Fieldwork of the Familiar

Your challenge is to do fieldwork in your own culture, find the strange in the familiar, and produce a compelling photo essay with 4 or 5 pictures that illustrate your insights. In doing so, you will transform some seemingly ordinary feature of your life into something that you recognize as contingent and open to new questions.

Step 1: Start by thinking of things that are done in your culture that might strike an Anthropologist from Mars as strange.  For example, the Nacirema keep small animals called teps, heal themselves through the ritual of gnippohs, spend lots of time obsessing over their bodies while they esicrixe, spend 13 to 25 years of their lives simply training for the complexity of their lives in special places called loohcs, etc.  Here’s ANTH 101 Professor Ryan Klataske exploring he bizarre would of “mygs” where Nacirema go to transform their bodies by doing a series of bizarre repetitive motions.

Step 2: Take an extensive inventory of all the elements associated with this belief or behavior.  For example, if you are focusing on the Nacirema fascination with “ytuaeb”(beauty) you might consider also how they paint their faces with pu-ekam (make-up), carefully study different snoihsaf (fashions), or even go so far as to alter their bodies by injecting it with plastic in the ritual of citsalp yregrus (plastic surgery).

Step 3: This step is very important.  Use your ability to “see big” to think about why these ideas and practices exist among the Nacirema.  What is is it about their infrastructure, social structure, and superstructure that might produce these practices?  Why, for example, are they fascinated with ytuaeb?  Looking at their social structure, it is clear that much of their social structure is organized by status and identity.  Ytuaeb is a path toward raising your status as well as presenting your identity.  So why do the Nacirema care so much about status and identity?  If we look at the infrastructure we see that they live in a complex market economy driven by capitalism and consumerism.  The consumer economy presents them with choices and choice itself becomes a primary value.  Nacirema are highly individualistic and practice the individualism on a daily basis as they make choices about what they will buy, wear, and consume.  These choices help establish their status and identity.  Furthermore, status and identity are key ways in which they compete for the best jobs.

Step 4: After you have come to a few key insights about the bizarre ideas and practices of the Nacirema, plan out 4 or 5 photos that could best illustrate your ideas.  Go capture beautiful and compelling images that tell your story.

Step 5: Post your 4 or 5 photos as a single post on Instagram, along with clever captions for each photo.  You can organize it like this example here.  Use #anth101 #anth101challenge2 #yourgroup #nacirema (if you are studying the nacirema)

Optional: Don’t feel like you have to stick to the “Nacirema” joke/parody.  You can also simply try to produce a high-quality photo essay about some cultural phenomenon that includes some cultural analysis as outlined in step 3.


Best of Challenge 2 on Instagram