- Special projects (requires login)
Designed by Holly High and Ryan Schram
Due: September 11 at 5:00 PM
Length: 1000 words
Find out about your birth story, reflect on what it was like to hear it, and what this has made you realize about the particularities of the time, place, social setting, and cultural context into which you were born.
To prepare to interview someone about your own birth, read this article (assigned in Week 2) by Barbara Behrmann (2003):
Behrmann, Barbara L. 2003. “Uncovering Your Own Birth History.” The Journal of Perinatal Education 12 (4). https://doi.org/10.1624/105812403X107008.
It is available in the class ereserve list and through the library catalogue.
Please follow her advice about listening actively and reflectively, asking open-ended questions, using follow-up questions, and using tact and judgment.
First, interview someone authoritative about your birth. This could be your mother or someone else who is accessible to you who knows what went down when you were born. When you interview someone, record the interview and make notes on it later, or make notes during the interview to help you remember all of the story as it is told to you. (Or, better yet, do both.)
Second, think about the report of your birth as qualitative data on your culture’s practice of pregnancy and birth. What does this aspect of your culture tell you about the culture as a whole and its values and assumptions about people?
Third, write an essay that makes an argument for your conclusion about your culture based on the qualitative information in your interview. In your argument, summarize the story in full, and use the details that you think are the most telling clues about your own culture to support your claim. When you present details of the story as evidence for your claim, explain your reasons why these specific details lead you to a larger conclusion about your culture.
You are not required to cite a minimum number of sources, or to find sources besides the readings assigned in this class. If you want to discuss ideas and information found in these readings or in other sources, you can and should cite them in the text and include a list of references at the end of your essay. The writings by Davis-Floyd (1994) and Shostak ( 2000), for instance, will be very useful for helping you to think about your interpretation of your birth story as an illustration of your culture’s values. No specific referencing system is required. Ryan prepared the class materials (and this page) using the “Chicago author-date” system. Holly recommends that students learn to use the “Harvard” system.
Keep in mind, though, that this is not a research essay and you will not be graded on your library research skills in this assignment. Your main job is to make an argument for your interpretation of your birth story as ethnographic evidence of your culture.
Writing assignments and other assessments are graded anonymously. You should not put your name on your submission (but see below for instructions on formatting). References about time and place of birth are fine because we, your graders, generally don’t know such details about students.
We understand that this topic can tread into territory that you or others want to keep private. We will treat these documents as confidential (and the university’s IT systems are fairly secure too). When you write, you may want to think carefully about what you disclose about the person you interview or the people in the story. Like an ethnographer, you can omit identifying details like names, places, and exact dates that are not relevant to your analysis, and talk about the case in general terms (e.g. “an inner-city suburban hospital of Sydney” instead of “Royal Prince Albert Hospital”).
Also, if you are having trouble with the interview or if there is no one you can interview about your own birth, talk to your tutor about an alternative focus for the paper, e.g. an interview with a friend’s mother about their birth.
In this writing assignment, we mainly want each student to have the experience of learning about their own birth from someone who was there, and to think about what this tells you about you and your place in your community. Behrmann (2003) offers us very concrete methods you can use to learn about your birth (or another person's birth). There's more than meets the eye. A woman's experience of birth is more than just the facts of what happened, and Behrmann's advice on methods will help you put the facts in a larger context by exploring aspects of the experience.
In your writing, reflect on what it was like to acquire this information in an interview, and what that experience led you to see about the cultural context of your own birth. As Behrmann suggests, pay attention to the details of your interview and be aware of what your birth means to the person who gave birth to you. This will be more than just the facts of the story, and you will have to interpret all the elements of the story and what you observed in the interview process to draw a conclusion about the cultural context in which your birth took place.
Longer is not better. Remember that this is an interpretation of a limited (but potentially very revealing) piece of information, and so you only need to make a limited conclusion about one aspect of your culture. Keep within 10% of the word limit, and if you find your first draft is much longer than 1000 words, revise it and ask yourself how much you need to draw out what you think is the most significant aspect of the story.
For a description of the required appearance and file format of your essay, see the page Formatting and software requirements.
Behrmann, Barbara L. 2003. “Uncovering Your Own Birth History.” The Journal of Perinatal Education 12 (4). doi:10.1624/105812403X107008.
Davis-Floyd, Robbie E. 1994. “The Ritual of Hospital Birth in America.” In Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, edited by James Spradley, 323–40. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Shostak, Marjorie. (1982) 2000. Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Assignments: Qualitative analysis of a birth interview, Cultural contextualization of an observation about childhood, Assessing Mauss’s influence: An exercise in research skill, Constructive criticism of a colleague’s Mauss research, Critique of your own cultural assumptions, Lecture questions
Class info: Welcome to anthropology, What is anthropology, and why should we care?, What we will do in class, Attendance, timetables, lectures, tutorials, and the hybrid format of this class, Late work, special consideration, and no-disadvantage assessment, The keys to success in this class, How to Zoom to class, Types of scholarly writing, Writing an effective email, Formatting and software requirements for assignments