Essay about Kung Life: An Ethnography by Majorie Shostak

Essay about Kung Life: An Ethnography by Majorie Shostak

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The many ethnographies produced from the fieldwork of anthropologist, account for much of our knowledge of cultures we may consider foreign of our own. Ethnographies are often written to provide an understanding of the practices of the studied culture, thus bridging the gap between separate ways of life. Majorie Shostak is one of the well known anthropologist who attempts to do just this in her writings. During her stay in the Dobe regions of Botswana, she studied the life of !Kung women to find out if they share similar ideas to women of her own culture. She begun her research by emerging herself in anyway possible. She learns the language, lived among them in grass huts, and ate the foods they ate. She still remained unsatisfied and began a series of interviews with !Kung women. The one woman who stood out more than the others was Nisa, who became the key informant for Majorie. Nisa's stories provided depth and gave Shostak the satisfaction that she longed searched for. Unlike most ethnographies, the stories are written in the first person, all in the perspective of Nisa. This approach to writing an ethnography have its strengths but can also be criticized.
Shostack's emic approach is commendable because readers get a sense of how the people themselves see the world around them. With the assumption that ones inculturation make one less capable of analyzing one's own society, many look to the interpretative views of a complete outsider who may present generalizations that ignores the values people attach to their actions and may inaccurately depict the true reasons behind their conduct. Nisa makes a fine informant because her stories provide many insights about her culture. Her stories coincide with the other women's stories,...


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...umanistic way but she could have adapted a materialistic view. For instance, the topics of male dominance and polgamy could have been further explored. From a materialistic viewpoint they could have been explained as males are better able to promote the growth of the hunter gather family rather than woman who experience menopause. The need to keep populating can also be used to explain why sex is a major theme in !Kung society. However, unlike the humanistic approach taken by Shostack, the materialistic view would ignore the emotional attachments people place on activities such as sex.
Nisa's story is both entertaining and informative. She may have flaws recollection of memories but her stories provide enough to assume that she is accrurately depicting her culture. This leads one to be confident that her stories are giving accurate insights about her !Kung life.

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