Reading Analysis Guide
Prof. Daniel M. Varisco
Office: 200F Davison (516) 463-5590
[Last Update 3/15/12]
This RAG is a guide to all of the assigned readings for this course. This page is for RAG #1, the course readings up to midterm. For the RAG #2 from the midterm to the final exam, click here (still coming). Each student must take notes individually on these questions and hand in the RAG the day of each exam (midterm and final) for credit. These notes will result in both preparation for class discussion and a study guide for the exams. All of the short answers on the midterm and final will come from questions in this study guide.
Each RAG is worth 12 points, for a total of 24 points. The grading criteria for each RAG are as follows: 2 points (impressive) 1 point (adequate):
a. Comprehensive responses to most questions (more than phrase or simple gist)
b. Recognizes key issues involved
c. Raises specific questions about what is read
d. Provides personal views and opinions (you will not be graded on what you say, but you must make an effort to state how the course material affects your understanding of the material
e. Awareness of anthropological approaches and methods
f. Overall level of effort and engagement with material.
SAMPLE RAG NOTE: You do not need to use complete sentences, unless you wish to expand on a particular point. The idea of a study guide is to identify main points and the kinds of examples that illustrate these points. The questions I ask are meant as a guide in this process and is not meant to be comprehensive.
• De Waal (1995) "Bonobo Sex and Society"
• What is the basic life cycle of a female bonobo? (p. 83 on original)
• reach adolescence by age 7
• give birth at 13-14 years, nurse and carry baby 5 years
• adult by 15
• lives to at least 40 in wild and 60 in captivity
My (as a student) Questions: Why do they carry their young so long? When is a young bonobo able to fend for itself?
[Note: You will note that I periodically hyperlink a concept or individual, so that you can find more online information. This is to help you better understand the material, but will not be on th eexams. Although Google is not God, it is pretty close at times. You could actually try finding out more about "bonobo" by putting this into the search engine. This can be a useful exercise when you are confused or need more information. There is no need to do this for everything you read, but follow up on points you find interesting and feel free to bring in something new for the class discussion.]
2/1 How do We Study Our Sexual Selves?
• Middleton (p. 1) says that "It is a paradox that in a time when we are awash in information about sex we know much less about it than we think we do." What are First read the chapter and then think of three things that you think you would like to know more about regarding the broad issue of human sexuality.
• Middleton (p. 7) asks you as student to think about where your ideas about sex come from in comparison to the Time/CNN poll of 1998 (on p. 2). What do you think was your primary source and do you think that was good or bad?
• What is the connotation of the Latin term fascinum(used for the penis) in English usage? (p. 10) For the Greek equivalent deity, see Priapos.
• What was the anthropologist Malinowsky's criticism of Freud's famous notion of the "Oedipus complex"?
• What is the rationale for the anthropological concept of "cultural relativism"? (p. 18)
• Middleton (p. 26) argues that "Human sex is more than reproduction." Which two of the 5 reasons he cites are the most important in your mind and why?
2/6 Human Sexuality: The Basics
SURF: Google Earth Human Body (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9o-AMwU9Fgw&feature=related); female anatomy ( http://www.innerbody.com/image/repfov.html), male anatomy (http://www.innerbody.com/image/repmov.html)
• No questions. The purpose of this reading is to familiarize yourself with the female and male sexual organs. There are numerous other websites with illustrations; if you want more information, these include: http://www.the-clitoris.com/f_html/anat_indx.htm, http://www.bartleby.com/107/258.html.
Friedl (1994) “Sex the Invisible” (friedl94.pdf) on Blackboard
[We begin with an obvious point seldom probed: why do humans usually engage in sex in provate. Friedl is a physical anthropologist who offers several thoughts about how to better understand this point.]
• What does Friedl think may be the best argument for explaining why human females no longer have estrus signals (a state known as concealed ovulation)? (p. 837)
• How might the evolution of "social intelligence", as seen in other primates, explain the cultural preference for concealing the sex act from view by others? (pp. 837-838)
• What is your reaction to Friedl's argument about the nature of concealed sex leading to vulnerability among sexual partners? (p. 840) What exactly is vulnerable? Is it the same for every culture?
• Read endnote 7. What is Friedl's argument for rejecting the idea that heavy female menstruation would have encouraged men to form hunting groups? .
2/8 Bonobos in Paradise: A History of Primate Sex
“The First Primates” (http://anthro.palomar.edu/earlyprimates/early_2.htm)
• How did the early prosimians of the Eocene epoch differ from most primates today?
• When did "Proconsul," one of the earliest transitional forms to apes live?
• What are the types of great apes and where do they live (there is a map in the webpage)?
• How is the sexual dimorphism of gibbons different from that of orangutans?
• About how many chimpanzees exist today?
de Waal (1995:82-88) “Bonobo Sex and Society” On Blackboard under "Course Documents"
• What important trait do bonobos share with humans in terms of sexuality?
• What range of sexual activity do bonobos share with humans?
• In what sense are bonobos a "fission-fusion" society? Who stays in the natal group?
