Ethnographical Assignment: Observation Of People Using Anthropological Concepts Of Race, Gender, Sex, And Communication

For this week's assignment, I chose to complete my ethnography at the city park which is right down the street from my house. The reason I choose this location is because today my wife and I will be taking our friends triplet boys to the park while the parents have a much-needed date night. Since this assignment required us to observe people I chose three separate areas of the park in which people interact and so based on this I decided that my anthropological concepts would involve race, gender, sex, and communication. Therefore, this paper will walk you through the details of the scene; from my point of view, at least four anthropological concepts; with clear links to culture, as well as a personal reflection of the observation experience.

As I sit in the park and take in all of the surroundings, I am in-tune with many different aspects of nature some that I have always noticed and some that I have been completely oblivious to before this point. I have always noticed and found great joy in the sounds of laughter coming from the children on the playground as well as the sounds of dog barking in the distance. However, I am certain that I have never really paid attention to the way in which the sunset reflects on the trees this time of day or how tall the grassy field outside my door has grown. As I sit at this pic-nic table and take notes, I notice the birds flying overhead as well as the airplanes from what I assume to be Shaw AFB and how they seem to flood the daytime skies coming in one after another. There is energy beaming from all directions, it almost seems like I can feel the energy of the parents watching their children plan on the playground. They seem happy, it feels almost as though there is not a care in the world at this moment because the smallest amount of happiness or satisfaction they can bring to their children swells their hearts, so no matter what is going on in their adult world all of that can be set aside in order to see the smiles on their kids' faces.

I also feel energy coming from the basketball court, I feel the competition enumerating off the young man in the red shirt. I also feel the need to succeed and the want, will, and drive coming from the young guy in the gray shorts. Although the energy is nit tense, I can tell it is that of success and work. I can tell that this is a stress reliever, they are using this opportunity to release stress and have fun although they do not seem to feel completely stress free because I can somehow sense or feel their stress. In the opposite corner of the park, partly adjacent to where I am now, I can see a young boy and girl. . . these are kids, but they are clearly courting. This brings me back a few years to when I used to sneak to the park to meet my boyfriend and how we would just laugh, play, and listen to music. Again, I am finding myself drifting so I decide to try pretending we are all foreign to each other so that I can try to learn from and understand all of the culture that is happening right in front of my eyes. As I watch the kids on the playground and their mothers I observe several different things.

First there is only one man and several other women watching their kids in the playground. However, the man is clearly with his wife they are sitting and staring onto the playground. Every so often the man looks at his watch and then glances back over at the children. The mother seems to be intently watching their daughters but I am almost sure they also have a son because when I first found my seat I saw the man talking to a young boy. I quickly scan the play ground for the little boy and I first I don’t see him, but after looking on I finally spotted him squatting and playing in the dirt. He is the only little boy on the play ground although there are little boys all over this park but I must admit most of the other little boys are standing around the basketball court watching the bigger kids play. The little girls on the play ground are pushing each other on the swing set and a few of the bigger girls are sitting at the top of the rope dome. They don’t seem to be conversing but rather just sitting there. As I shift my attention from the playground over to the basketball court, I am amazed at the crowd of kids that have gathered in such a short amount of time. Most of the kids are boys and seem to be cheering on the boys or eager for these older boys to get off of the court so that the younger boys can have a go. There are no girls on or around the court which I momentarily find strange but then I relate this to our culture and the fact that girls are often discouraged from participating in activities that are considered manly or for boys which is something I will briefly discuss in concluding paragraphs.

