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Title: Book Review Essay of a Selected Ethnography

Total Pages: 5 Words: 1503 Sources: 1 Citation Style: Harvard Document Type: Essay

Essay Instructions: Introduction to Anthropology
Book Review Essay of a Selected Ethnography


The aims of this assessment are several. The first is to introduce you to ethnographic writing. The review is thus based on reading and producing a summary of an ethnographic monograph in its entirety. The second aim of the book review is to test your ability to engage critically with ethnography. Hence, the book review essay is not simply a book report. Rather, it requires you to both to analyse and evaluate the ethnographic content, interpretations and key ideas raised and addressed in the book. A list of classic and contemporary ethnographies is attached. If you wish to select an alternative ethnography for your book review essay, you may do so, but only in consultation with either the lecturer or module tutor.

General Notes on length, format and deadlines.

• The book review essay should be 2000 words. Essays that are over the assigned length will be subject to a 5% penalty on the grade given.

• The deadline for the submission of your book review essays is Tuesday, 12.00 p.m., 19 January, 2010. Please read the accompanying Essay Submission and Mitigating Circumstances policy in the Department of Social Science for details on late submission.

• In addition to the electronic copy submit to Turnitin, you must submit two (2) hardcopies of your essay. Essays should be typed or word-processed using 12pt font and printed with a black typeface. Except for footnotes, the text should be double-spaced throughout. Pages should be numbered at the foot of the page.

• Plagiarism may be punished by the award of a mark of zero for the work concerned. For further details on ‘the use of unfair means’, please consult your student handbooks or the University web-site. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are aware of the guidelines and regulations concerning plagiarism. Please refer to the separate instructions on the use of Turnitin.

• There is a formal requirement for each module that you complete all assessments set. Failure to complete any assessment can only be authorised in cases where there are extenuating circumstances of a medical or personal nature. In these cases documentary evidence will be required. Failure to complete any assessment without authorisation will lead to the right to resit the non-completed assessment being withheld.

Some notes and guidelines for producing your book review essay.

1. Before beginning to read, do the following:

• Look over the title - what does it suggest?
• Read the Preface and/or Introduction - these provide important information on the author's purpose in writing the book and will help you to determine whether the work accomplished its objectives.
• Scan the Table of Contents - this tells you how the book is organised and will aid in determining the author's main ideas and how they are developed - chronologically, topically, etc.

2. Read the Text
• Record impressions as you read and note effective passages for quoting.
• Ask questions of narration, audience, organisation, argumentation, representation, selectivity, typicality, agenda, style, bias, context, and accuracy, as described in the section, "Things to Look for When Critically Analysing Ethnographic Accounts".
3. Write the Book Review
Remember that there is a distinction between a book report and a critical review. A book report summarises the book's contents. A critical review is a scholarly and evaluative analysis of the book, not merely an account of its contents. This assignment requires both a summary of the book and your analysis of it. Though the summary and analysis need not be separated out into two distinct sections of your essay, you may find it helpful to work in this way. The following are some guidelines as to the kind of things that each might include.

Part I. Things to include in a summary.

• The author's name and the title of the book, e.g.

Turnbull, C. 1962. The Forest People: a study of the Pygmies of the Congo.
New York: Simon and Schuster.
• The main question(s) that the author sets out to answer and/or the author's thesis, or primary assertion.
• The ethnographic data that the author uses to convince the reader that his or
her thesis is correct
Note: your skill as a reader is demonstrated by your ability to pick out the main point that the author is trying to make. Note that in giving a summary of a book, you are NOT simply to go through the book chapter by chapter. Rather, you are to tell the reader, "in a nutshell," what the book is about.

Part 2. A critical analysis of the book
• Here, you must offer an assessment of the book's major strengths and/or weaknesses. In other words, do you agree with how the author chose to write this ethnography? Make sure to justify your arguments with concrete examples from the book.
• Be original and reflective — what kinds of questions did you think about when reading the book.
Hint: When reading the book, make "scratch notes" of things that automatically occur to you. After finishing the book, return to your notes and go back over particular parts of the book to "flesh out" your ideas and offer a more thorough analysis. If no critical ideas strike you, then refer to the list handed out in class, entitled "Things to Look for When Critically Analysing Ethnographic Accounts". However, avoid writing a paper that hastily plods through the accompanying list and offers no original ideas or no sense of what YOU thought of the book!
• Conclude your review with one or two summary paragraphs stating your overall impression of the book. What is your ultimate judgement of the style, format, contents, and value of this book? Has the book challenged you intellectually, increasing your knowledge, raising new questions, and/or presenting the material in a novel, even provocative manner? Or does the author simply rehash something that everyone already knows? Would you recommend this book to other students?
In writing your book review, you will need to refer to specific portions of the book to illustrate your statements and conclusions. It is not, however, advisable to quote extensively from it. Whenever you are tempted to quote directly, stop and make an attempt to summarise the author's arguments in your own words. If you do choose to use direct quotations (sometimes the author states things so beautifully or so horribly that you can not resist quoting), you MUST avoid plagiarism by citing the source and the page number of the quotation. Citations should be placed in the text (they should not be put into footnotes or endnotes), and should be formatted as follows: (Turnbull 1962: 22).
Examples of Book Reviews
To see some examples of scholarly book reviews in the discipline of anthropology, go to the journals section of the Library. Most major anthropology journals will have a book review section.

