Social Anthropology Essay

The contemporary anthropology applies a variety of methods and approaches. In fact, nowadays, it is hardly possible to speak about the existence of a method or approach that could be universal, i.e. applicable in different circumstances in all anthropological researches. In contrast, often it is possible and even necessary to apply a variety or a combination of different approaches to conduct a reliable research and receive coherent results of the anthropologic analysis. At the same time, it should be pointed out that the contemporary anthropologic science is constantly progressing giving birth to new approaches and methods that can be applied by contemporary anthropologists. Consequently, it is very important to keep pace with the development of anthropology and study new methods and approaches along with traditional ones that could be applied in social anthropology. In fact, the complexity of social relations and social development makes the use of a variety of methods simply essential for the effective and reliable anthropological research. In such a context, it is possible to refer to works of such specialists as E. Kirtsoglou, W.F. Whyte and D. Sutton.

On analyzing works of E. Kirtsoglou, W.F. Whyte and D. Sutton, it should be pointed out that each specialist used a different methodology to conduct an anthropological research. On the other hand, it is possible to presuppose that the difference in the approaches selected by specialists may be explained by the difference in the fields of application of their methodologies. At any rate, it is obvious that the research on the problem of sexual relations in ancient Greek society could differ consistently from the research on food habits or on social structure of certain community. In addition, researchers worked in different environments that also affected their approaches and style of work.

Basically, the methodology of social anthropological researches varies consistently from traditional approaches to absolutely unexpected experiments.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that even though the three researches were conducted in different contexts, the methods developed by researchers could be effectively applied in other environment and contexts. In fact, it is very important to develop effective methods of anthropological research that could provide a researcher with an opportunity to receive reliable and valid results. At the present moment, a researcher could hardly find a method that could perfectly meet each specific case, but the experience of E. Kirtsoglou, W.F. Whyte and D. Sutton reveals the fact that the creativity of researchers also plays a very important role in their studies. In fact, it is possible to estimate that the creative approach to the researches, to a significant extent, determined their success, because even the lack of experience of W.F. Whyte did not prevent the researcher from reaching positive results of the study.

Basically, each study, due its uniqueness needed the application of a specific and original approach which could hardly be found if researchers did not fully use their creative potential.

First of all, it should be said that E. Kirtsoglou basically focused on the research of sexual relations in ancient Greek society. To put it more precisely, she concentrated her attention on the analysis of gender and same-sex relations in a Greek provincial town. She attempted to research the world of “parea”¯, a lesbian secret society based in a small-town bar outside Athens, whose members meet clandestinely to drink, dance and flirt (2005). The researcher builds her study totally on the fieldwork. She amply uses observation of subjects and attempts to understand the major principles, norms, standards, and rules, in accordance to which the secret “parea”¯ society lives. In fact, the author attempts to view this society from within. In such a way, she apparently wants to better understand the mentality, the way of thinking and behavioral models of members of this society.

The researcher focused her attention on the life of the “parea”¯ society but she apparently lacked the opportunity to research effectively this original society because it was a closed community. What is meant here is the fact that members of the “parea”¯ society attempted to conceal their secret life. In fact, such an approach seems to be quite effective, taking into consideration the fact that the author has managed to reveal and research the life of the clandestine society, which is actually close for strangers. As a result, E.Kirtsoglou could hardly succeed if she attempted to conduct a traditional study communicating openly with members of the “parea”¯ society because they would more likely refuse to reveal their secret life to a stranger, even though it was a professional, scientist researching the life of such social formations. In actuality, members of the “parea”¯ society led two lives. On the one hand, as the researcher has revealed, they led a traditional life, many of them had their families and had children.

Moreover, they pretended to share the similar values as the rest of society and supported the beliefs and stereotypes that were commonly accepted within Greek society. On the other hand, they apparently violated the traditional norms and standards of life of the conservative and traditional part of Greek society, since they led their clandestine lesbian life. Their other life was actually a serious challenge to the existing social and cultural norms and standards and it contradicted to their public life, i.e. their family life, which all people that new members of this society knew about (Kirtsoglou, 2005). As a result, the decision of the author to gain the confidence and trust of the “parea”¯ society was apparently the best solution of the problem of the overcoming barrier that members of the society build between their small community and the rest of Greek society. Otherwise, it would an unsurpassable wall, which could prevent E.Kirtsoglou from the profound and effective research of the secret life of the “parea”¯ society.

At the same time, the researcher attempts to research subjects in details. To put it more precisely, she is interested not only in their relationships within their society, but she also attempts to get some background information about the subjects of her research. As a result, she finds out that, in spite of the fact that the members of “parea”¯ society conduct intense sexual relations under the noses of other customers, they still share similar values and standards as the traditional Greek society. For instance, on researching the background information on the subjects and on analyzing their psychological characteristics and moral views and values, E. Kirtsoglou reveals the fact that the members of “parea”¯ society do not identify themselves as gay and have very negative images of homosexuality.

Moreover, many of them are married, have children and lead conventional lives.

In such a way, E. Kirtsoglou manages to research both lives of members of the “parea”¯ society. This fact is very important because in order understand the life of the entire society it is necessary to understand the life, views and personal philosophy of its members.

