To highlight what constitutes the foundation of Man, anthropologists, ethnographers, and theologians like Jonathan Smith, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Clifford Geertz constantly study “savage” societies, societies very different from our own. Scholars endlessly debate which characteristics all people possess and try to find a definition of religion that holds true for all societies and all religions, yet they never seem to consider the large discrepancies in research methods.
[...] It annuls history, reduces sentiment to a shadow of the intellect, and replaces the particular minds of particular savages in particular jungles with the Savage Mind immanent in us all.” This vast and complicated system for understanding people he doesn't understand stems from Lévi-Strauss's search for Man, instead of and allows Lévi-Strauss to side-step his failure to gain “intellectual closeness and physical distance.” Geertz suggests that anthropologists should get to know and understand their research subjects by employing “epistemological empathy” rather than trying to determine the “true meaning of Man.” bridge between our world and that of our subjects (extinct, opaque, or merely tattered) lies not in personal confrontation--which, so far as it occurs, corrupts both them and us. [...]
[...] A synthesis of Smith, Lévi-Strauss and Geertz's ideas regarding how to study cultures shows that good anthropological research must study and compare several different cultures, involve at least some first-hand objective documentation, and involve full understanding of the people on the anthropologist's part. Only one solution grants anthropologists this kind of depth, breadth, and understanding: a collaboration of anthropologists studying their own cultures, or living among other cultures for extended lengths of time to assimilate into them (the former is preferable). [...]
[...] Geertz, another anthropologist whose attempts to establish rapport appear in his article “Deep on Balinese cockfighting, completely contrasts not only Lévi-Strauss's method of study through observation (to be expected) but also his entire conception of how to address one's research subjects. In the beginning of his article, Geertz shows his and his wife's difficulties in infiltrating the Balinese, describing their position as virtual nonentities due to their outsider status. Geertz's study of the Balinese does not truly begin until his acceptance into their culture, which starts when he runs alongside them from the police raid on the cockfight in the town square. According to Geertz, this rapport established by his shared flight with the Balinese leads to his ability to infiltrate the Brahmana priest's house, somewhere few Balinese venture, and allows him to gather difficult to attain data. While both ethnographers study cultures first-hand, the opposition stems from Geertz's quest for involvement with and acceptance into Balinese society and on the other hand Lévi-Strauss's view of involvement as a corruption of himself and his informants. [...]
[...] They should not completely retract from their society, as Lévi-Strauss prescribes, but instead participate and document with the intent to reflect upon what transpired later from an objective point of view, providing a balance between completely objective observation and biased, unthinking participation. Studies of one's own society would also require precise and in-depth notes and the ability to delve deeper into parts of society that seem bland or unimportant on the surface level. Very often events that seem pointless or mundane have deeper meaning or interesting ideals at a deeper level. [...]
[...] Smith addresses the first problem in another of his essays, “Bare Facts of Ritual” when he records the contradiction between the idea of killing a bear bloodlessly in hand-to- hand contact, and the actual practice of using “traps, pitfalls, self- triggering bows, snares, and shotguns to kill them.” This tribe only follows its rules for killing bears during the bear festival when they parade around and then slaughter a captive bear cub. The second problem appears in cultures like the Nambikwara who “have no written language.” Smith could only study other people's accounts of what the Indians are like, but these accounts may or may not apply to the Indians now and the opinions of those who observed the Indians would taint the records. [...]
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