Module I: Introduction
II. Method and Theory in Cultural Anthropology.
Having covered the main subject matter and unifying concepts
of cultural anthropology, we must now turn to the more specific issues of how
anthropologists record and represent cultural data and use them to address
Anthropology is a science and, as such, must deal with both the objective
collection and recording of empirical data and the treatment of their findings
in terms of an explanatory system.
Ethnography and ethnology are interrelated in a complex fashion. Deductive scientific method dictates that research must be organized to address a theoretical hypothesis that is derived from prior reasoning. This requirement creates an anthropological d
ilemma, however, since an ethnographer must understand his/her observations in terms of their meanings within a particular cultural context, which may substantially depart from theoretical system chosen for interpretation. There are accordingly two ethno
- Ethnography is the process of recording and describing a culture of a specific people, such as the Dani, and its traits, patterns, and principles of coherent integration.
Anthropologists produce ethnography on the basis of firsthand field observation of the people who are being studied.
- Ethnology covers the theoretical aspect of anthropology. Ethnologists ascertain how cultures differ or exhibit similarities through comparison and generalization, suggest reasons for cross cultural regularities observed, and use these explana
tory inferences to formulate new research hypotheses.
- the deductive, or problem oriented, approach, which narrows investigation in terms of issues and principles identified as significant within anthropological theory
- the inductive approach, which identifies research problems and builds explanation from the field experience per se, and
Inductive approaches have been more characteristic of the older schools of anthropology that developed between the start of the century and World War II. They have resulted in fairly general ethnographic descriptions. Problem oriented approaches are ty
pical of current anthropological research and tend to focus on specialized subject matter, such as subsistence techniques, economic transactions, or religious rituals. Anthropologists must still take general ethnography and local meaning systems into acc
ount, however, and must be open to modifying their research directions and theoretical assumptions if they prove inapplicable or problematic.