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Bronisław Malinowski And Elizabeth Chin, And Their Contribution To Anthropology

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Anthropology is the study of human societies and their cultures and how they are developed. Anthropologists all over the world use different methods when it comes to experimenting problems. Two specific anthropologists, Bronisław Malinowski and Elizabeth Chin, encountered problems when it came to observing culture since the methods that are being used can be uncomfortable for the people that are being observed and also the observer. Each of the anthropologists had different ways of observing major problems in society that impacted the way of other people’s thoughts. The different ways that they approach cultural problems contributed to the problems they will face later to come. Anthropologists travel to native countries to observe the lives of people outside of the “norm”. The goal of anthropology is to understand the hidden structures of the “other”. The method that an anthropologist, Malinowski, used is called participant observation. He studied the “others” everyday lives without their consent and invade their privacy. Malinowski believed that other anthropologists fail to gather correct information because they didn’t include scientific methods in their data. Imagine a random person that you have never seen before intrude your home without your consent just to study you to give information to the world.

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Malinowski says that we should replicate whatever that we observe. He viewed himself and the other people as subject and object. The subject would have been the white European men and the objects would be the colonized other people of color. If you wanted to be successful in your observation, you should be able to take part of their culture. Malinowski writes in Argonauts of the Western Pacific that, “the feeling of hopelessness and despair after many obstinate, but futile attempts had entirely failed to bring me into real touch with the natives”. Nobody in the village trusted Malinowski because he was different from them. He was an outcast in their village and wasn’t considered their norm. He couldn’t get any research done if he couldn’t gain the trust of the natives. There will be times where they would come to him only because they smelt his tobacco. As an ethnographer he decided that he would not wait for them to approach him, but he had to make an attempt to talk with them to get better data. The feeling of uncomfortness is common when studying people that you are not unfamiliar with. Malinowski had to make an effort to go talk to the natives even though they probably didn’t care what he had to say. He states that, “It must be borne in mind that pidgin- English is a very imperfect instrument for expressing ones idea and that to understand the natives you must believe that free communication will not be attained”.

At first he wasn’t able to speak to the natives since they thought of him as an outcast, so he took another approach by collecting data, made plans, and also studied the relationship between one another. This wasn’t helpful in his studies so he talk to local white residents who lived in New Guinea for years and they said that, “they put their views that the natives had untrained minds and weren’t accustomed to new things. The native tribe was opposing the fact of new technology or scientific views of the world. In order to achieve success, Malinowski writes that, “success is obtained by patients and application of common sense”. Malinowski was patient during his observation and didn’t let being isolated affect his research.

There are three methods that Malinowski does to make sure that his research is successful. One method is the subject that he is studying must naturally have scientific aims. Secondly, he believed that it is important to live without other white men especially in native countries. Lastly, he uses different special methods of collecting data, manipulating and fixing his evidence. Proper conditions for ethnographers is to cut themselves from society and become close with the natives. They only do this so they could grow a bond between one another. Natives think at first think that it is odd that after being studied with the white man, he is doing something else normal like planting his garden or walking around for a few hours observing the village. Soon as time goes on, they will be accustomed to the man’s presence.

On the ethnographer’s side, at first the life in the village is strange and sometimes often unpleasant. They then soon realize that they feel peaceful in their surroundings and finally fit in. Even though the Ethnographer went to study the native land, Malinowski writes that, “We learn much about the framework of their society, but within it, we cannot perceive or imagine the realities of human life”. It will take a great amount of time for an ethnographer to live there in order to be a part of the native societies. We still don’t know much of their lifestyles, everyday events, and etc. The conclusions that they make from their informants and data makes it impossible to show the native’s real behaviors. The people who are long residents in that area makes the data biased. In the text it says, “If a specialized field worker can adopt the conditions that the natives are living in then they are in a better position with the natives than other white residents”. On the other hand, an official would have to transform his whole life in order to fit in with the natives making this observation impossible to gather biased data. Society today still has a continuous problem of racial issues.

