The problem of typicality is a perennial one for anthropologists because participant observation is an intrinsically microscopic technique. Clifford Geertz has tried to deal with it aphoristically by proposing that "anthropologists don't study villages . . . they study in villages" ( Geertz 1973: 22). But how do they know that their villages contain representative versions of the general things they are after? How much, in the present case, did Rutgers students resemble other American late-adolescents in college in the late 1970s and 1980s? No other anthropologist has applied long-term participant observation to undergraduates in American colleges, so this question cannot be answered with precision. But there are many alternate sources that suggest that the Rutgers students were far from atypical.
First of all, the generalizations in recent, more conventionally researched books about American college students elsewhere are, when they overlap with my own, generally consistent with them. Ernest Boyer College: The Undergraduate Experience in America ( 1987) and the contemporary sections of Helen Lefkowitz Horowitzs Campus Life: Undergraduate Cultures from the End of the eighteenth Century to the present ( 1987) are the most useful of these sources. Mirra Komarovsky Women in College: Shaping New Feminine Identities ( 1985) is also of value. 1
When tapped by standard survey instruments, the attitudes of Rutgers students--their educational vocationalism, for instance (see chapter 7)-- were also in the same range as those reported on a yearly basis by Alexander W. Astin in "The American Freshman: National Norms" ( Los Angeles: American Council of Education and the University of California at Los Angeles). Notes on college student behavior, which occur from time to time in Chronicle of Higher Education, Journal of College Student Personnel, and On-Campus Report (a semimonthly publication of Magma Publications, Madison, Wisconsin), make it plain that what I have seen and heard in the Rutgers dorms is often national if not international collegiate or youth culture. Likewise, keeping tabs on the media makes it clear that the origin of much of the adolescent culture in the Rutgers dorms was general American popular culture as the students absorbed it from television, popular music, certain movies, and certain periodicals (see chapters 2, 3, and 5).