- Describe, in detail, exactly what you are observingin a neutral, objective and value-free way (i.e., do not presume you know what is happening). Your observations should include things like:
- Where the activity is being carried out – e.g., indoors, outdoors, a public space, a private home, etc. What are some of the features of the location – e.g., objects hanging on the walls, tables, benches, chairs, etc.
- Who the participants in the activity are – i.e., male, female, young, old.
- The sequence of events that are being carried out. Are certain actions repeated in the same way on multiple occasions? Do only certain people perform certain actions (e.g., men vs. women, people wearing certain kinds of clothes, etc.)?
- The physical objects that are being manipulated or used during the activity and how they are being used – e.g., who is using them, what are they being used to do, etc.
- The kinds of interactions (if any) engaged in between the participants involved in the activity.
- Once you have reported your observations in detail, you will then provide an interpretative analysisof the activity based on the observable facts that you have witnessed and recorded. (You can learn specific details from informants, but you must state “informants told me” or “I was told.” However, it is not a requirement to interview or engage people in conversation and, in fact, the majority of your report should be based on what you yourself have observed.) In this part of your report, you should:
- Use the information you have collected to make suggestions regarding what appears to be going on. Be careful not to beyond the data in making your interpretations which mustbe based on the observations that you have reported.* You can, however, make certain assumptions based on general knowledge, but you must explain the basis for those assumptions. For example, based on the emotional state of the participants – i.e., based on universally recognized expressions and emotional cues (like “smiling”, “laughing”, “weeping”, “scowling”, etc.) – does this appear to be a happy, sad, exciting activity/event?
- Identify the cultural conventions that appear to be associated with this activity, based, for example, on repeated actions, the roles played by different participants, and so on.
- Finally, consider the things that you have observed from your “real-life” position as a member of the culture. That is, knowing what you know about the activity (the different actions, the participants and their roles, and what it all means), as an insider: [*Note:This final section is a new requirement of the assignment and so may not be represented explicitly as such in the sample papers. You, however, must complete it as well.]
- Explain– from an insider’s perspective and knowledge – what the different aspects (actions, participants, objects) etc. symbolize or otherwise mean. Why are the people in this activity doing the different things that they are doing – what is actually going on? Also where possible, consider things like: what cultural norms are represented? what do different features of the activity (actions, objects, etc.) symbolize? and so on. This section will vary depending on the activity you choose, but the main point is to address the real cultural context in which the activity was carried out – i.e., what aspects of your culture are represented in the activity.
- Then, consider what aspects of this cultural activity might notbe understood by an outside observer. What specific actions, for example, might be misinterpreted or remain “mysterious”? Which participants or objects, etc. might be hard to place in context? And so on.
What is culture and how does it relate to an individual's identity?
Culture can be seen as the accumulation of all beliefs, customs, traditions, values and other aspects of an individual’s life. More importantly, culture forms an integral part of an individual’s identity. Furthermore, it seen that an individual’s culture also becomes apparent from the daily routine activities that they perform. However, these practices as well as customs of one culture are seen as wrong or uncommon by individuals related to other cultures. This can be explained on the basis of the fact that individuals hold a biased attitude towards other cultures.
They also try to interpret the culture or practices of other individuals on the basis of things which they have been taught by their own native culture. The concept of ethnography offers an opportunity to individuals wherein they can analyze as well as understand the culture of others from an unbiased standpoint. This paper will shed light on this concept through an exploration of the festival of Durga Puja which is celebrated in India.
The festival of Durga Puja is celebrated every year in India, particularly in the state of West Bengal, in the season of Autumn. The festival is intended to welcome the Goddess Durga and her children. Durga Puja begins with Mahalaya (the beginning of the festival wherei offerings are made to the Goddess and her children) wherein the victory of the goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura Mardini is celebrated through songs and prayers.
Furthermore, festivities are held inside the homes of people however there are many locations in the nation wherein it is celebrated on a large scale by people of societies or communities. The young, old, men, women and children irrespective of their age and gender participate in this festival and its rituals. Moreover, it is also seen that people regardless of the social class or economic background to which they belong celebrate this festival. People visit their family members and friends to celebrate this festival and it is also seen that some of them even go out for dinners and other kind of fun activities.
I would like discuss the activities of my cousin Shyama during this festival to highlight its various aspects. She used to be very excited about the festival right from its very first day, that is, Mahalaya till its end on Vijaya Dashmi. During the initial days of festivity, she would offer prayers to Durga and her children. On the tenth day of Durga Puja, she used to go with her family to the water bodies for the immersion of idols to signal the return of the Goddess to her husband’s home. In addition to this, she would also decorate her house with lights and other decorations. During the festival, she would offer various kinds of prayers to the goddess Durga and her children.
More importantly, during the seventh, eighth and ninth day, she used to go out with her friends and family members for pandal hopping. In addition to this, she used to cook different kinds of food like rosogollas, puris and others not only to offer to the goddess and her children but also to make the occasion more special, that is, something different from their ordinary customs or routine practices. Moreover, she would wear new clothes to make the occasion special and eagerly await the celebration of this festival.
The Concept of Ethnography: Understanding Culture Without Biases
More importantly, this was her favorite time of the year since during this time she not only got a break from her schools but also got to meet her friends and cousins. The net result of this was the fact that during the first nine days of Durga Puja she could be found smiling and enjoying herself however on the tenth day when festivities get over she used to become sad.
I was told by parents that Durga Puja was mainly intended to welcome goddess Durga Puja and her children. I was also told that this festival formed an integral part of our culture and it was in synchronicity with the idol worshipping practices followed by people of India. For example, I had seen my mother worship Durga and her children all round the year and according to her during this festival, goddess Durga was worshipped on a larger scale wherein the major rituals were performed by the priests. Thus, during this festival she played the same role and arranged for things which would be needed for the festival and offered prayers as well.
I personally believe that this festival is actually a celebration of women power in India wherein women are not allowed much freedom and had to live in a male dominated society. This might sound a bit unorthodox in a nation like India wherein the society is being dominated by men individuals and females are offered limited freedom. However, at the same time, I would like to say that this festival offers an opportunity to the people of India to bond with each other regardless of the class or background to which they belong. Thus, in a way it can be said that this festival also symbolizes the efforts of people of India to bring closer its different people.
More importantly, the festival under discussion here depicts some of the most important aspects of Indian nation and its culture, like the religious aspects of their lives, the religious practices followed by them and others. The festival also shows the manner in which religion is closely associated with the life of the people of India and as a matter of fact forms an integral part of their lives.
I would like to say that these rituals and also Durga Puja might seem a weird one to outsides. They might wonder why the people of a nation wherein the crime rates against women are so high celebrate a festival which upholds female power and even worshipes them. More importantly, they might even see the various rituals or even the prayers which are being offered to the goddess and her children as superficial. In addition to this, people of the western nations where visiting parents after marriage is a common would fail to understand the Indian custom where women after marriage seldom visit their mothers or fathers.
More importantly, the celebrations and also the happiness of people during the time of this festival is something which the people from other cultures would have difficulty in understanding because of the high level of enthusiasm and joy which the Indian people display during the ten days of this festival. These in short are some of the grounds or rituals which might be misinterpreted by an individual from a different cultural background.
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