Research methodology in anthropology

What may be considered good etiquette in one culture may be considered an offensive gesture in another. As this occurs constantly, cultures push each other to change. The biological variations between humans are summarized in the ideas of natural selection and evolution. Human variation is based on the principle that there is variation in traits that result for recombination of genes from sexual reproduction.

Research methodology in anthropology

There is one well-established, basic strategy that is common ground among anthropologists since Malinowski set the standard early in the twentieth century.

It is generally agreed that ethnographic fieldwork should be carried out for a year or more, that the researcher should be able to converse effectively, preferably in the local language, with the people being studied, and that some kind of engagement with the flow of ordinary life and ongoing activities of local people in the research setting is desirable.

Beyond this strategy, there is a large range of methodological techniques for collecting different kinds of information. Of equal importance, but beyond the scope of this discussion, are modes and techniques of information or data analysis.

There follow some examples of information collection techniques, presented in alphabetical order to avoid suggestion of priority or relative value: Everything from Research methodology in anthropology records of births, marriages, and deaths, to those of court cases, taxes, employment and unemployment, school attendance, job competitions, and medical cases, can be rich sources of historical and contemporary information.

Gaining access to such records, and finding a way to copy them, are serious logistical difficulties. Learning the limitations and biases of such material is also important. Collection of information from two or more distinct cases, usually communities or research sites, allows the juxtaposition of different social and cultural patterns in comparative analysis.

That specific differences between cases are not random, but related to other observable differences, indicates that some factors vary together. These concomitant variations, suggest that certain factors influence others in these settings and perhaps more widely Nadel In extended case-study analysis, the researcher focuses upon the evolution of a particular series of events in the population being studied,following the involved parties, their interventions and reactions, and the consequences of the events upon people and their activities van Velsen Interviews, whether formal or informal, unstructured or highly structured, with individuals or with groups, are widely used and versatile means of eliciting responses from informants.

Such responses provide valuable Research methodology in anthropology, usually culturally significant, but require careful analysis, for the content cannot always be taken literally. Furthermore, the relationship between a response on a particular occasion and how people might respond in a different setting is rather unclear, as is the relationship between a particular verbal response and some other nonverbal behaviour.

A major logistical problem is how to conserve the responses, for memory is weak, notes are selective and transcription of verbatim recordings is usually unmanageably arduous or expensive. The collection of life histories provides full, first-person accounts of a wide range of experiences over time.

For some kinds of information, direct measurement is required. This may be the only way to gain information important to a particular account, such as the size of fields under cultivation, the amount produced in a period, the margin between calories used and calories produced, the time necessary to accomplish certain tasks, the number of animals in flocks, weight gain and loss in different periods and classes, the number of people visiting holy sites, doing two jobs, or marrying within or outside the group or up or down the social ladder.

Any one of these measurements may necessitate complex techniques and protracted procedures. Social network analysis is directed toward the ties between individuals, with the combination of individual reports providing a map of relationships within and between social settings Boissevain Quantitative case-study analysis subjects a series of separate cases, such as of disputes, marriage negotiations, or witchcraft accusations, to numerical or statistical examination in order to elicit patterns Marwick ; Poggie et al.

This allows the researcher, depending upon her or his purpose, to deal with information from a set of people representative of the population, or a set of people which represents various specified kinds of diversity, whether economic, religious, linguistic, generational, or gender.

Surveys provide a broad but thin base of information which may be useful for providing a contextual framework. Surveys depending upon informants as opposed to direct observation have similar limitations to interviews, namely that responses may have an uncertain relationship to what people surveyed would say in other contexts and how they would act.

Tests, presumably designed or adapted for use in the specific research setting, provide a uniform stimulus for the elicitation of a set of complex responses, not always conscious, from a number of informants.

Tests differ from surveys in lengthy application and the greater depth of results, which allows various internal tests of validity. Tests of cognitive ability, personality structure, and social attitudes, usually adapted from psychology or sociology, have been used by anthropologists.

The validity of such tests cross-culturally has been questioned. Common problems in applying methods Methodology is not a popular concern in anthropology, and students, even at the PhD level, receive little instruction in it, and even less in quantitative analysis.

Even for those who are enthused, opportunities for learning methods, and particularly for practical training, are rare, excepting a few scattered departments and summer field schools. So few researchers actually know any methods for collecting information, beyond hanging around with the folks and trying to figure out what is going on.

Some researchers develop or reinvent methods as they go along. Another impediment is the customarily individualistic nature of ethnographic research, with the individual researcher going to the field and trying to do everything on his or her own.

That research is usually limited to a year or so, and is poorly funded, not allowing for much in the way of equipment or assistance, compounds the problem.

The result is that ethnographers do not have the time or energy to apply, in any extended or systematic fashion, more than one or at best two methods of collecting information Salzman On the other hand, the freedom to use a wide range of methods and the benefit of being able to cross-check results is a great strength of anthropological research.

Increased collaboration with other anthropologists and social scientists, with researchers from the country of fieldwork, and with local assistants, can provide some opportunity to overcome the logsitical difficulties of applying many methodological techniques. Two visions of objectives and goals are well established in contemporary social and cultural anthropology.

Such an account is thought to reflect the researcher as well as those studied, the description being one of many possible interpretations. The work of anthropology is likened, in this vision, to history and to literature, emphasizing the particular and the idiographic.

Research methodology in anthropology

In the scientific vision, the goal of anthropology is the discovery of descriptive generalizations and explanatory laws about the way society and culture work which can account for the commonalities and variations among societies and their trajectories over time.

To accomplish this, attention must be given to behaviour as well as ideas, and precise information is required, quantitative as well as qualitative. To maximize the value of the information, and to limit errors resulting from human subjectivity and bias, systematic forms of data collection are needed, and checks, as in repeat studies, are required.

Comparative studies juxtaposing different societies and cultures allow the formulation of general explanations.H. Russell Bernard is director of the Institute for Social Science Research at Arizona State University, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

- H. Russell Bernard, Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches In support of the many and varied methods employed by anthropologists of all stripes, AAA provides links to articles or videos of research methods commonly used by anthropologists. This is the year-long core course for the MA Anthropological Research Methods.

Enrolment is limited to students on that MA programme.

SOAS University of London

For a methods option course, see Ethnographic Research Methods. This course provides a post-graduate level introduction to the various methods of enquiry and.

Ethnography is a core modern research method used in Anthropology as well as in other modern social sciences. Ethnography is the case study of one culture, subculture, or micro-culture made a the researcher immersing themself in said culture.

Before ethnography, immersive research, the prevailing method was unilineal. This is the year-long core course for the MA Anthropological Research Methods. Enrolment is limited to students on that MA programme. For a methods option course, see Ethnographic Research Methods.

This course provides a post-graduate level introduction to the various methods of enquiry and. Participant observation, long considered the trademark method in cultural anthropology, is treated as a way to (a) gather data that can be used directly to address a research question, (b) gather contextual.

Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches by H. Russell Bernard