• How do bonobo females dominate males?
de Waal (2007) “Bonobos Left and Right” (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-08-08.html#feature)
• De Waal is critical of an article by Ian Parker, who claimed that bonobos were violent chimps? What does de Waal say is the problem with Parker's claim?
• Why does de Waal think that many scientists underestimate the sexual activity of bonobos?
2/13 Evolution of Human Sexuality
READ: Taylor, Introduction, pp. 1-18, ch. 1, pp. 19-51.
• Why did Charles Darwin not think that his key idea of "natural selection" was not enough to explain evolution? What are the two forms of this other type of selection? (p. 5)
• Why does Taylor think clothing was initially used by our earliest ancestors? (p. 7) What other reasons can you think of?
• First, look at the images on p. 118. What is your reaction to Taylor's quote on p. 8 that since"widespread imagery of the Virgin Mary today does not demonstrate that the pope is a woman, the statuettes could be telling us something quite different." How do you interpret these prehistoric images and why? Think about your initial reaction
• Look at fig. 7.5 (p. 174) and then read Taylor's explanation of this on p. 12. What do you think this 5-6,000 year old Siberian illustration might symbolize?
• Michel Foucault, a French historian, suggests that the way we make"sexuality" central to culture and institutionalize control of it is a modern idea (p. 14). What do you think his point is? For more information on Foucault's argument, click here.
• Taylor argues (p. 17 last paragraph and on to next page) that starting around 5,000 BCE there was great variation in human sexuality in Europe. What kind of evidence do you think he will have to produce to convince you of at least two of the specific variations mentioned?
• Why does Taylor say that having a bigger penis does not make it more likely to spread a human male's semen? (pp. 23-24)
• Why does Taylor reject the hypothesis of Desmond Morris that male nakedness (lack of hair like other primates) evolved as a cooling device for hunting? (pp. 27-28)
• What does Taylor think was the first characteristically "human" artifact? (p. 44 and p. 48) Why would it be important?
2/15 Adapting to Orgasms
READ: Taylor, chs. 2-3, pp. 52-96.
• Taylor (p. 58) notes that the female clitoris is "no smaller" than the human penis. Both start out the same in a developing embryo until testosterone creates the male organ. What evidence from other species supports this claim?
• Read the Greek Hippocrates (not a real person) on the female orgasm (pp. 59-61). Which parts makes sense to you and which do not?
• Taylor asks the question: "What motivation could the women in Baker and Bellis's study have for cuckolding their husbands at a rate of one in ten?" (p. 78). Based on the information provided, how would you answer this?
• Taylor writes (p. 93): "Male orgasm is everywhere implicated in the process of human reproduction but it is everywhere seen as insufficient in itself." Why might this be? Think of the information given in the chapter.
2/22-27 Sexing our Earliest Ancestors #1 (Film: “Quest for Fire” (1983) V-2085)
Read the Plot Summary at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quest_for_Fire
Review of film in American Anthropologist (quest.pdf) on Blackboard (Be prepared to look for examples of the film's problems as we watch it in class.)
• Why is the movie depiction of the Ulam tribe wearing animal skins problematic? (p. 991)
• What makes the film an "anthropological stew" with virtually no scientific value whatsoever? (p. 992, especially last paragraph).
2/29 Art and the Body Social
READ: Taylor, ch. 4, pp. 97-109, ch. 5, pp. 115-141, ch. 6, pp. 143-166.
• What does Taylor mean by the following statement: "As it [the body] became progressively more naked, the body became a potential canvas for art" (p. 97). Do you agree and why or why not?
• What does Taylor think of the "sex strike" theory outlined on pp. 100-103? His rejection is on pp. 104-106. What are the two most convincing points that he makes?
• What reasons does Taylor cite for the prevalence of menstrual taboos in human societies? (p. 106)
• Look at the image of the Venus of Willendorf on p. 116. Of the possible interpretations given by Taylor, which makes the most sense to you and why?
• Read the quote on p. 119 by Nickie Roberts. What is your reaction?
• Why does Taylor (pp. 147-148) suggest that the Adam and Eve story in the Old Testament was written by farmers?
• Why does farming lead to the notion of private property over land? (pp. 150-151)
3/5 A Case Study from Vanatinai
READ: Lepowski, Preface (pp. vii-xviii, chaps. 1-2 (pp. 1-80)
Note: In her preface Lepowsky lays out her main argument about gender equality and all the points she raises will be treated in detail in the ethnography. Look at the map on p. xix to get a sense where the island is located. For an overview, click here. There is even a Facebook site about the island. Note that the island she studied is about half the size of Long Island and only had 2,000 inhabitants (half as many as there are undergrads at Hofstra!).
• How many language groups are there on New Guinea and the surrounding islands off its shores? (p. vii) Why do you think there are so many languages in one (until recently) isolated place? Note the number of dialects on the island of Vanatinai alone (p. 49)
• Lepowsky says on p. xiii "I make no claim of presenting an objective reality." How might this admission influence your reading of the book and acceptance of her argument about gender?
