Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Teaching Nacirema

You might have read Horace Miner's "Body Ritual among the Nacirema" in an introductory class in anthropology. If not, here is a clue about its significance: What does Nacirema spell backwards?

Here is a Wiki on Nacirema.

When I teach "Nacirema" in ANTH 100, we typically engage in a discussion about the bizarre and strange habits of a society that we assume is exotic and primitive. When it is revealed, either by a student or by myself, that "they" are "us," the discussion turns to concepts like ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. Also, that ethnography also is a form of writing, so that we ourselves participate in the making of the exotic, even in word choices ("medicine men" versus "doctors"). I also like to suggest that a reason why students today might fail to recognize the Nacirema is that Miner's account, originally published in 1956, describes a society that has changed since then.

In previous semesters, the discussion has become animated, with a handful of students in the know "sitting out" while the rest work through the article.

This time, however, about a third of the students in one section of ANTH 100 had read "Nacirema" in high school. In both sections, students caught on quickly.

So, I still had almost 20 minutes to kill. (Not to worry. I always have more material that I want to cover...)

It makes me wonder whether or not it might be time for mothballs. For the article, I mean.

1 comment:

  1. It might not be a good sign that I keep reading this as Teaching "Macarena."