The Nacirema Analysis
In the journal article “Body Rituals Among the Nacirema” by Horace Miner, the author described the Nacirema’s beliefs and customs as extreme behavior that has many unusual aspects (Miner 2009.) Based on the article’s findings it is unusual compared to those who live in other places where such practices are not really found. With that, it is not part of their culture which is described in sociology as “the learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behavior” (Schaefer 2012.) What the Nacirema do in one aspect of life can greatly differ to another’s. The Nacirema’s culture is hard to understand or comprehend due to its beliefs, customs, and values that may differ greatly from many other cultures in the world, but when doing research to try and find information one must leave their opinions out of it. The “Body Rituals Among the Nacirema” shows people what not to do when researching another culture by describing a culture in terms of a biased outsider.
To start off, there is a need to state that this journal article’s information came from a qualitative research which is “research that relies on what is seen in field naturalistic settings” as it does not rely on getting information in the form of numbers. Research that gets and reports data in terms of numbers would be quantitative research (Schaefer 2012.) In the journal article it discussed many customs that the Nacirema go through are based around the human body. As Miner said, “the fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease” which is why the Nacirema’s customs revolve around daily rituals and ceremonies that deal with such imperfect characteristics (2009.) The article basically just talks about this idea and what their rituals and appointed roles are believed to do and what “personal”characteristics might influence their customs and beliefs because they go through many rituals that are said to be actually quite torturous to a person. Some of the rituals and customs discussed in the article would be the use of charms and magical potions which are kept in a box at the family’s shrine which every household is said to have, the daily body ritual which includes a mouth rite, and the latipso ceremonies.
Now when reading the journal article a person can find many things that would involve sociology to be able to research and get a better understanding of this complicated culture or subject. For instance, the one who is doing the research has to be able to use cultural relativism to be able to get correct information and results. For those who do not know what that phrase is it means “viewing people’s behavior from the perspective of their own culture” which requires neutrality to achieve an unbiased report (Schaefer 2012.) In the journal article, the author is attempting to view another culture, however, there is much bias in it which is not what should happen when using cultural relativism. The research should be just pure observation with no personal opinions being involved, but going back to the bias journal article brings us to the topic of ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism is “the tendency to assume that one’s culture and way of life represent the norm and is superior to all others” and this way of thinking is what brings about bias findings (Schaefer, 2012.) As people find things “strange” or “not normal” in another culture that is a form of ethnocentrism. They think it is “strange” as it is not what they were taught to do and therefore they belittle it calling it “strange.” This sense of superiority is also found in the “Body Rituals Among the Nacirema.” The author continues to call the rituals and customs of the Nacirema as “unusual” throughout the whole essay and even occasionally calls them masochistic or sadistic (Miner 2009.) This is definitely a type of ethnocentrism which should not be used when doing sociological research.
After reading the article, some may have noticed that there is something weird about the Nacerima culture; some may have not. Anyway, the Nacerima is and is not a real culture. The Nacerima actually go by a different name or term. Turn around the word “Nacerima” and look what happens; it spells “American.” This whole entire time the article was about Americans, and when looking closely a person can realize that the rituals described were things that American do daily such as the small box and the shrine were actually in fact the medicine cabinet and the bathroom but described in a different way and that the “holy-mouth man” and digging holes in tooth were the dentist and getting teeth work done. The author had actually written about Americans in a way that someone of another culture might see and perceive things. Some Americans after reading this might feel a little irritated and think nobody thinks that way about Americans. Well, maybe or maybe not, but that is how most people might view other cultures that are not of their norm which is how research and information can be wrong.
After reading this journal article, one should start to understand what others might feel looking at their own culture and vice-verse. From reading about the rituals in the article, to understanding why cultural relativism is needed and ethnocentrism is not, a person should be able to understand why being unbiased can be important when it comes to researching controversial topics such as culture. This article was made to let Americans try to comprehend what ethnocentrism meant and how bias can affect the way people view things, and that is just exactly what the author achieved. The “Body Rituals Among the Nacirema” shows people what not to do when researching another culture by describing a culture in terms of a biased outsider. Trying to view things from an unbiased standpoint is greatly needed when obtaining correct information for research as it helps get a better understanding from all viewpoints.
Miner, Horace. (1956.) Body Ritual Among The Nacirema. American Anthropological Association 58 (pp. 503-507.) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/aa.1956.58.3.02a00080/pdf. Schaefer, R. (2012) Sociology. 13th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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