Dettwyler and Anderson Ethnographic Comparison

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“Anthropology demands the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess.” -Margaret Mead (Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935))

The words of Margaret Mead are echoed throughout the ethnographies First Fieldwork: The Misadventures of an Anthropologist by Barbara Anderson and Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa by Katherine Dettwyler. These two anthropologists have created engaging ethnographies that allow the reader to have a much better understanding of anthropology. The differences and similarities between these women are exemplified in many aspects of their research including their methods, experience levels, language abilities, reactions to art and ethical decisions.

Differences can be found between these two women from the very start, by examining what type of anthropologist, and research that each conducts. Dettwyler, being a physical/biological anthropologist takes her research to the country of Mali to continue research and data collection concerning the health of children that she had begun many years before. The mobility required for Dettwylers’ research (she must travel throughout the country) is opposite than that of Anderson, a sociocultural anthropologist, whose research was in Taarnby, a small fishing village in Denmark, where she is assisting her husband in “documenting the cultural process that was transforming the tiny village’s traditional dependence on the sea to a pattern of encroaching urbanization and dependence on nearby Copenhagen.” (Anderson, pg.3) An important factor that plays a large part in both ethnographies is the issue of language. Unfortunately, Anderson has more to overcome in some ways than Dettwyler because she does not speak Danish, the language of Taarnby and must learn as she goes, whereas Dettwyler speaks Bambara, a common language of Mali, very well and is able to communicate freely with most of...
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