Recommend your favourite cultural anthropology books!
November 4, 2010 5:36 AM   Subscribe

Watching the [insert society here]. Recommend books about the hidden rules and cultural values of a society.

Recently, I've been reading Kate Fox's Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, a book from an English social anthropologist to uncover exactly what makes English society tick. It's whetted my appetite to read more of this type of book. I'm not talking about things that tourists might need to watch out for when visiting, but more about the rules of a society that everyone in that society unconsciously knows and follows.

What other cultural anthropology books are there out there about the hidden and unspoken rules of a society? They don't necessarily have to be about present-day societies, they can be about historical societies and cultures. It'd also be great if they were written in a fairly accessible way and for the layperson.
posted by so much modern time to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I read this a while back, and it certainly helped to make sense of the hidden rules of Japanese society.

Incidentally, the Chinese title for Fox's book translates to something like "hey, look at those crazy English!" I take it as a compliment.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 5:49 AM on November 4, 2010

Best answer: Some of Tahir Shah's writing is part travel narrative, part popular anthropology. It's certainly interesting, good humored and accessible reading.

Also, recently on the blue.
posted by Ahab at 6:38 AM on November 4, 2010

Best answer: Maybe Erving Goffman - the presentation of self in everyday life?
posted by shivohum at 7:29 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Raymonde Carroll's Cultural Misunderstandings leaps to mind as a comparable work, accessible to lay readers and focusing on everyday unconscious behaviors. Monaghan and Just's Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction is extremely good and full of fun anecdotes. I've used it several times as a brief introduction to anthropology in a junior/senior level course on ethnography that other social science majors are funneled into by their program requirements without any background in anthropology.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:58 AM on November 4, 2010

Well, we'd certainly be remiss if we didn't mention the Arcades Project.

Durkheim's On Suicide is also a must read.

You might also be interested in the latest episode of Radiolab, Cities. Spoiler: you can deduce any data you need about a city by knowing how fast people in that city walk.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:28 AM on November 4, 2010

They can both be superficial in a number of ways, but I enjoyed both Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong (a couple of Canadians examine France, especially some of the extremes of assimilation and centralization), and The Anglo Files (basically the same territory as Fox's book, I suspect, but more fluffy).
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 11:11 AM on November 4, 2010

I learned a lot about Chinese values from Factory Girls, and it was a fun and fascinating book. Also the memoir, Wild Swans.

In the Land of Invisible Women could be classed as a horror story. Worth learning what makes Saudi Arabia tick.

Nothing to Envy is a chilling look at North Korea. ("Big government" is when the police check your house every week to make sure you're dusting the portrait of the leader that you're required to keep on the wall.)

Finding George Orwell in Burma.

Metro Stop Dostoevsky is set in Russia as communism crumbles. It made me appreciate this about "American values": you can pretty reliably find toilet paper in public restrooms, because people don't automatically steal it.

Any of Rohinton Mistry's novels about India. Novels can be great sources for cultural anthropology.
posted by Corvid at 2:14 PM on November 4, 2010

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down does a nice job of revealing health-related beliefs and practices within both the U.S. biomedical system, and Hmong culture. The Cairo Chronicles gives perspectives on both modern Egyptian culture and U.S. society.
posted by culturalobserver at 1:41 PM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: And just this morning, I was kicking myself for not also mentioning Everything was forever until it was no more (the last generation of the Soviet Union) and The Russian Context which is a huge compendium of traditions, proverbs, gestures, media, etc.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:54 AM on November 8, 2010

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