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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology - Book - Literature review Example

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Humor as a Teaching Tool: The Innocent Anthropologist Nigel Barley’s book The Innocent Anthropolgist: Notes from a Mud Hut is a humorous look at the practice of anthropological fieldwork detailing Barley’s stint living with and studying the Dowayo people of the African nation of Cameroon…
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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology - Book Review
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Download file to see previous pages Yet Barley doesn’t think that the anthropologists who are so respected for having lived among exotic cultures contribute very much to the body of knowledge of anthropological study. Barley comes off as being against the idea of fieldwork from the start, and paints it as something that is unduly revered and not tremendously useful for modern anthropological study. He then explains that despite these misgivings, he did what was expected of him and went into the field to do his own direct observation of a little known culture. He gives a harrowing and often hilarious account of his trials and tribulations, first of his attempts to get his course of study approved, then his attempts to get into Cameroon and deal with the odd practices of African bureaucracy, and then of his time living with the Dowayo people. This book gives the anthropological account of the Dowayo people that Barley was expected to collect during his stay with them in Cameroon, but it also serves as a cautionary tale about giving undue reverence to anthropological fieldwork. Most importantly, it gives a realistic and funny look at what anthropologists who are just starting out in the field can expect, or rather a warning about all the things that they can never expect. It is especially of interest to anthropology students and working anthropologists, but it is also a great read for practically anyone, whether they are people who are interested in anthropology, people who want to learn about tribal cultures from around the world, or just people who enjoy a good comedy. The best part of The Innocent Anthropologist is the sharp and witty writing style. It serves as both a contribution to academic knowledge and as a biting satire of certain academic practices at the same time. Barley draws the readers in and brings us along for the ride. Through his sharp eyes we see the hilarious absurdities and strange ironies he encounters in his quest to become a ‘real’ anthropologist. The book also paints a fascinating picture of the Dowayo people. Through Barley’s eyes we get to take a look at a unique culture, with very different ideas about the most basic parts of language and life. It practically boggles the mind to see how differently the Dowayo think about things our culture takes for granted, like hypothetical questions. It serves to teach us that our way of thinking is not the only way of thinking, and that even ideas that we think are so simple as to be a given are not necessarily universal. The only weaknesses I could see in the book were that Barley didn’t only joke about not liking fieldwork; he genuinely seemed to detest it, and always seemed somewhat contemptuous of the people he lived with and observed for so long. While the picture he painted of the Dowayo was fascinating, the author’s tone always hinted at condescension and superiority. I was expecting a revelation at some point that he saw redeeming qualities in the people, but that moment never really came to any satisfactory degree. As a reader I was more interested in the Dowayo people than the writer ever seemed to be. He tells of times when hearing their explanations for things like illnesses “annoyed [him] beyond all measure” (Barley 1980:114). The author does his best to paint a picture of a love/hate relationship, and wants to do his best to get into the work the way that he is supposed to, but it is clear that ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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