by Vicki Bentley-Condit
Department of Anthropology, Grinnell College, IA
For this assignment, you are to create a 5-7 page paper investigating some aspect of cultural anthropology. You may find it easiest to start with one of the topics we will be covering over the course of the rest of the semester.
First, make note of a preliminary hunch you have about one aspect of one of the issues we will discuss. On what basis did you develop this hunch? Your hunch will probably concern some perceived pattern or relationship. For example, you might perceive a relationship between dowry and ancestor-based religions. It is at this point that you will need to do some library research. What is known about the practice of dowry? What is known about ancestor-based religions? Is there any evidence that anyone else has investigated the relationship you have perceived? Look at journal articles rather than just books as journal articles are more up-to-date. A good starting point is the PsycINFO or Social Sciences Index/Abstracts databases that can be accessed from any networked computer on campus via the Library’s database page. You will then have to find the actual articles in the library or order them through Interlibrary loans (ILL).
Next, formulate your hunch into a testable hypothesis. An hypothesis is a proposition about some specified group of phenomena set forth as provisional conjecture to guide investigation. Testable means both that the proposition is in principle amenable to verification by empirical knowledge, or evidence, and that a sufficient amount of such evidence is at hand.
Third, collect data to test your hypothesis. This is where you will use the eHRAF database. Choose 10 societies that seem to be appropriate to test your hypothesis. For example, given the relationship above, you would probably want 5 societies that practice dowry and 5 societies that do not practice dowry. Obviously, this is not a random sample and in the "real world", you would also examine more societies but, for this exercise, that will not be necessary. For each of the 10 societies, examine their religious practices to see if they do or do not have ancestor worship. NOTE: It is not acceptable to rely upon eHRAF culture summaries as data sources. Use eHRAF primary sources only.
Fourth, does the evidence support your hypothesis? You may or may not find support for your hypothesis. That doesn’t really matter. You should be able to say something like the evidence strongly supports your hypothesis (most), there is good support (3/4), uncertain support (approximately 1/2), or poor support (fewer than 1/2).
Finally, offer an explanation of your findings. Why do you think the evidence points in the direction it does? Given the direction of the evidence, why do you think the relationship you proposed might be true (or why do you think your original hunch was wrong)?
Your library research and hypothesis should all be part of your introduction. Your methodology and societies surveyed should be presented in a methods section. The results of your data collection should be in a results section along with the strong support, weak support, etc. I recommend you present your data in a table format rather than 10 paragraphs of "society A does this and society B does that". Finally, your explanation should be in a discussion section. Given the length of the paper, I also recommend the use of headings.