a great extent
Culture and Biology. (2015). Boundless. Retrieved from https://www.boundless.com/sociology/textbooks/boundless-sociology-textbook/culture-3/culture-and-society-29/culture-and-biology-182-8110/
Gioia, D. (2014). Reflections on teaching ethnographic fieldwork: Building community participatory practices. Qualitative Social Work, 13(1), 144-153.
Robben, A. C., & Sluka, J. A. (2012). Ethnographic fieldwork: an anthropological reader. John Wiley & Sons.
Willmer, E. N. (Ed.). (2013). Cells and tissues in culture: methods, biology and physiology (Vol. 1). Elsevier.
Wyer, R. S. (2014). The automaticity of everyday life: Advances in social cognition (Vol. 10). Psychology Press.