In 1956 a professor from the University of Michigan, Horace Miner, wrote an article in The American Anthropologist that has become a mainstay of learning for anthropology students. Miner published the article to show a fictional exotic society called “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” as an example of how one’s own limited perspective might affect the perception of a foreign culture (Miner, 1956, p. 503). The article uses subtle humor to make the reader more comfortable in examining cultural behaviors, physical appearance, and health as the reader soon discovers that the actual society being examined is the American society. To the reader, the article begins to sound very familiar after each paragraph is examined against the reader’s everyday rituals and habits that occur in many American households. Miner personalizes the examination by relating to the reader through the routine care of the human body by discussing such topics as the number of bathrooms in a house, dentistry, hospitals, prescription medicine, childbirth, breastfeeding, and psychiatry (Miner, 1956, p. 506). As Miner writes, the American reader who may not be initially insightful could look at the cultural behaviors as odd and ridiculous; however, when the ritualistic behaviors are part of an unknown group of people, the reader can begin to see the cultural distinctions without feeling threatened or biased. The approach allows a reader to learn in a nonthreatening atmosphere by studying “them” as a cultural tribe so as to put aside any narrow-minded notion that might prohibit an effective ‘outside-looking-in’ reflective experience (Miner, 1956, p. 506).
For his article, Miner used a method of anthropological information gathering known as participant observation. Participant observation method involves creating a description using the five senses while personally viewing events and behaviors in a given situation (Kawulich, 2005). This method is the primary
References: Clure, K. (2011, ). Structural-Functionalism [Educational brief]. Retrieved from Anthrotheory website: www.anthrotheory.pbworks.com Kawulich, B. (2005, May). Participant observation as a data collection method. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(2 (Art. 43)). Retrieved from www.qualitative-research.net Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual of the Nacirema. The American Anthropologist, 58, 503-507. Retrieved from www.ohio.edu Shore, B. (2003). Family time: studying myth and ritual in working families [Education Paper]. Retrieved from Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life website: www.marial.emory.edu