Cultural Studies 11.3


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Social Psychology Research Methods

Questions: Why is polygyny permitted in most societies known to anthropology? Why do women as opposed to men do most of the agricultural work in some societies?

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Why is the extended family the customary form of household in many societies? The third kind of question explores the consequences or effects of a particular trait or custom. What are the effects on infant care of high involvement of women in subsistence activities? Does punitive childtraining affect the frequency of warfare? The fourth question, which is not significantly different from the second and third, is a relational question.

Rather than postulating causes or consequences, a researcher may simply ask how a particular aspect of culture may be associated with some other aspect s. For example: Is there an association between most important subsistence activity and level of political complexity?

11.3: Culture

Of these four questions, the causal question is the most challenging because it does not completely specify what the researcher needs to do. The descriptive question tells the researcher what to count. But the causal question does not tell the researcher where to look for causes. It only specifies what scientists call the dependent variable the thing to be explained.


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Think of the causal question as analogous to the format of a detective story. Finding the solution usually entails hypothesizing about suspects and their possible motives and opportunities, eliminating the implausible possibilities, and concluding who is probably the culprit. Similarly, in science, the pursuit of causes involves the testing of alternative explanations or theories which purport to say why something is the way it is.

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The researcher who chooses a causal question needs to identify plausible explanations or theories to test and to decide on a strategy for collecting and analyzing data that could falsify or disconfirm explanations. If all theories fail, researchers must come up with new theories. Although these requirements may suggest that the researcher who searches for causes may need to act differently from other researchers, this is really not the case, as we shall see.

The basic strategy for examining relationships in cross-cultural research is the same, whether the relationship involves presumed causes, consequences, or just hypothesized association. To illustrate that strategy, let us turn to an example of a test of a causal explanation. In the first study we did together M. Ember and C. Ember , our question was: Why do some societies practice matrilocal residence and others patrilocal residence?

We started where most people start — with explanations found in the literature. One of the most common was the idea that the division of labor based on gender in primary subsistence activities would largely determine residence after marriage Lippert ; Linton ; Murdock ff.

In other words, female dominance in subsistence should produce matrilocality; male dominance should produce patrilocality. Even if we can be sure that presumed causes preceded the presumed effects, we cannot rule out the possibility that something else is the real cause. So how do we test such a causal explanation? The simplest way is to examine a relationship that should be true if the theory is correct, and then make a statistical test to see if the predicted relationship actually occurs significantly more often than would be expected by chance.

Notice that although the prediction or more formally the hypothesis has almost the same form as the theory we stated above, it differs in a fundamental way: the hypothesis simply predicts an association between two variables and says nothing about causality. Still, if two things are causally related, they should be statistically associated.

In our case, when we examined the association between division of labor and residence in a worldwide sample of societies, the predicted association was not found. This led us and later Divale [] to reject the theory that division of labor largely determines residence. Eventually we ended up developing a new theory that internal warfare warfare within the society would produce partilocal residence, and purely external warfare particularly if women do a great deal of subsistence work would produce matrilocal residence. Note that division of labor remains a partial cause in our explanations. Note too that even if a predicted relationship is supported, it may still be open to different interpretations.

Indeed, Divale offers a vary different explanation for the obtained relationship between type of warfare and residence. The study we just discussed illustrates the fundamental assumption of worldwide cross-cultural or holocultural research; if a theory has merit, the presumed causes and effect should generally be associated synchronically see J. Whiting ; K. Otterbein ; R. Naroll, Michik, and F.

Naroll The cross-cultural method therefore provides a way of eliminating theories that have no predictive value. Theories that postulate causes, consequences, or relationships are tested in the same way; that is, by looking to see if predicted associations obtain. Cross-cultural researchers must decide what societies to examine. No one can examine all cultures; even if one could, the labor and time costs involved would not justify doing so.

The most important operating principles in a scientific test of a hypothesis are: 1 to choose a sample that is representative of some universe of societies the researcher wants to generalize the results to; and 2 to use a large enough sample such that the results are likely to be true for the larger universe of cases. Instead, cross-cultural researchers usually sample from one of a number of published cross-cultural samples.

