About Which Group Should I Write My Research Paper?
October 27, 2009 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I have to write this big research paper for my cultural anthro class, and I'm looking for recommendations for cool/ interesting groups to study. I've got to write ten pages on them, so I don't want to get bored! It's got to be a fairly specific group, but one that is not too obscure - I need to be able to find material. Thanks!
posted by howgenerica to Science & Nature (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could you give some more information about what interests you? Should this be a group in the US? An ethnic group? A cultural group?
posted by jefficator at 8:20 AM on October 27, 2009

Cheek piercers from Phuket, Thailand? That picture gallery will blow your mind.
posted by milarepa at 8:24 AM on October 27, 2009

Do you have to do an ethnography, with in person interviews and such? Because then a location may be useful. Or is it just a research paper?
posted by Think_Long at 8:28 AM on October 27, 2009

Check out the Communities of Practice model. Etienne Wenger wrote a great book to go along with it, too. If the concept resonates with you, you might find that you could write 100 pages about just about any group, easily. Really, what interests you? Look at the front page of MeFi...which topic discusses a group you want to know more about? I bet you could write a list of at least 15 groups that you personally have some experience with, but aren't counting because they sound too obvious. But there's lots to say about anything.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:31 AM on October 27, 2009

This is definitely something to talk about with your professor. Arrange a meeting to discuss your final paper. I would email the professor and say "I would like to talk about my final paper with you. Here are some times that I am available. Can you meet during any of those times?" Alternatively, if they have open office hours, just show up and ask then. You can pose the question exactly how you've posed it here: I want to write something interesting for this paper, what do you suggest? It's ok if you don't have a formulated research question when you go in -- the professor should be willing and able to help with this process.

It sounds like you might be an undergraduate student. I have a secret for you: professors and teachers really appreciate it when you go to their office hours to talk with them one-on-one. This is a great opportunity to talk to your professor one-on-one, to develop a topic for your final paper that will interest you and the professor, and will help the teacher remember who you are when s/he grades the paper. If you're a high school student, the same rules apply: teachers like when you ask them questions and talk to them individually. If you have a TA in the class, you could talk to them also, but I'd definitely try to meet with the professor.
posted by k8lin at 8:53 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

check out the Yanomami! They totally rock.... anthropologicaly speaking.
posted by Redhush at 8:53 AM on October 27, 2009

Response by poster: More background about the paper itself:
It's supposed to be a fairly straight-forward research paper. It can really be about any established group, cultural or ethnic, anywhere in the world, although the analysis should not be too abstract. It's more general - kinship, economics, ritual, etc. I'm a religions major, so I'm generally interested in groups with rich belief systems and ceremony, but I can develop interest in something if I get more involved with it.

Here are some examples of research topics: the Mesquito of Nicaragua, the Ainu of Japan, Nepali tribesmen, etc. I find exotic groups more interesting than native US groups, for the most part, although that's no rule. You could write about inter-city drug users if you wanted.

Also: Those cheek piercing pictures are incredible! I want to see the after shots.
posted by howgenerica at 9:01 AM on October 27, 2009

I've always found the Hmong appealing. Their burial ceremonies are interesting.


posted by meta87 at 9:01 AM on October 27, 2009

The Aghoras of India
posted by dhruva at 9:33 AM on October 27, 2009

So as an anthropologist, or at least someone writing a paper with an anthropological perspective, you probably want to avoid characterizing folks as exotic. I'd also avoid the Yanomami, as they've been coopted to argue for all sorts of things. You said you were a religious studies major - think about religious things that interest you - Ethiopian Christianity is pretty cool, you could do an anthropological study of Shinto priests or the culture of lamas ... etc.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:01 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about the Piraha - A tribe that lives in the Amazon. They are absolutely fascinating. No system of numbers! They're number system goes like this: 1, many.
posted by scrutiny at 10:13 AM on October 27, 2009

Yeah as ChuraChura says, go for what interests you - anthropological friend of mine did his big paper on football (soccer to you) fans, because he was into his footie and so was unlikely to get bored.

Avoid the Yanomami like the plague. The person marking your paper will be bored of papers about them, which is never a good start; add to that a shitstorm about research ethics and factual accuracy that's big enough for at least one book and you're not in a good place for a ten-page general paper.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:19 AM on October 27, 2009

If you want an actual idea - religion in the Western Isles. Hardcore protestants in the north, Catholics in the south, but continuity of ritual (especially burial practice) between north and south.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:22 AM on October 27, 2009

I'd try something closer to home with more primary research you could do yourself: homeless people in your neighborhood, local lion's club/veteran groups, local yoga practioners... something with real people that you can study... then try to find more general relevant academic literature to incorporate later.
posted by ServSci at 10:27 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Melungeons of Appalachia
posted by kimdog at 10:30 AM on October 27, 2009

Since you have an interest in religions, I would recommend looking at communities of religious minorities. What religions do you have experience with? Pick a country/region where they are a minority.

