Ethnography at Arcadia


Week 2: Ethnography


Ethnography is the way that anthropologists study and teach others about cultures. Anthropologists learn about cultures by engaging different groups of people, asking questions, writing down their answers, and then thinking about the best way to understand behavior.

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Cultural anthropologists use an emic perspective when studying another group, meaning they describe a particular culture in terms of its internal elements.

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The focus of this semester is West Africa, and this week our lecture was about Benin. Students were intrigued that the people of Benin snack on bush rats! They also bonded over a love of soccer.


Last week students were broken into three clans. Each clan chose a name, selected a language, and determined a social structure. They even designed a flag. 

This week each clan selected 1 ethnographer per group, and then sent that ethnographer out to observe another clan’s culture using the Ethnographer’s Guide.

After interviewing other clans, told us what they learned about the new culture.

Lastly, the clan defended errors of interpretation.

Ending thoughts

I am lucky enough to have three amazing teaching assistants, who each govern a separate clan. They manage the students productivity and limit their rowdiness. (A task I can not be more grateful to not be handling alone.) They helped the clan select an ethnographer to travel to another group. Surprisingly, we had multiple students volunteer. I was giddy over the level of participation. All students were interactive as the ethnographer completed the survey. The TAs helped narrow the clan members answers, but every one seemed engaged for the length of the activity. When the ethnographers presented to the class, they were confident and demonstrated they had grasped the concept. I was very proud of these three students. (I rewarded them with lots of stickers to show my gratitude. Amazing what an 11 year old will do for a sticker!) In my opinion, this activity was a success. Although, I was unable to gauge if the students answering the questions understood ethnography as well as I could with the anthropologists.

September 10th, 2013: Create a Clan

For our first meeting of the semester the students were split up into groups of three and created their own clan. A clan is a group of people who share a common ancestor, real or mythical. The students also learned the following concepts: culture, totem, rite of passage, and symbol and applied them in the creation of their clans. Each clan was encouraged to come up with a clan name, a shared ancestor, a leader (or no leader), attire, a clan totem/symbol, and any other identifying features. Our clans got very creative in creating their cultural identities.

The Magical Rainbow Zebra clan: The Magical Rainbow Zebra clan was a created by a group of all ladies. Their shared ancestor was a Magical Zebra who lived on a rainbow. They elected to have no leader, and instead settle disputes with a vote. The students chose to have an insignia on a button that identified membership in their clan. Their clan symbol was a rainbow over a colorful rainbow with the words love, friendship, kindness, and laughter written in the different colors of the rainbow. Additionally, the Magical Rainbow Zebra clan came up with a secret handshake that only clan members could know.  In order to become a member of the clan you had to be given a button and learn the secret handshake.

Kelsey helps the Magical Rainbow Zebra clan design their symbolsKelsey helps the Magical Rainbow Zebra clan design their symbols

The Ice clan: The Ice Clan all admires their shared ancestor John, who lived long ago. John loved ice products, such as ice cream and Popsicles, but he also loved to run. One day John decided to run a marathon while eating ice cream and wearing shorts and a white headband. Throughout the race, a group of people followed John and eventually established the sweet-loving but athletic Ice Clan. They are a proud egalitarian (politically and socially equal/without a leader) clan and regularly wear shorts and fabulous white headbands which indicate membership in the group. They have several different totems that all represent ice products and their love for ice cream and fun.

Anna helps the Ice clan think about their common ancestorAnna helps the Ice clan think about their common ancestor.

The Tuscaloosans clan:. The ancestor of the Tuscaloosans is a combination of Chief Tuscaloosa and Aslan the lion. They are a warrior-centric culture and specialize in making weapons and armor. The cultural symbol is a shield with a wolf’s head and fire upon it. To enter their land you must know the secret handshake.

Lynn helps the Tuscaloosan clan decide what kind of leader they want.

Lynn helps the Tuscaloosan clan decide what kind of leader they wan

The Wizard clan: The common ancestor of the is Dumbledore and they are trained in the use of magic from a very young age. They travel through the use of griffins, unicorns, and the dreaded shark-mermaid. When a clansmen has a birthday, they are given a special token that grants 2 magical wishes. The rest of the community then performs elaborate mock-battles and other feats of strength within the arena. The Wizard Clan is a democracy, where all issues are debated and voted. The mortal enemies of the Wizard Clan are snakes and other serpentine creatures.

Francois tells the Tuscaloosans clan about what a symbol is.

Francois tells the Wizard clan about what a symbol is.