The Importance of Background Research and Methodology in Anthropology

In the second and third modules, the importance of background research and methodology in anthropology was emphasized. The second module, led by Dr. Bender, focused on linguistics and the idea of death and language. The students in her module were told to find anthropological articles that focused on either language death or a particular culture’s discourse regarding death. Kelci, Jacob, and Beth did their presentation on language death, specifically associated with the Cherokee language. Their presentation began with well-organized background research. First, they discussed basic concepts and terms associated with language death. Next, they explained what language death was and how a language can become endangered. Finally, they went into what it means for the culture if its language were to die. The group also talked about how many languages there are in the world today and at what rate they were dying. The specific case study that was examined by this group was the Cherokee. Although they did not conduct the study themselves, they used other anthropologists’ research for their presentation. The methods used by researchers that the group found most important include discovering the state of the Cherokee language today, the causes of the language’s endangerment, and how to prevent its extinction. These methods are perhaps the most important because understanding what is causing language death can ultimately prevent the death from occurring.

In the third module, led by Dr. Good, memorialized death through media was discussed. Dr. Good assigned her students to find examples of memorials either on websites or online games. I was in this module along with Sam, Olivia, and Melissa and our group was assigned to examine memorials in online games. The first thing we did was background research. We found many MMORPGs that used online memorials to honor the dead such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. We focused mostly on Second Life which is a virtual world where a person can lead a second life in the form of an avatar. This game was particularly significant because it mirrored real life, particularly in its use of memorials to honor a deceased group of people like those in the Virginia Tech Massacre or even an individual person who has died. The virtual realm has become a widespread field of study in terms of anthropology because so many people actively use media and often invoke real life experiences to those online. Although there are no face-to-face interactions in the online world, there are ways to conduct anthropological research. For example, Tom Boellstorff wrote Coming of Age in Second Life which is an ethnography that was based on fieldwork that was conducted within the Second Life realm. Boellstorff had his own account and used his avatar to set up online interviews and do participant observation solely online. This type of research is out of the ordinary because it does not involve actual human interactions. Thus, the methods have to be changed to accommodate this type of research. For example, anthropologists are not actually living in the world of Second Life when they conduct fieldwork, so they must find designated times to go online and participate. Online time is different from real world time. Therefore, people will only play when they could dedicate a few hours to the game whereas a person cannot stop what is happening in real life if they do not have time.

The study of anthropology is often regarded as a science because it requires a significant amount of fieldwork, research, and analysis to answer a particular research question. The anthropologist begins a project by gathering background research. Background research is absolutely necessary in the field of anthropology because it gives the context of what will be studied. This helps the not only the researcher, but also other scholars interested in the study, to gain an understanding of the topic. Furthermore, background research helps a person zone into the most important aspects of his or her research question and helps answer questions that he or she did not know about the topic. In addition, the methods used to conduct the research are equally important because that is how the researcher gets to the source of his her or information. Methods are an organized set of steps and processes that guide the research to a specific answer or goal. They give validity to the research and the quality of the research is judged by the methods that are used.

These skills are valuable to my research, especially because I will not be conducting my own fieldwork. For my project, I will use existing research, articles, and scholarly sources to develop my own criteria that determines whether Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens were buried intentionally or not. This is similar to the type of research I did with my module group; we found existing sources that helped to answer a larger question we had in mind. Throughout my time at Wake Forest, I had always been good at finding background research for projects in classes that I have had. However, it was not until I took anthropology where I truly gained experience in methodology and realized the significance of it. My participation in the third module helped me to discover the importance of methods in a research project because it taught me that your research is not complete without a clear set of methods. This is particularly important if a person wants to replicate research. In order to find out if they can get the same results, they must conduct the research using the exact same methods which is why it is so important for them to be clear. My future plans are to pursue a career in archaeology. Because there are no second chances in this field, archaeologists must make sure that things are done right the first time. Therefore, background research and methods are incredibly important. The research helps to direct what needs to be done while the methods provide a clear set of instructions that must be followed.

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One thought on “The Importance of Background Research and Methodology in Anthropology

  1. I really appreciated how you used the idea of language death and how it relates to a well-developed methods section. I had not made the connection that methods – which are ultimately designed to help our endeavors in understanding how a certain phenomenon occurs – can also be applied in how to prevent a certain phenomenon from happening, in this case it is language death. I also like how you discussed the idea that method development will have to change across different disciplines. While studying online death, certain actions will not be available to researchers, like human face – to – face interactions, while other types of methods will be accessible. You make a really good point in that a well-structured methods section can enhance, and ultimately create, validity within a research project.

    I think your project sounds extremely interesting and I am really looking forward to hearing more about what conclusions you’re able to make. This controversy is hotly debated within the world of biological anthropology, and I respect that you’re up for the challenge. I think that, because you will not be collecting original data, your background information will be particularly valuable. I also think you raise a really good point about the importance of methods in archaeology as a broader discipline. I do not know much about the practice of archaeology, and you call to attention how imperative it is to get things right the first time.

    I’m excited to hear more about your project with the Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens!

    Like

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