Some groups I've studied recently with interesting religions...
The Hopi
Mongolian tribespeople
Kipsigis cattle herders

(It makes sense that you are more interested in learning about groups that are very different from you. One thing Anthro has taught me, though, is that we are just as weird as anyone else. Everyone is weird. So, really, no one is weird.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:43 AM on October 27, 2009

Why not check out the Travelers. There's a rich vein of material that can be mined, with plenty of controversy and drama.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:53 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some of my research in college was spurred by reading Erika Bourguignon's Possession (1976), which focuses on possession trance as it manifests in Haitian Vodou. There is plenty of writing out there, and just that reading could spur several different focuses of research.
posted by wg at 11:11 AM on October 27, 2009

Why not the Ainu? It's a pretty cool topic since they're a separate group in what is otherwise one of the world's most homogeneous (and ingroup-oriented) societies.
posted by Cogito at 11:11 AM on October 27, 2009

The Fa'afafine of Samoa. It's a third gender that is completely normal and accepted in Samoan culture.
posted by brainmouse at 11:41 AM on October 27, 2009

If it was my class, I'd write about the Ásatrúarfélagið, a small group of people in contemporary Iceland that could be said to still worship Thor.
posted by xo at 11:43 AM on October 27, 2009

Basques? Berbers?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:48 AM on October 27, 2009

Why not the Ainu? It's a pretty cool topic since they're a separate group in what is otherwise one of the world's most homogeneous (and ingroup-oriented) societies.

Actually, it would be interesting to test the assumption that Japan is indeed "one if the world's most homogeneous" societies, because it just isn't true.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:03 PM on October 27, 2009

posted by Asparagirl at 12:50 PM on October 27, 2009

What about the supposition that the Ainu are the most closely related people to Native Americans? Might be interesting to compare/contrast the cultures.

The Icelandic culture that still worships Thor? That sounds awesome!

Oh - and the Fa'afafine suggestion reminds me that many Pacific cultures have this feature, like the Mahu in Hawaii. (I think "mahu" is slang, and used in a derogatory manner, but I know there is ethnographic info on this subject. Check out the Bishop Museum for starters.)

What fun!
posted by shifafa at 1:44 PM on October 27, 2009

The Khasis.

Fascinating history, culture and customs. A matrilineal and matrilocal society who revere the Grandmother - a woman who came into their midst some unknown centuries ago and gave them advanced social and metal smelting techniques (but now many follow some Christian traditions).

There is history and mystery with the Khasis, and the other two tribes of the state of Meghalaya (India). They have huge menhirs dotted over the landscape. They used to kidnap folk from the plains (now Bangladesh) to be their King (cos being the king was onerous work without much extra recompense) and their religious system had a high priest and priestess who which followed the bloodlines of the women. The youngest girl inherits the wealth, men don't live with their wives until the women want to. Divorce is not difficult but includes the whole village in its pronouncement. And they revere the forests of their hill state, leaving areas from riverside to hill top untouched as part of nature reverence.

Khasis are a thriving group of people today. The state language of Meghalaya is english so reading modern history on the people is easy. They are also the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Think Angelina Joli but more so. Angelina would only be a just above average looker amongst those parts.
posted by Kerasia at 2:05 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about the Burakumin of Japan, the "untouchables" of the old Feudal caste system? The castes are officially long gone, but since family lines are so long and important in Japan, there is still stigma associated with having Buraku ancestry. They are the largest minority group in Japan, but are seemingly obscure to the rest of the world. NY Times article, and a link to the Buraku rights organization, Buraku Liberation League.
posted by illenion at 2:10 PM on October 27, 2009

The tribes near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia. Or at least take a look through the slideshow I linked to.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:16 PM on October 27, 2009

Okay, so from my own professional background I should be telling you to dive right in and study Israeli Druzes or the Suriani in Syria or Laz in Turkey.

But actually--and this is not a facetious suggestion--why not study the group known as MeFites? As iamkimiam pointed out, 'community' can cover a lot of different things. This is an established (and growing) community of practice which clearly has its own social rules and characteristics. It's been around for 10 years, old enough to have stabilized, but new enough for you to gauge the rapid changes to those social rules and so on. And you have access a far greater proportion of its social interactions are recorded than with a traditional subject group. There is also an obvious and fascinating comparison to be done between how the group works in its original medium, online, and how group members interact at a MeFi meetup.

You're already a participant observer; internet sociability is a fascinating zone of cutting-edge social science research at the moment (albeit one that is so up-to-the-minute that some people just describe, rather than analyzing, things); and you wouldn't have to learn a new language, or feel superficial for studying a group whose language you don't speak. What's not to like?

(Restrained rant: It'd also help you avoid the power inequality that's still too often present in anthropological--and other--research.)
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:41 PM on October 27, 2009

howgenerica, I am so glad you asked for suggestions. I'm going to spend the rest of the evening checking out all the links people have contributed. MeFites are great.
posted by shifafa at 4:32 PM on October 27, 2009

(Restrained rant: It'd also help you avoid the power inequality that's still too often present in anthropological--and other--research.)

So true. For example, it's kind of ridiculous to try to write a paper on an ethnic group without being able to read their language, or to not even visit where they live.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2009

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