Things to Look for When Critically Analysing Ethnographic Accounts

The following are intended only as a starting point and guide, not as a kind of shopping list of things you must look for.

--Who narrates?
--What voice is employed (1st person, 3rd person)?
--What verb tense is employed (past or present?)
--How does the anthropologist convince you of his/her "ethnographic authority"?
--For whom has this book or article been written: Collegial Readers? Social Science Readers? General Readers?
--Is the piece organised chronologically, thematically, as a story or novel, or is it a random montage?
--If it is organised thematically, how, specifically, are the themes linked together?
--Do you think the author made the best choice in how to organise the chapters and/or sections or are there alternative ways that would have been better?
(Hint: for a good overview of a book's organisation, look at the Table of Contents; for a good overview of an article's organisation, scan the section headings)
--What arguments does the author make?
--Are these arguments supported by adequate ethnographic data?
--Are these arguments convincing?
--Are these arguments similar to larger theoretical or political arguments that you have heard?
--Do these arguments reveal a distinct theoretical approach of the anthropologist?
--Does the author have a distinctive "style" that stands out from the style of other anthropologist you have read?
--Would you characterise the author as a good or bad writer?
--How would you characterise the narrator's tone? Is it formal or informal? Artistic or scientific? Interesting or dull? --Theoretical or descriptive? Witty or humourless?
--Does the author have a tendency to use certain kinds of words (advanced vocabulary? jargon? foreign words? descriptive adjectives? qualifiers?)

--Does the author's writing style convince you of his/her believability?
--What, specifically, makes you confident in or sceptical of, this ethnographic account?
--Is there anything that seems phoney or superficial about this ethnographic account?
--Do you think the author purposefully and conscientiously wrote like this in order to enhance the believability of this account?
--Are readers told how the people being studied react to being the subjects of anthropological research?
--Are the people under study portrayed as individuals, with distinct names and personalities, or as a group of anonymous natives?
--What word does the anthropologist use to refer to the people with whom (s)he worked (informant? collaborator?)
--Do you hear the "voices" (direct quotes and opinions) of the native people?
--Does the book perpetuate common stereotypes of non-Western peoples as noble savages, depraved savages, exotic primitives?
--Have the informants participated in any way in the creation of the final ethnography or film?

--What places, events, and people are selected for inclusion in the piece and why did the author focus on these things?
--What things might have been left out?
*Problems of miscommunication or non-acceptance
*Evidence of social change and modernity?
--Does the author mention the activities that (s)he engaged in, or the feelings that (s)he experienced, during the course of fieldwork?
--Does the author include descriptions of the context, emotional feelings, and events surrounding the discussions with local people?
--How representative is this ethnographic account of ordinary, everyday life?
--How representative is the ethnographic account of the majority of people in the culture?
--Does the author appear to have a political, ideological, or romantic agenda in producing this kind of ethnographic account?
--Is this account prescriptive or descriptive? (A prescriptive account is one in which the author gives practical advise on how agencies or individuals should intervene to solve particular social problems. It can be compared to a descriptive account)
--Does the author seem unconsciously biased by his or her political and/or class position?
--Does the author show any gender bias?
--Does the anthropologist exhibit any ethnocentrism?
--Does the author show a bias against the West?
--Is there any factual basis for doubting the accuracy of this ethnographic account? (You can argue this point if you have anthropological experience working with the same people, or if you have read other ethnographic accounts that cast doubt on the arguments made in this book.)

Selected Ethnography

Bloch, M. (1986) From blessing to violence : history and ideology in the circumcision ritual of the Merina of Madagascar. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press,
Caplan, P. (1997) African voices, African lives : personal narratives from a Swahili village. London: Routledge.
Evans- Pritchard, E. (1940) The Nuer (G652 N9 E9)
Evans- Pritchard, E. (1937) Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic GN 652 A9 E9
Lienhardt, G. (1961) Divinity and Experience (BL 2480 D5L7)
Richards, A. (1956) Chisungu
Douglas, M. (1963) The Lele of the Kasai (GN 654 D7)
Turnbull, C.M (1965) Wayward Servants: The Two Worlds of the African Pygmies
Parkin, D. (1972) Palms, Wines and Witnesses (GN 657 K3 P2)
Kuper, H. (1986) The Swazi (GN 657 SP K9)
Lewis, I.M. (1971) Ecstatic Religion
Abu-Lughod, Lila, (1986) Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society
Turnbull Colin Macmillan (1961)The forest people. London : Cape.

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