Elizabeth Chin writes about this in her book, ”Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with Race Industry” to express the problems that we have in our society with race comparing it with the dolls manufactured in toy industries. In Newhallville, Elizabeth spots a white barbie doll with frizzy hair and tells Natalia and Asia to talk about the dolls. Natalia says that the doll is dope, but then rephrases her words since she knows that nobody else would understand her terminology since its not considered normal to say. Each girl wonders why there was never a pregnant, fat, or abused Barbie. Asia believes that this all has to do with stereotype. When you think of Barbie you see a perfect doll with no flaws. You would never think of pregnant Barbie, fat barbie, and even abused Barbie. Why are these dolls represented as culture and social worlds that are different from them? Before Natalia and Asia were expressing how they felt about the dolls the toy industry released a new ethnically correct Barbie doll to the market. This was released to address the problems of minorities not being treated fairly in society. They made the new Shani, Asha, and Nichelle which were unlike any other black dolls that were produced. These dolls came in light and dark skin tones to represent the African Americans and their body structures were changed to represent them as well. This was a first step in order to end white domination, but also fixing racial boundaries between one another. These Ethnically correct dolls did not even address any of the questions that Natalia and Asia asked about when they talked about fat, abused, and pregnant.

In Newhallville, many girls had white dolls that they styled to make white Barbie fit in their world. Chin writes, “these interactions highlight children’s understanding that racial commodities can only be understood by young poor kids who are not racist beings”. Race to these young kids are not socially constructed, but actually imaginary reconstructed. Kids of color love to play with the dolls that look more like them. Many girls in Newhallville worked on their dolls and gave them African American style features (i. e. : beads, braids, and foils) blurring out racial problems in society. These Ethnically correct dolls bring up a conception that we need to create progressive change in society. The act of making white Barbie’s having braided hair is already an attempt to stop racial boundaries. Chin writes, “Seeing these dolls as racially queered is appropriate because since naturalized categories are being bent, so mixed categories are also being put into play”. Races that are strange from the norm challenges the “pure” forms by isolating themselves from racial markers. The other problem that kids in Newhallville experienced was the lack of money that each of them received. They hosted a study with kids and asked them what would they do if they found $20. Some of them said that they will give the money to their families and some would use it to buy the toys.

The problem is that majority of the people living in Newhallville were poor and finding toys for their kids were hard and mostly expensive. It was also a far transportation to go to the nearest toy store since majority of the town didn’t have any source of transportation. Toy companies primary goal was to make ethnically correct dolls in order to make minorities feel like they are more at home and to play with dolls that actually looked like them. In contrast, communities that kids can accept the idea of Santa not giving them gifts for Christmas has no effect for them at all. Mattel’s doll still has the idea of hoping to make a new fantasy world similar to Barbie where they can use terminology like dope instead of the word nice. Children gain a lot of self-importance from the toys that look like them. The Olmec used two races to show kids that their is no superior race between one another so they hosted a study with black children and asked which doll looked better. The Olmec company states that, “the clark studies indicated that the white dolls looked nice while the black doll looked bad”. The study resulted in that the black children suffered from self- hatred or self-rejection. Although they could also be kids that know about the world and how the larger society devalues them. These ethnically correct dolls demonstrate one aspect of racism and that is they will take one little difference between the two races and make something out of it no matter how irrelevant it is. For example, in the text it states, “If i smashed the two dolls into the bits in order to see that their butts were different sizes, there would a small difference, but the rest of the features would look the same besides the skin color”. Even though there is such a small difference, the Shani doll can be represented as a social meaning that shows how there is a racial issue that is way out of proportion. Each of the different ethnically correct dolls have different features that distinguish one from another. Asha who is the lightest skin doll of the ethnically correct dolls, she couldn’t be more light than she is or she would be passed as “white”.

The Newhallville children believe that the various skin color doesn’t define blackness, but as racial mixing. They are defined by their history and background, not by their genetics or tone of skin. These girls give their white dolls these African hairstyles because they cannot the racial boundaries that make them feel devalued. They use these dolls as a way to break up the long history of inequality and taking a stand for what they believe in.

The goal of an anthropologist is to grasp a point of view of the world and educate people about human diversity, developing criticism perspective of their own society, and examine the roles of people in this community. In the two books, “Ethnically correct dolls: Toying with Race Industry” and “Argonauts of the Western Pacific” they both discuss a social issue that we have in the world. Chin writes about how there are racial boundaries between the barbie dolls and Malinowski believes that there are no difference between us and the natives in that we are all equal no matter if they have a different culture than us. The underlying message that are both represented by these two authors is that we must perceive the world as equal and should come together to find a solution to these problems that we have in our society today.

15 July 2020

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