- Special projects (requires login)
Designed by Ryan Schram and Holly High
Due: October 30 at 5:00 PM
Length: 800 words
Find a scholarly publication by an anthropologist on the topic of gifts, exchange, economic organization, or a related topic. Make a claim about the author’s relationship to Mauss’s theory of reciprocity, and support your claim by describing this author’s argument and explaining why this argument leads you to conclude that the author has a specific view of Mauss’s theory.
This assignment is an exercise in a basic skill of doing research and using scholarship. It asks you to find scholarly writing by an anthropologist, read it, and analyze its argument to identify the perspective from which the author writes.
In this day and age, when we have a question about anything, the first impulse is to “just Google™ it.” (We are very good customers of Google when we do.) “Just Google it” is where anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers come from. We have to learn to scrutinize and evaluate information. Likewise, at this stage in your education, you will increasingly be asked to find information and use it to develop your own understanding of a topic. The ideas in scholarly publications are not mere opinions. Then again, scholarly publications are not textbooks either. The ideas that scholars write are not settled knowledge, they are controversial and contentious claims which each come from a scholar’s particular perspective. Hence, we cannot read a scholarly publication as if it speaks to us in the voice of an expert, teacher, or authority. We have to learn to read between the lines to discover what perspective the author employs.
Scholarship is a conversation. Everything that a scholar produces is meant to contribute to a debate with other people who want to answer the same questions. So, there’s a shortcut you can take to find out more about what people think about a topic: Do a bibliography crawl. Check the list of references at the end of one of our class readings, like writings by Cliggett (2003) or Piot (1999). Whose work do they cite on the same topics?
Another, equally useful technique is to reverse the bibliography crawl by using a scholarly citation index (a database that includes all of the references in each publication it lists as well as the bibliographic information about each publication). Using a citation index has never been easier thanks to … Google Scholar 😖 Each listing of a publication in this index include a link to publications which cite that item. Searching for one of Bohannan’s articles (e.g. Bohannan 1955) will return an entry for that article and link to all the publications since then which have responded to Bohannan or built on his ideas about Tiv spheres of exchange. (For those interested in a retro research experience, one can also use the Social Science Citation Index, now subsumed within Clarivate Web of Science, to do a “cited reference search.”)
More often than not, anything that one finds in this way is likely to be written by another scholar who carries out research and engages in disciplined thought to discover new ideas. Yet, one always has to think about what one finds, what value the information has, and most importantly, where does the author stand. Inspired by teaching on digital information literacy, I would like to propose a heuristic you can use to evaluate and contextualize scholarly sources: the STEP method.
By asking each of these questions, you can determine whether what you are reading is a scholarly contribution to a debate and where it sits in that debate. The precise boundaries of scholarship are not clear. There are a lot of intellectually provocative and profound ideas which are written for general audiences. There are—believe it or not—a lot of things which appear overtly to be works of scholarship because they appear in scholarly publications, but lack a T, E, and a P. To know the difference, we have to look carefully at how the author arrives at her ideas and how she presents them to us.
In this assignment, do a bibliography crawl and find a scholarly publication by an anthropologist1) which presents someone’s research, analysis, and conclusion on the topic of gifts, exchange, economic organization, or a related topic. In your essay, use the STEP method to describe the scholarly writing, and additionally make an argument for this author’s relationship to the theory of reciprocity formulated by Marcel Mauss. Use your critical reading of this source to develop evidence that supports your interpretation of the author’s perspective.
In general, this assignment and the exercise in peer criticism are meant to be practice, so you will not be graded on what you say about what you read, or how original your insights are, or how well developed your writing is. You should still do a good, thorough job. The required elements are:
There are some things that you should not do, and if you do, you will lose points:
For a guide to the kinds of writing you will find when you look for scholarly sources, see the page Types of scholarly writing. For this assignment, you will probably want to limit yourself to articles in journals or chapters in edited volumes.
There are of course many wonderful monographs that develop and extend Mauss’s ideas (or challenge and critique them). Read ’em! But the authors of these wonderful books also wrote wonderful papers for journals, so you can read those too and get the same insights into their thinking.
Likewise, many budding scholars have written theses and dissertations on this topic. Many are excellent and launched the authors into productive research careers, but in most cases, you will want to look for other, later work by the same author because it usually is more mature and polished than a thesis or dissertation.
For a description of the required appearance and file format of your essay, see the page Formatting and software requirements for assignments.
Bohannan, Paul. 1955. “Some Principles of Exchange and Investment Among the Tiv.” American Anthropologist, New Series, 57 (1): 60–70. doi:10.1525/aa.1955.57.1.02a00080.
Cliggett, Lisa. 2003. “Gift Remitting and Alliance Building in Zambian Modernity: Old Answers to Modern Problems.” American Anthropologist 105 (3): 543–52. doi:10.1525/aa.2003.105.3.543.
Piot, Charles. 1999. “Exchange: Hierarchies of Value in an Economy of Desire.” In Remotely Global: Village Modernity in West Africa, 52–75. Chicago: University of Chicago 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