Throughout this course I have gained specific knowledge through reading two different books and short stories out of another, I had the chance to understand an anthropologist’s point of view. Three ways that cultural anthropologists provide a unique and informative perspective on the social issues they study are: Looking at the circumstances through a participant perspective (avoiding ethnocentrism), historical context, and concept of culture. In both Veiled Sentiments and In Search of Respect the authors actually experienced living in the culture of both places and developed relationships with the people they met.
They were able to develop a point of view that no one would be able to without actually experiencing what these people experience. It gave us as readers a real look at what goes on in these cultures and we were provided with details that would only be picked up by actually being there. I think this makes the books more interesting and easier to learn from. Lila Abu-Lughod lived with the Bedouins in western Egypt for about 2 years and she wrote about the Bedouins identity in relationships, their code of honor and romantic relationships.
The Bedouin culture demands that they keep their feelings quite, so the author was able to experience their feelings through poems. The author had access to the secrets the Bedouin women were keeping because they were not allowed to reveal them, it would be harder to experience how these women feel and share their feelings without actually being there and seeing the emotions of these women revealed. The author was very affectionate and didn’t judge and was able to be accepted by the Bedouins.
The historical context that the author provides in the book helps us to understand how everything got to how it was. We are then able to find reason and even sympathy in some cases for these people and be more understanding as to the way they live. The Bedouins went from living a nomadic lifestyle where animals are transported from one place to another in search of fresh grazing land, to living in villages where they had to raise animals and do odd jobs in order to support themselves.
The author uses concept of culture by actually living in their culture and being able to really know their religion and practice it and she shows us how culture is adaptive and logical because although the Bedouins do many things she would rather avoid (like not being able to really share their feelings) she adapts to their culture and learns the way they live. Philippe Bourgois shows us the same three concepts in the book, In Search of Respect.
He managed to gain trust of street-level drug dealers in one of the roughest neighborhoods, East Harlem. He was able to give us interesting insight on the street culture by using real curse words in the book to show us exactly how the people he was around talked and their rough aggressive style. He was able to form relationships with these drug dealers which in most cases are a very brave thing to do, but as readers we could see the point of view of the drug dealers and for the most part understand what they go through every day.
Bourgois also avoids ethnocentrism by making himself fit in the best he can without getting too involved in something dangerous. The historical context in this book is really important because we can understand how these people got to where they are and it explains the harsh attitudes, violence and crime. When the Puerto Ricans moved to New York they were treated unfairly by the people living there and they would only let them live on certain blocks in the worst areas. When the U. S. ctively transformed the Puerto Rican’s economy, rendering it even less responsive to local needs and culture than it had been before, hundreds and thousands of small farmers were forced to leave their plots of land. Many of them then moved to find places to live in East Harlem, but once again they were stuck with some of the worst jobs. So the Puerto Rican population’s history of economic dislocation, political domination, cultural oppression, and large-scale migration easily accounts for why street-culture in El Barrio might be so brutally self-destructive.
These people lost everything they had and moved to a place they are not accepted by others and aren’t able to get the jobs they would like, so they resort to selling drugs which brings along a whole string of problems. The way Bourgois used the concept of culture in this book is really important because it’s easy to judge people for the wrong things they do, but most of the time you don’t actually know the story behind their actions. I grew to have sympathy for these people because the author so thoroughly explain their culture and the way they lived and he knew first hand because he was actually there.
He couldn’t talk about or share the information he did without actually being with those people and going through their experiences and listening to how they really do want to do better and go to school and find good jobs, but they are stuck in this lifestyle they have learned to support themselves with and it’s hard to get out of. In conclusion, the authors of both of these books provide us with real life experience which makes the book interesting and helps us to understand how these people really live.
I was able to see the relationships they formed with these people, the reasons why and how they go to the way they live now or how their culture has transformed and the concept of their culture and what that really is and how they form a coherent pattern where one things makes sense to us with the other and they show ways in which cultures are adaptive and logical.
1. Abu-Lughod, Lila. Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. Berkeley: University of California, 1986. Print. 2. Bourgois, Philippe I. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.