Myerhoff: An Anthropologist?

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In studying the Jewish elderly members of the Center, Myerhoff attempted to understand the people there as an isolated society with a distinct culture. Through participant observation, as well as carefully recorded interviews and conversations, Myerhoff aimed to document this culture and understand it as a basis for unity among the Center members. Her immersion in this culture along with her anthropological perspective made her successful in representing the people of the Center. In her book, Number the Days, Myerhoff provides readers with an ethnographic analysis of the existence of a culture. After reading the book, I feel that I have a comprehensive understanding of the Center people. Through her descriptions, based on observation, and her recorded dialogues Myerhoff actually offers readers an illustration of this `society.' "She uses this material to show us the very processes through which her subjects weave meaning and identity out of their memories and experiences," thus not only presenting the culture itself, but defining the context in which it emerged (Turner (in Myerhoff), xv).

The field of anthropology looks at culture more analytically than any other social science. Cultural anthropologists are concerned with describing and analyzing societies and cultures as life ways. In attempting to study the life way of the Center members anthropologically, Myerhoff is beginning with the preconceived notion that there actually is a culture that exists among the individuals. It seems that she begins her research with certain assumptions about this culture. However, as her studies progressed, it is clear that she realized that her research would need to be much more intense than she had planned in order to fully unders...

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... Myerhoff quickly worked her way into the group and became comfortable with her subjects, just as they became comfortable with her; in this difficult task, she proved her knowledge in effective anthropological techniques, and furthered this proof by accurately and comprehensively presenting a culture which was not previously explored or acknowledged.

The production of a movie based on Myerhoff's book shows the extent to which she made an impact when she introduced the public to the Center culture. People related to this movie on different levels, some for the Jewish content and others for its reflection of the elderly. Regardless of how people internalized the information, it is evident that Myerhoff was successful in her main objectives. The book, and then the movie portray a culture that others can comprehend, acknowledge and relate to on some personal level.

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