• Why did Maria say the local women "presented an extraordinary sight to my Western eyes." (p. 11). To learn more about "betel nut chewing" click here (http://www.betelbox.com/whats_a_betelnut.htm_) and here http://www.epistola.com/sfowler/scholar/scholar-betel.html
• Why did "Tugu" say "yes" to Maria's question, even though it was not true? (p. 16) How as an anthropologist would you be able to judge a response like this? Compare her response to the issue raised on p. 21 about fear of questions.
• Read the account on pp. 24-25 about who some of the older islanders suspected Maria "really" was. Why do you think they felt that and what would your response have been?
• Of the three views on "male dominance" (Ortner, Rosaldo/Atkinson and Sanday on p. 32), which is the least persuasive to you and why? Think about what we have learned in Shlain.
• On pp. 38-41 Maria discusses several ways in which women and men can be seen as relatively egalitarian. What are these specific ways -- a list will do -- and which to you is the most important?
• From the reading on pp. 45-46 what do you think is the importance of a "matrilineal clan" on Vanatinai?
• What role did women play in warfare in the past on Vanatinai? (p. 62)
• How has the recent political system (since independence of Papua New Guinea) impacted gender relations on Vanatinai? (pp. 75-76)
• What is the social function of the "gia" in Vanatinai? (p. 78-79)
3/7 Sexual Choice in Vanitinai
Lepowski, chap. 3 (pp. 81-124)
• How does the narrative account of the childbirth on pp. 81-82 help you better understand the event (as opposed to mere description of the event)?
• Lepowsky was told that conception can only occur through repeated acts of sex with the same man and that sleeping with several men acts as a contraceptive. (p. 85) She then reports few teen-aged mothers although teenagers engage in sex. How do you make sense of this?
• Why are female babies preferred by women and men in Vanatinia? (pp. 86-87)
• A number of food taboos on new mothers are mentioned on pp. 88-89. Pick one of these and explain what you see as the rationale for such a taboo? (Note: it may be a magical reason rather than logicval in a modern sense).
• How is menstruation regarded on Vanatinai? (pp. 100-101)
• What do you think is the social function of the "buwa" ceremony? (pp. 103-104)
• What makes someone "married" on Vanatinai? (p. 107)
• Lepowsky says she heard of no cases of rape and that wife beating was very rare on the island? (p. 110) Based on her description of gender roles, what do you think contributes to this lack?
• Lepowsky says that an individual who is married may not speak the name of an in-law (i.e. affine)? What do you think the purpose of this custom is?
• Why must older people be treated with respect? (p. 120)
3/12 Ancestors and Spirits
READ: Lepowski, chaps. 4-5 (pp. 125-205)
• What role does the old woman play in the snake myth discussed on pp. 125-126?
• If you heard the creation story of "Alagh" (p. 129) from an informant, would you be suspicious that it is not an original myth? Also look at another variant about Alagh on p. 133. Why or why not?
• What role do ancestor spirits play for people of Vanatinai? (pp. 134-135)
• In what way does Lepowsky think Ortner's distinction of male/culture as female-nature dichotomy does not work for Vanatinai? (pp. 142-143 and 149-150)
• Based on Leposwky's discussion on p. 145, do you think that it is credible to argue, as Freud did, that the snake is a phallic symbol universally?
• Lepowsky says that the relations between economic or trade exchange partners is explicitly linked to the ideal of relations between lovers (p. 156). What do you think she means by this?
• On pp. 157-159 Lepowsky describes a type of garden magic for the growing of yams, the chief crop of the island. What social function do you think such magic plays? In other words, why do you think people feel a need to use magic for growing yams?
• How do anthropologists distinguish "sorcery" from "witchcraft"? (pp. 171-172)
• What are said to be the motivations for female witches to attack others? (p. 194)
• What does Lepowsky see as an important effect (or impact) of local witchcraft and sorcery beliefs? (pp. 198, 201)
• As Lepowsky notes, the idea of women as witches subverts the normal symbolism of women as life givers and men as life takers (p. 204). What do you think is going on here?
3/14 Gender Equality
Lepowski, chap. 8 (pp. 281-306)
• What are the aspects of "personal autonomy," on Vanatinai, as discussed by Lepowsky? (pp. 281-282) Which of these make sense to you and which would you not want to apply in your own life?
• What does the concept of "the myth of male dominance" mean? (p. 285) Note why Susan Rogers coined the term based on her ethnographic research in France.
• In what sense are menstrual taboos on Vanitinai suggestive of female power rather than being seen as a curse? (pp. 288-289)
• Lepowski argues that the initial pacification through colonialization did not have a negative impact on women, but that overall the impact on women's authority "has probably been negative" (p. 293). What does she think has made it negative?
• Lepowsky argues that matrilineal descent does not guarantee a sexually egalitarian society (p. 296). What specific factors do not foster an egalitarian situation, as can be seen for other parts of New Guinea?
• Lepowsky asks (p. 305): "What can people in other parts of the world learn from the principles of sexual equality in Vanitinai custom and philosophy?" Based on what you have read and her points, pick two main things you think we can learn and probe how they might be integrated into our society. Do not just list an ideal, but think about how to make it practical in our own society.
3/19 MIDTERM. RAG #1 DUE AT THIS TIME