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Culture and Power How can we understand & analyze aspects of culture (ideas, music, food, work, etc.) as they are embedded within institutional structures of power? How do young artists participate within and speak back to structures of power?

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Culture and Power

How can we understand & analyze aspects of culture (ideas, music, food, work, etc.) as they are embedded within institutional structures of power?




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4 APPROACHES structures of power?

  • Social Justice

  • Historical

  • “Subjective” Analysis

  • Anthropology of Home


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1. Social Justice Approach structures of power?

  • How humans are positioned within and negotiate systems of inequality

  • hegemony = dominant culture or ideology (taken for granted); how people are expected to think

  • we consent with the dominant culture when we do not ask questions


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1. Social Justice Approach Ex. structures of power?

  • How is Kudi positioned within systems of inequality—in Nigeria, in the world?

  • What are the hegemonic understandings of Muslim cultures today?


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2. Historical Approach structures of power?

Investigating the origin of a process or problem to denaturalize taken-for-granted categories


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2. Historical Approach Ex. structures of power?

  • What is the origin of the idea that women are prone to hysteria?

  • Biomedical discourses, rooted in Enlightenment Europe, linked hysteria to having a womb.

  • Thus, if we know the idea of hysteria has an origin, we know the idea was historically created and could even be Recreated


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3. Subjective Analysis is More Objective structures of power?

  • As the anthropologist identifies and critiques her background or position in relation to her subject, she is able to produce a more “objective” account.

  • The reader can better evaluate the study and its findings when she is clear about the researcher’s stakes.


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3. Subjective Analysis structures of power?is More Objective Ex.

  • Political background: civil rights, decolonization & global equality

  • Personal interests: scholar, activist, yogi, dancer

  • Race/nationality/class/gender: white skin color privilege, US privileges, middle class family from NY, woman

  • Geography: grew up in FL; participated in mixed language, mixed class Cuban dance community; attended private middle & high school in FL


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4. “Anthropology of Home” structures of power?Is Legitimate

  • Cultural Difference is not only “out there.”

  • Focusing on home allows us to understand how cultural difference works close to home

  • If we understand how cultural difference works close to home, we can better understand “other” places


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NACIREMA/ AMERICAN structures of power?

Argument: (p.10)

The Nacirema belief system rests on the idea that the human body is ugly & that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. The Nacirema have an aversion to the natural body and its functions. They are magic-ridden and masochistic people. But their exotic customs have meaning and will eventually guide them to higher stages of civilization.


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Supporting Evidence/Data: structures of power?

  • Every household has at least one ritual shrine in which the “natives” perform daily, private rituals & ceremonies to prevent disease and ugliness.

  • Medicine men prepare magical charms and potions for “natives” in exchange for gifts. “Charm-boxes” are usually overflowing.

  • Every member of a family bows before the charm-box and mingles holy water in the font, a rite of ablution/cleansing.


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Supporting Evidence/Data: structures of power?

  • “Natives” go to “holy-mouth-men” to rid the mouth of evils. This is like ritual torture.

  • The culture has masochistic tendencies: men scrape and lacerate the surface of their faces with a sharp instrument, women bake their heads in small ovens. This is barbaric.


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Objectifying Language structures of power?

  • Objectifying:Turning the thing or person being examined into an object (v. subject) of study, something separate/distant from the investigator

  • 1920s-1960s Anthropology: culture & people are objects to be studied (like things). Anthropologists studied “people.”

  • Since 1970s: Culture & people are subjects who have their own agency or will (desires, ideas, etc.). We study with people and communities as “collaborators.”


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Miner’s Objectifying Terms: structures of power?

  • The Nacirema A Nacireman woman/man (names?)

  • ritual activity everyday practice

  • shrine bathroom (what do they call it?)

  • natives people

  • charms/potions medicine, soap, toothpaste, etc.

  • medicine men doctors

  • herbalist pharmacist

  • charmbox medicine cabinet

  • font sink

  • holy water water

  • rite of ablution washing face, brushing teeth

  • Water Temple water purification tank


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Miner’s Objectifying Terms: structures of power?

  • holy mouth men dentists

  • mouth-rite teeth cleaning

  • magical materials fillings

  • sharp instrument razor

  • vestal maidens nurses

  • gift money

  • neophyte patient

  • listener therapist


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How structures of power?can we write about other cultures?

  • Pay attention to “cultural framing.” Is the event a casual event or a religious ceremony?

  • Ask the people what they think!

  • Participant Observation

  • Interview: Formal & informal

  • LISTENING

  • Opening question: what do you think about… or what’s it like to..? List of 10 questions