General Cultures and Ethnic Groups topics

Most of the samples mentioned above contain bibliography or pointers to bibliography and at least some coded information on traits of interest to a variety of researchers. The HRAF Collection of Ethnography is different in that it contains no precoded data, but full texts indexed by subject matter and grouped by culture for the rapid retrieval of particular kinds of information. If you want to read about a particular aspect of culture and make your own coding decisions on a sample of societies, the HRAF collection is ideal because you do not have to collect all the books and articles on each of the cultures and then search for a particular subject through all the texts.

If you are working from the print version of the Outline of Cultural Materials OCM for short , the easiest way to find a subject category is by using the extensive index in the back of the OCM. This index will point you toward a number of possible numbered subject categories. When you read about these subjects in more detail, you will find out if the subject categories are appropriate. The OCM system is mostly hierarchical in that the first two digits usually reflect the major subject category.

The A-Z list has a filter so that if you start typing a word it will try to find it. If you are in Advanced Search you can execute your search once you have chosen a subject category. Often researchers will need to search for more than one subject category to ensure that they will find what they are looking for. Keep in mind that not all ethnographers discuss all topics, so some categories will be empty for some cultures. It takes trial-and-error to find what you need and tailor a search to your needs.

It is rarely necessary to use the entire HRAF collection for comparative studies. The only reason it might be necessary to examine all the cases is if some trait or custom occurs rarely or is only rarely described. In that case, researchers might have to scan all the societies to find enough cases of a particular type. Examples of relatively rare traits are age-set systems, cannibalism, and woman-woman marriages.

Researchers use a variety of strategies to sample the collection. If researchers want to use some already coded data coded previously by themselves or other researchers for their study, they usually choose to limit themselves to those sample cases for which the desired precoded data are available. Some researchers find that the HRAF Collection of Ethnography speeds up their data retrieval so much that they use it for as many cultures as they can and then look up books and articles for the remaining cultures. Others choose the overlap between the HRAF sample and another sample.

The important thing to keep in mind in using information from two different samples is that the information in the different samples may pertain to different time periods and different communities. Since cultures change over time and vary from community to community, it is extremely important to make sure that the same-named cases in the overlapping samples actually are the same in time and place.

British Cultural Studies (Pt 3): Raymond Williams and Culture and Society

Otherwise, the researcher is introducing error. For example, suppose one is examining the possible relationship between male mortality rates in warfare and frequency of polygyny see M. Ember for a test of the hypothesis that high male mortality in warfare should be associated with appreciable polygyny. For information on a given society with regard to male mortality in warfare, one would look in categories Mortality , Instigation of War , and Aftermath of Combat and might find ethnographic material from indicating that many men died in warfare.


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For information on extent of polygyny category the researcher may find the best information to be from If you used these two pieces of information one from and the other from you might very well have a case that looks like it does not support your hypothesis. This would be an error if the society had appreciable polygyny in but did not have much in Pacification by external authorities might have eliminated war, thus evening out the sex-ratio, and thereby lessening polygyny.

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Basic Guide to Cross-Cultural Research | Human Relations Area Files

Ember was developed to help researchers see if times and places match across different samples. One of the most useful aspects of this concordance is that it gives the researcher the appropriate sources to look at in the HRAF Collection of Ethnography if she or he wants to match cases in another sample.

HRAF processes an extensive set of sources for each society included in the archive. Usually there are multiple time and place foci, so it is important that a researcher attend to the need to choose exactly the right focus.

thinking about the here and now of cultural studies

Ember The HRAF Collection itself can be used as a sampling frame a list to sample from and researchers can randomly choose cases from that list by using a table of random numbers. Your library might not have the complete collection. Check with your librarian for the cultures found in your library. We would however urge caution in using the HRAF collection as a whole because it has a mixture of unit types. A better choice would be to use one of the subsets of eHRAF designed to be representative. There are two samples within HRAF that can be considered representative.

We are working on including the entire Standard Cross-Cultural Sample within the next few years.

Cultural Studies 11.3 Cultural Studies 11.3
Cultural Studies 11.3 Cultural Studies 11.3
Cultural Studies 11.3 Cultural Studies 11.3
Cultural Studies 11.3 Cultural Studies 11.3
Cultural Studies 11.3 Cultural Studies 11.3

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