exploration of cultural artifacts



study questions for "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema"


do you know what culture is being described?

what familiar practice is this? (If you still don't know, ask the professor!)


please attend to the following italized terms as you think through the issues:

The essay is written as an ethnographic sketch in accord with classic norms.

The essay defamiliarizes both through the narrator's position as uninitiated stranger and through the distanced idiom that transforms everyday life practices into a more elevated ritual and magical acts.

There is a gap between the technical idiom of ethnography and the language of everyday life.

The article becomes parodic precisely because of the discrepancy between what we all know about brushing our teeth and the ethnographer's elevated, distanced, normalizing discourse.

Who could continue to feel comfortable describing other people in terms that sound ludicrous when applied to ourselves?

What if the detached observer's authoritative objectivity resides more in a manner of speaking than in apt characterizations of other forms of life?


Interpretative suggestions adapted from "After objectivism" by Renato Rosaldo in The Cultural Studies Reader Ed. During (NY Routledge 1993)