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Posted on June 1st, 2012, by

The variety of anthropological research methods provides an anthropologist with ample opportunities to conduct an effective research and meet the major goals of the research. However, the potential of anthropological research methods is consistently larger that it is traditionally perceived. In actuality, anthropological research methods produce a profound impact on a researcher, to the extent that it is even possible to estimate that methods can define the outcomes of the research and the perception of the researcher. In this respect, it is hardly possible to disagree with Law’s statement that methods, their rules, even more methods’ practices, not only describe but also help to produce reality that they understand (2004:5). At the same time, it is extremely important to avoid or, at least, minimize the impact of research methods on an anthropologist’s perception because it may decrease the degree of the objectivity of conclusions of the research that, in its turn, may put under a question the credibility and reliability of the entire research.

Obviously, an anthropological research implies the careful study of the life and environment of people. Naturally, the use of anthropological methods can facilitate consistently the task of the researcher, but it is necessary to remember that the researcher extrapolates his personal knowledge, perception, and stereotypes on the subject of his/her research. Even though anthropologist attempts to avoid biases and stereotypes that may affect their perception and their study, they, nonetheless, still cannot distance themselves totally from their own background. At this point, it is possible to remind the fact that anthropological researches conducted in the first half of the 20th century were traditionally male-oriented. What is meant here is the fact that males were traditionally viewed as dominant, regardless the society that was under the research.

At the same time, such an approach was apparently subjective and erroneous and could fully reflect the actual situation. It proves beyond a doubt that gender roles may vary consistently depending on society, its traditions, norms and culture. Moreover, in the past epochs gender roles could be absolutely different from contemporary ones.

For instance, in the past females could and did play more important role than in the epoch of the Middle Ages, for instance, to the extent that there existed female dominated society, while the role of males was secondary. In such a context, male oriented approach to an anthropological research naturally prevented a researcher from the adequate assessment and evaluation of the subject of his/her research because, as a rule, researchers extrapolated the contemporary set of values and gender roles on the society researched. Along with the progress of feminist movement the male-oriented approach had lost its significance which it had at the beginning of the 20th century, for example. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the contemporary anthropology and anthropological methods are deprived of such misleading approaches to the research.

In this respect, the role of methods of an anthropological research may have a dubious effect. On the one hand, they help an anthropologist to conduct a research and retrieve important data, receive some significant information, make discoveries. On the other hand, they define, to a significant extent, interpretation of the results of the research and their understanding. For instance, the orientation of the researcher on the fieldwork and integration into the life of the researched society may distract him/her from the research of written documents, material evidences, artifacts that can give insight into the better understanding of the researched society and its culture.

At any rate, it is necessary to remember that an anthropologist researcher always remains a scientist, but, at the same time, he/she always remains a person who has certain set of values, cultural traditions, education, which apparently affect his/her perception of the environment, while anthropological methods are also products of science which was developed in a specific environment, which defines substantially the perception of an anthropologist and the interpretation of the results of the research. In this regard, it is possible to refer to anthropological researches in the context of Nazi Germany. Obviously, their methods, which were based on the racist views that dominated in that epoch in Germany and which promoted the theory of racial inequality, could not fail to affect their researches and their understanding of the reality.

Thus, it is possible to estimate that, even though anthropological methods are very helpful in an anthropological research, they still impose certain bounds on the perception of an anthropologist and his/her understanding of the reality to the extent that an anthropologist can even create new reality.

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The professional anthropological research often raises a number of serious problems and affects various issues a researcher should overcome. In such a situation, it is extremely important to get maximum information with the minimal interference into the life of subjects. It should be said that basically an anthropological research targets at the understanding of the society and life of individuals comprising this society. In fact, this is the major goal of an anthropological research and the more information about the society and individual a researcher can collect the better.

However, gathering information is not sufficient and needs to be supported with the profound analysis and evaluation of information gathered. At the same time, it is not as simple to gather information as it may seem to be.

Primarily, it is necessary to define methods of the research and clearly define pieces of information a researcher wants to find out. In this respect, it should be said that a researcher should focus on such questions as the traditional occupations that are typical for the society researched, gender role, i.e. it is necessary to find out what models of behavior are considered to be appropriate for males and females, the relationships between representatives of different generations, for instance, what the role or position of elderly people is in the researched society. Also, it is important to define the social relations within the researched society. What is meant here is the fact that it is necessary to find whether there is any social hierarchy and what the major criteria of the definition of the social position of an individual in the society are.

Basically, this may be done through the observation and the integration in the life of the society researched.

However, anthropologists do not always have an opportunity to get integrated the society researched. For instance, when an ancient society is researched, an anthropologist has to use observation, analysis of artifacts, etc. in order to answer the main questions he/she is interested in. For example, the research of architecture, monuments, construction of building may give insight concerning gender roles. In this respect, it should be said that the gender inequality could be easily traced through the separation of male and female parts of dwellings of people. Monuments can also give insight concerning interests and standards of the society researched. Even the research of such places as cemeteries may give very important information.

As a rule, tombs of the most outstanding and significant people are different from tombs of ordinary members of society. This is why it is possible to distinguish the social status and significance of an individual buried judging from the decoration and even the place of his/her tomb in the cemetery. At the same time, the difference between tombs will show between the difference in social status of individuals. In this respect, it is possible to draw the example of ancient Egypt, where pharaohs were buried in posh pyramids, while slaves and ordinary people could not even dream about such honors.

While researching the living society, it is very important to understand basic rules and norms of its life, its structure and relationships between its members. In this respect, fieldwork and integration in the life of the society may be probably the most effective method. However, it is necessary to remember that researcher should observe basic moral and ethical norms. To put it more precisely, it is necessary to inform subjects of the research about the research itself. The researchers should clearly distinguish him/herself from the rest of the community. At the same time, while living in the society researched, he/she may have ample opportunities to observe the regular life of people and, therefore, meet the basic goals of his/her research.

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