Such an approach of integration or penetration into the researched social formation was also successfully used by W.F. Whyte. In fact, the researcher conducted his study in the 1930s and he basically targeted at the research of the life of a gang society. However, it is necessary to underline that, unlike E. Kirtsoglou, who mainly used qualitative analysis in her research, W.F. Whyte, who was grounded in economics and not sociology, preferred to use quantitative methods of analysis. To put it more precisely, he researched the poor Italian district in Boston, which he named Cornerville (Whyte, 1993). His subjects were representatives of the local underworld. Naturally, on researching this specific society, he could not just go door to door to search for information. It was not only ineffective but it was extremely dangerous taking into consideration criminal inclinations of “corner boys”¯ (Whyte, 1993). In such a situation, the researcher to apply his quantitative analysis and conduct his research, was simply forced to get integrated in this society, to the extent that he had started to adopt lifestyle and the way of thinking of his subjects.Ā  In fact, such an approach resembled that of E. Kirtsoglou, but, unlike the previously discussed researcher, W.F. Whyte was conscious of the fact that he was an untrained researcher in the field of sociology and, thus, he was very concerned about the moment where his research should be finished. He faced a serious problem in his research since under the impact of his research, question he posed to Doc, his main subject, his behavior started to change. Doc started to think over his lifestyle, actions, etc. In such a way, it is possible to estimate that W.F. Whyte faced a typical problem in participant observation: the necessity to determine point where the narrative, the story of the people studied, uncovered finishes.

Obviously, the problem the W.F. Whyte had to cope with was basically determined the lack of experience of the researcher. In actuality, it should be pointed out that the methodology used by the researcher was not absolutely correct. At any rate, his relations with Doc and the fact that he used his subject to conduct his research was, at least, unwise. It proves beyond a doubt that W.F. Whyte should strictly stand on the ground of an objective and correct scientific anthropological research. This means that he had neither moral, ethical right nor legal right to use Doc in his own interests, as he actually did. In fact, Doc became his guide and his main source of information about the life of the society W.F. Whyte researched. In such a way, it is possible to estimate that Doc, in a way, had changed his role of the subject and started to perform partially the role of a researcher.

In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the impact of W.F. Whyte, his desire to research the life of the gang society was a determinant factor that contributed to the shift of roles performed by Doc. In actuality, the problem was that Doc had started to think over his own behavior, lifestyle, actions, as well as his social environment and the life of members of his community. Moreover, he even started to evaluate his actions, behavior and life (Whyte, 1993).

Potentially such a change could have a negative impact on Doc as a subject and as an individual. To put it more precisely, the research conducted by W.F. Whyte produced such a significant impact on the personality of Doc that he could possibly attempt to change his lifestyle or reevaluate his views and personal philosophy. In this respect, it is important to underline that such a reevaluation could occur not under the impact of some objective or independent factors but under the impact of the research conducted by W.F. Whyte. In other words, the researcher started to influence and to change the life of the subject that is apparently unacceptable for a serious scientific research. This was particularly dangerous, taking into consideration the criminal background in which Doc lived and worked. In such a way, the normal life as well as the survival of the subject could be put under a threat. Consequently, the approach applied by W.F. Whyte could be very effective and may be used in further researchers, but is very important to apply such an approach properly remembering about the necessity to avoid the interference of the researcher in the life of subjects or, what is more, change it substantially. In addition, W.F. Whyte should primarily rely on his own research but not on Doc and his guidance in the life of the society researched.

In fact, the methodologies applied by E. Kirtsoglou and W.F. Whyte are, to a significant extent similar, but the former apparently manages to distinguish herself clearly and avoids interference in the traditional lifestyle and behavior of her subjects, while Whyte’s research is quite disturbing for his subjects and, what is more, this study is quite risky for the researcher himself. In such a way, the methodology and approaches used by E. Kirtsoglou may be viewed as more correct. What is meant here is the fact that she conducted her research in a more correct way in regard to her subjects than W.F. Whyte did, because the impact of the former on her subjects were minimal and she rather studied and observed than studied, participated and involved subjects in her research as W.F. Whyte did.

As for D. Sutton, he uses quite a different approach to his study. It should be said that he attempts to research food habits of his subjects and reveal their interrelatedness with the remembrance abilities and interdependence between food and memory. On conducting his research, D. Sutton basically refers to folk stories and written materials which highlight the food habits and culture of the society he studied. As a result, the researcher reveals the fact that food plays a very important role for his subjects to the extent that memory associations are often closely interlinked with food (Suttong, 2001). At the same time, D. Sutton critically evaluates his research and lays emphasis on the fact that such a trend is a characteristic of the specific society studied rather than a common trend typical for all people.

Consequently, it should be said that D. Sutton openly collects materials using oral and written materials and communication with the local population, collecting factual evidences that support his hypothesis either in folk oral tradition or in written materials. In such a way, it should be said that in his research D. Sutton heavily relies on the data collected and factual evidences that is very important in regard to the reliability of the research. At the same time, the researcher is entirely focused on the community he studies, but it should be said that the use of comparative analysis could be quite helpful since it would emphasize the uniqueness of the community studied or reveal common trends that could be found in different communities.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the contemporary social anthropology can use a variety of methodologies which could be applied in studies. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember about the basic principles which are common for all researches and for all methodologies. What is meant here is the fact that it is necessary to conduct researches in accordance with ethical and moral code accepted in anthropological science and researcher could never influence or interfere in the life of his/her subjects. At the same time, it is important to maintain objectivity of the research remaining a distant observer and not a subjective participant of the study. On the other hand, it should be said that the contemporary anthropological study as well as other scientific researches inevitably involves creativity of researchers which may be an important factor that can determine the general success of the entire research. In this regard, the experience of the three researchers discussed above is very noteworthy because they proved that through the application of original approaches created under the impact of their creativity the studies may lead to positive results. However, the studies discussed also revealed the fact that it is really difficult to conduct an absolutely correct and perfect studies and each study may have its own strengths as well as drawbacks.

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