Culture and Behavior of the Sebei: A Study in Continuity and Adaptation

Culture and Behavior of the Sebei: A Study in Continuity and Adaptation

Culture and Behavior of the Sebei: A Study in Continuity and Adaptation

Culture and Behavior of the Sebei: A Study in Continuity and Adaptation

Excerpt

One does not buy judgeship with cattle; one buys it with the ears.

Sebei proverb

ETHNOGRAPHY AS GENRE

It has long been my conviction that every anthropologist owes to the world, for the privilege of having been an anthropologist, at least one good ethnography. But I now realize that the price is too great -- not out of any disenchantment with my discipline, but because the task is impossible. All that one can ask is that the anthropologist try to write a good ethnography. I offer this book as an earnest on that indebtedness.

Ethnography as a genre came into being in a more innocent era. We are apt to think of it as Boasian, for the students of Boas made much of ethnographic data, but it is pre-Boasian -- a product of the amateur scholar, the more erudite missionaries, the local officials, and the presuffragette feminists -- and best represented, as Lévi-Strauss has somewhere pointed out, in the old Annual Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology.

Ethnography has two defining characteristics, beyond the obvious fact that it deals with community life. The first is that it seeks to encompass the whole of life, from the methods of childbirth to the fate of the soul.

The second hallmark of ethnography is that it regards the customary as more important than the actual. Thus, ethnography is a construct of the social order, but, when properly done, it is the natives' construct and not the ethnographer's. The organization of expectation, rather than the regularities of daily existence, is the center of attention. These two features in conjunction lead to the conceptualization of culture, to an awareness of how the totality of life is perceived by the actors themselves and how culture governs, or more accurately monitors, their conduct.

Anthropological theory of the nineteenth and early twentieth century was built on ethnography. In the United States, the dominant pattern for three decades was the study of Indian tribal life. For the most part, this meant . . .

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