After watching the kids run up and down the court and the younger children make faces and intentionally get in the way, I shift my attention to the young man and woman at the table adjacent to me. They still seem to be in high spirits but I notice they are not really talking and the girl is staring off in the distance while the boy is looking down ate his phone. I find myself wondering how long they have been doing this. . . basically spending time together without talking. I wonder other things as well like who the boy is talking to or what he is doing on his phone? Is he on Facebook? I also wonder why the girl doesn’t get up and walk away, why doesn’t she try and take his phone or distract him, but then I find myself wondering why am I so eager for her to regain his attention, why couldn’t he just simply pay attention to her? Then it hit me, I am apart of this culture, I am trying to detach myself from a culture that I grew up in but I can’t. It is something that has been imbedded in me. This is exactly what Park was talking about in our text book when he said anthropologist must try to refrain from changing a culture based on our own cultural beliefs. This is precisely the cultural relativism Park was describing in Chapter one of our text book and as I reflect more on our text I am finding myself inserting my own beliefs and ideas on all of the people that I am observing. I am assuming what they are doing or what they are thinking instead of directly reflecting on what they are doing. I am trying to explain why they are doing certain things based on my own cultural perspective as opposed to trying to distinguish differences between my culture and theirs.

With the idea of cultural relativism from Park in mind, I think it is now a good time to relate my observations to the anthropological concepts we have discussed over the last few weeks to the culture in which we live. According to Park, culture is defined as the “Ideas and behaviors that are learned and transmitted”. However, as Park goes on to say that culture is transmitted by “non genetic means of adaption”. In other words culture is learned behavior based on nurture as opposed to nature. Certain traits and behaviors are learned by watching those that we love and more often than not this is a parent or older sibling, and sometimes other respected members of society. It is this idea of culture that I used when I attempted to distinguish between feminine and masculine activities.

Typically gendered activities are assigned based on the a persons gender so you might see more boys participating in physical activities such as football, repairing things, or even getting dirty, while girls are more often associated with being soft and caring, basically nurturers. Gender is basically assigned based on sex, the biological classification given during birth based on biological organs. Having discussed the concept of culture and described three of my four anthropological concepts it is time to relate my observations to the concepts. The mother and father sitting and watching their children play were seemingly using this alone time to decompress and spend some quality time together. However, it is clear to see that the woman was more in tune to her children because in their family she is considered the nurturer.

On the other hand neither parent seemed to concerned or worried about the son. It almost appears as though the figured he would be alright because he was a boy. Moreover, the little boy never interacted with the girls at the park, he played by himself in the dirt the whole time. In my opinion it seems as though this was natural for him to do, almost as though it was instilled in him that he did not play with girls because his place was to be an overseer-er or to do manly things. At one point one of the little girls went to play in the dirt with the little boy and her mother quickly scolded her for getting dirty. This in my opinion reinforces that idea that girls are supposed to be cute and quaint and not dirty in our culture. Communication or language is the final anthropological concept that I will explore. According to our weekly lesson language is best described as from a sociocultural anthropological perspective because language is defined as the human communication system. I found this to be quite unique an experience because although very minimal vocal language was used it seemed almost as though most of the people communicated through body language. Take for example, the boy and girl at the table across from me. The boy began playing with his phone and seemingly gave off a nonverbal cue that the did not want to be bothered while he was doing what ever he was doing. On the basketball court, I could not really grasp the type of language or the language they were using but based on their body language I could tell who was winning the game and who was loosing.

Lastly for the couple at the playground, they did not seem to verbally communicate but based on the fact that the father kept glancing at his watch I could tell he was ready to leave or that he had something else that he wanted to do. In reflecting on this usage of non verbal communication, I wondered exactly how our ancestors communicated with one another. I mean it is evident that before homo sapiens developed vocal abilities they worked together but without a voice box how did they communicate? According to some scholars they used non verbal ques which is probably something that has been handed down and evolved from generation to generation.

In closing I will say that this was both a pleasant and enlightening experience. It gave me the ability to see and research from the eyes of an actual anthropologist. I mean it gave me the understanding of how easy it was to ignore cultural relativism and insert your own ideas and culture into that of the culture you are studying. I will also say that this experience taught me a few things about how easily adaptable our culture is and how certain adaptions of our species are not only handed down biologically through genetics or traits but also through our observations of our parents and the way our parents communicate with us. I think this was very interesting because it really speaks to me on the ideas of learned behaviors and causes me to question certain traits possessed by people. For instance, murderers, or rapists and terrorist. I question if they can commit and live with their crimes because they developed this ability genetically or are these learned behaviors.

18 March 2020
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