The Value of Cultural Relativism: Comparing Peace Corp Volunteer Floyd Sandford’s African Odyssey and Anthropologist Richard Lee’s Dobe Ju/’hoansi

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Even a student that has been educated for only four weeks in anthropology can admit that their viewpoint has changed since acquiring their knowledge. Studying a foreign way of life and unfamiliar customs sheds light on the impact that one’s own culture has on their thoughts. Anthropology is valuable because has the ability to remove the shock and misunderstanding that occurs when examining an alien worldview. The value of cultural relativism, the principle that one culture should not be judged by the standard of another culture, is illustrated in the comparison of Peace Corp volunteer Floyd Sandford’s African Odyssey and anthropologist Richard Lee’s Dobe Ju/’hoansi. A trained anthropologist speaks primarily in the voices of the people and quantitative data, while a relatively untrained Peace Corp worker enters a new culture and colors his account with his own emotional reactions and voice.
The main difficulties that arose during Sandford’s field situation was the result of a lack of relevant education and exposure to integral aspects of Nigerian culture. The Peace Corp training inadequately prepared him for the realities of African life; he was trained to deal with venomous snake bites and communist propaganda that never were an issue (Sandford 2007: 15). Sandford’s difficulties could similarly arise from the fact that he excitedly embraces all novel aspects of the local culture. He insists on visiting an African barber, who was inexperienced cutting Caucasian hair, because he wants his money to fuel the local economy. Sandford reacts to his disastrous haircut with, “Surprise, horror. The mirror didn’t lie. The entire one-third front of my head had been scalped. I looked like a Hare Krishna” (Sandford 2007:49). Time...

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...culturated stereotypes through studying other cultures in their own right. Perhaps the best way to compare these two works is to similarly view them in their own right; Sandford’s emotional interpretations of Nigerian culture and Lee’s scientific ethnography are the results of differences in education and motivation.

Works Cited

Bohannen, Laura.
1996 Shakespeare in the Bush. In Anthropology 09/10, edited by Angeloni Elvio, 56-59. New York City: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Council of the American Anthropological Association
1986 “Principles of Professional Responsibility.” In “Statements on Ethics.” <> 17 Jan 2010.

Lee, Richard B.
2003 The Dobe Ju/’hoansi. Third edition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing.

Sandford, Floyd.
2007 African Odyssey. First edition. New York: iUniverse, Inc.

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