Application Assignment: Behavioral Observation
Participant observation is an important part of a cultural anthropologist’s research toolkit. A key aspect of this method is that the anthropologist gradually becomes a participant in the everyday activities of the community they want to better understand. This allows the anthropologist to observe cultural activities in multiple ways and check the validity of their own observations and thoughts about what they observe. An anthropologist begins as an observer and then, over time, becomes a cultural participant with deeper understanding of the goings on in a community.
For this activity, students will engage in a mini-process of participant observation. Please follow the steps listed below:
(1) Select a public space on or close to campus (ex. Schwitzer Student Center, a restaurant, grocery store, library, fitness facility, etc.). It helps to select a place that you do not frequent (or during a time of day that you typically wouldn’t be there).
2) Spend ½ hour observing how people behave in this environment. Be sure to observe only- do not participate. Take notes on what you observe.
3) Using your notes, make two 2 lists –behavior that is considered typical or “normal,” and behavior that considered atypical or “abnormal.”
4) Type a memo explaining your ideas about the following questions: What is the cultural scene you observed? What behaviors appear to be culturally-specific? What is considered “normal” for that environment? Did you observe anyone “breaking” cultural rules? If so, how did people react? Why? What might account for this behavior? Consider individual preferences, other cultural practices, financial reasons, etc. What, if anything, surprised you?
After completing this memo, return within a day or two to deepen your observations.
5) Return to your place of observation and participate in an activity taking place in that setting (1/2 hour).
6) Type a set of field notes about your experience. What role did you play in the setting? What was your experience of the activity? What did you observe going on around you? Did anyone react to your presence? How did you feel during this activity?
7). Reflect on your two sets of notes/observations in relation to one another. Are they complementary? How so? Are they contradictory? How so? Which method of observation did you prefer and why?
Turn in all notes, typed memos and observations, and reflections in class on the due date.
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