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Participant-Observation, Psychological Conflicts, Relativism

1) What are the characteristics of participant-observation and how does this method contribute to ethnographic understanding?

2) How does a culture itself induce certain kinds of psychological conflicts that have important consequences for the entire society?

3) How is cultural relativism related to moral relativism? Is it possible for us to think about the Nazis in relativistic terms? Is there a role in anthropology for a universalistic conception of human rights?

I am just looking for a clearer understanding of these ideas.

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OTA 105878/Xenia Jones

Participant Observation, Psychological Psychosis & Moral Relativism

1) What are the characteristics of participant-observation and how does this method contribute to ethnographic understanding?

Ethnographically, participant observation is one of the many methods and processes that is utilised in ethnographic fieldwork. By now, you are already quite familiar with the qualitative process and the reasons behind the ethnographic approach. 'Purist' approaches towards observation however tend to take on the notion that observation means 'observing from afar' which harkens positivistic ideas wherein the subject must remain free of influence from anything other than its own natural dynamics without interruption of objects and ideas that are 'not natural' within the subject's setting and make-up. In other words, observing from a distance is a lot like attempting to look at a subject matter from a microscope, limiting all variables to that which can be accounted for. But such an approach goes against the purpose of 'understanding' and 'amassing details' which can only be arrived at via participant observation. In an essence, this does 2 things - introduces the ethnographer to a new culture to become a 'witness' of said culture anthropologically speaking and it also allows said culture (especially if said culture is one that is not a 'part' of the modern society and has had little contact with it) a glimpse into peoples and culture other than their own to facilitate an 'exchange' of ideas and knowledge between cultures. To be able to honestly conduct participant-observation means 'immersion' of the ethnographer into the community or society of his/her subject of study. Immersion can mean being a participant into the community for a period of time while only doing so as an 'other' object living amongst them in the periphery. It could, as with the likes of the work of Laura Bohanon (Shakespeare in the Bush, 1966) & Liza Dalby among Kyoto geishas be actively conducted wherein the anthropologist, through the process, actively seeks to be introduced into the dynamics of a culture by working at participating 'centrally' - they become heavily involved in the community and social structure of the culture/group of people being studied, providing a function as well as an 'identity' aside from being an 'other' within the community. Bohanon became a 'teacher' in a Western sense and the result was a work that introduced the notion of perspectives to anthropology. Dalby on the other hand became very close to the Pontocho geishas of Kyoto that she accompanied them to a number of their engagements becoming a 'white geisha' - wearing their costumes, playing the shamisen to clients - in order to 'understand' and uncover the perspective of true geishas - how they view their work, society, their traditions, their practices and their world. The work of Bohanon and Dalby were revealing in that they introduced the West and those who read them to cultures and world-views that were held by cultures in other parts of the world - it is the small details, when they all come together, that creates a pattern of social identity in the case of the cultures studied. They came to be understood in their own terms and what came about is the idea of relativism. Now, in participant observation, ethnographies can only ...

Solution Summary

The solution is an extensive Q&A narrative presented in the form of an essay following the APA format. Numbering to 2,183-words, it tackles varied questions and topics in the study of cultures, cultural relativism, socio-psychological elements in cultural studies and universal/ethnocentric ideas on human rights. Each of the questions listed (see original problem/long description) has its own intensive discussion breaking down ideas into easily understandable parts. References are listed to allow students room for further research.