What is meant by “cultural practice”?

Okay, let’s dive right in. If you are enrolled in either “Cultural Anthropology and Human Diversity” or
“General Anthropology” as taught by Luke Matthews, here’s what you need to do for the final paper of the
semester. Read this carefully…
In the space of between 8 to 10 pages, write an essay in which you compare and contrast a cultural practice that you have personally experienced with an anthropologist’s description and analysis of that same cultural practice in two cultures other than your own.
Okay, now…let’s make sure that you understand what all that means.
How many pages are you writing? Okay, first,
you will be double-spacing and printing single sided as usual, and the font size you choose
should be 10 to 12 point font. Second, your paper should be formatted properly with the correct margin sizes (Don’t increase margin sizes! It will obvious that you are trying to make a short paper look longer.) Your paper should be no less than 8 full pages long and no more than 10 full pages long. Seriously, if you cannot 8 pages in this project then you are doing something wrong, and if you have to write more than 10 pages, you are probably including too much extraneous stuff (edit out the extras!)
What makes it an ‘essay’? An essay is a form of writing in which you, the author, are offering your insights and views on some topic. This does not mean that you are allowed to rant or simply spew an opinion without a supporting argument.
What it does mean is that you are using your faculties of reason to express your perspective on some topic in a particular way.
In this instance, the goal is for you to choose a particular cultural practice that you have experienced and to explore that practice in light of what you will learn about how people living with two other cultures also engage in that practice.
Your essay should have an introduction in which you tell your reader what cultural practice you will be exploring and why that practice is of interest to you. Your essay must have a conclusion (which should be longer than a single paragraph), that expresses how the attitudes and actions of people in the three cultures you looked at are different from yet similar to each other. Further, in that essay, you should be able to say something about what you have learned about that cultural practice and about your own experience by doing this project.
What this essay should NOT be is a synopsis of the articles that you have read. You are doing
analysis. You are not writing article summaries!
What is meant by “cultural practice”? There are many things that we do that are biological functions. We eat, we breathe, we sleep, we drink various things, we urinate, we defecate, we have sex, we give birth, we make social connections, etc. These things become cultural practices when we recognize their meaningful and symbolic nature. For example, eating is a biological necessity but in no society do people just eat any edible or palatable thing. We eat for far more than nutrition. Eating has meaning. Eating one thing may be taboo in one society but required in another. And so as with eating, different groups of people give different meanings to various activities…one culture may have stigmas attached to sex but another may regard sex in much more casual ways, and so on. Okay, how do you do this? I presume that you’d like to complete this project as painlessly and in as hassle-free way as possible while achieving the best grade and getting the most out of doing it. If so, follow the steps below. [If not, then please feel free to flail your arms wildly and approach this task as chaotically and idiotically as you would like.

Step #1: Choose a topic, i.e., a particular cultural practice to explore. Your topic should not be too broad nor to narrow. Choose a practice that you have personal experience of or with. For  example, you’ve experienced your gender, so a paper on masculinity or femininity would be good, as would papers on kinship, or friendship, or family, or the place of work, among other things. Don’t choose a topic with which you have no personal experience, for example, if you haven’t been in the armed services yourself, writing about being a soldier would not be acceptable. Do not choose topics that are too narrow or too obscure. Keep in mind that you have to be able to find two articles about two different cultures written and published by an anthropologist in JStor to complete this assignment, and if you choose an overly narrow topic or too obscure, there may not be articles that have been published on that topic. For example, you will not anthropological articles focusing on the rather obscure topic of keeping of pet rabbits nor will a search for something as narrow as the cultural meaning of red sports cars yield results. We will be talking about many cultural practices over the course of the semester. You may, with
one exception, write choose one of these cultural practices as your topic. The one exception is the human relationship with dogs – you may not choose dogs as your topic. All other topics, whether we have discussed them or not, are potentially acceptable.

Step #2: Once you have chosen a good topic, spend some time thinking about how you have experienced the cultural practice that you are exploring. Write some notes to yourself about how you learned to think and feel about the practice…Who taught you these things? When? Why? How? How do you feel about the experience of learning about it? Do you feel it was good or bad? How much of your attitude about that practice aligns with or goes against the way that you were taught about it? How much does the way that you were taught and feel & think about it now accord with your society’s norms As you write these notes to yourself, notice what
jumps out for you as the most interesting bit and
explore that more deeply.

Step #3: Now, once you have written a few notes on your cultural practice of choice, you are
ready to search for your first article. So, go to the MATC Library’s website. To find the database that is called “JStor” (and all articles that you use for this project must be found on JStor) follow these steps:
[a] find & click the label marked “articles” toward the left side of the screen;
[b] find the link “Browse databases by A to Z list” and click on that;
[c] find the link “JStor” and click on that;
[d] If you are asked to give a user name and password, it’s the same as those you use to log in at any MATC computer. If you have difficulty logging in, contact a librarian (Do not call Luke! Call the library.)
[e] you should now be at the search page for the JStor database. It should like the picture
Before beginning your search, make sure that the box labeled “articles” is checked as is the box labeled “anthropology” (you can find the anthropology box by scrolling down a bit from the search box. By checking those boxes, your search will written only anthropological articles featuring research rather than, say, book reviews or editorial pieces.This is important! You are writing a paper focused on cultural anthropology so make sure that the articles that you choose are cultural anthropological in content. They should not be archaeological or about some topic in biological anthropology…if you have
questions, ask me.
This is important! Do NOT choose review articles. Each of your articles should be, indeed must be, about research on a single cultural group. Do NOT choose articles from the journal called Annual Review of
This is important! Avoid writing about the society and cultures of groups that we talked about in class. This is your opportunity to explore other societies and cultures using the same methods we did in class. If you choose to ignore what I am saying here and choose a culture that we looked at closely in class (and when I say “in class”, this includes, for those of you enrolled in more than one of the courses I am teaching, what you hear in this class and the other), you are risking a lowering
of your score.

Step #4: Now you need to find your second article. Repeat the steps, more or less, in step #3 but when you are looking for that second article, try to find a society that lives geographically far away from the society focused upon in your first article.
Why should the second society you choose be geographically far away from the first? If you societies are too close together, the likelihood is that their cultures will be too similar and you will not have enough to contrast. So, make your job of writing easier and choose appropriately.
Step #5:

Okay, now you’re ready to read, think and write up your conclusions. For the topic you have chosen (let’s say it’s

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