Reading Analysis Guide
Prof. Daniel M. Varisco
Office: 200F Davison (516) 463-5590
[Last Update 3/15/12]
Each student is responsible for taking notes on the assigned readings according to the RAG questions posted here. The RAG serves both as a guide for class discussion, including the raising of questions about the readings, and study guide for the midterm and final. You may write your responses on the computer, by hand or on note cards. It is probably easiest to simply copy the content below into a Word format. You must hand your RAG in at both the midterm and the final for credit.
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.
Consider the questions and issues and take notes that will be helpful to you both for class discussion and as a study guide for each exam. You can note relevant pages numbers where other information is useful. Use this as an opportunity to raise further questions you have about the reading or problems with what you do read. Some responses will be brief, but others should engage the issue. It is important from time to time to jot down questions you have or note things you do not understand. There is no required length, but I give a sample below. You may bring your RAG at any time to discuss it with the professor in his office.
3/21 Regulating Sex
READ: Middleton (2002:67-77, 89-107)
• As noted by Middleton, there are many possible positions for the sexual act (p. 70). He also states "Yet, for most of its history, the West considered the man on top to be the only normal position." (p. 68) Do you think this is still the dominant position in our society? Why or why not? For a summary of the Kama Sutra positions, click here. What would make any of these positions not "normal"?
• What is the "myth of primitive sexuality" (p. 69). Look at the example of early European views of Africans (p. 73) to better uundertand this point.
• What are the three common patterns of "same-sex" relationships, according to Murray and Roscoe (p. 71)? Which one do you think is most common in our society and why?
• According to Malinowski, why were harvest festivals on the Trobriand Islands "conducive to erotic connections" (p. 75)?
• Why is Canela "sequential sex" not totally free sex? (pp. 76-77)
• Among the Fulbe of West Africa, why do women deny daily that they love their husbands? (p. 91) Do you think this means that there is no "love" between husbands and wives?
• Several theories for the origin of the incest taboo are proposed in Middleton (pp. 94-97), among them Freud's Oedipus/Primal Horde hypothesis, Westermarck's "aversion" theory and Tylor's "alliance" theory. Which of these makes the most sense to you and why?
• Middleton suggests that marriage is difficult to define as a universal. What three things do definitions or marriage center on? (p. 97)
• Why does Middlleton (p. 101) think that Westerners are ethnocentric when they view "bride wealth" as selling women for profit?
• Why do the Canela approve of extramarital affairs? (p. 103) How might this custom relate to the "promiscuity theory" we discussed earlier in the course about a woman seeking several lovers for reproductive success?
• What is your reaction to Helen Fischer's hypothesis about an evolutionary rationale for divorce? (p. 105) Note what she thinks is a possible function of male infatuation.
3/26 Homosexuality in Anthropological Perspective: The Case of Melanesia
Herdt 2003 (pp. 65-73, 84-102) on Blackboard
• Gilbert Herdt is an anthropologist who worked among a New Guinea group called the Sambia. In his earlier ethnography he describes a secret rite of passage into manhood in which young boys practice fellatio on older men in order to (in their cosmology) ingest semen so that they can eventually have children. They believe semen is a limited good and must be ingested. There is a brief description on p. 71, but Herdt in this chapter is talking about the interaction of the Sambia with a group that had been influenced by Christianity and no longer practiced the ritual. Starting on p. 85 Herdt describes a series of lifelong male initiation rituals, separating young boys from their mothers and making them "men" and warriors. There is a short summary called "Secret Conditional Masculinity" starting on the bottom of p. 99 and continued on p. 100, which is useful to read first before reading the assigned portions of the article. For a brief online description with pictures, click here.
• Why do you think Herdt suggests on p. 86 that first-stage male initiants "are viewed as symoblically equivalent to menarcheal females in their late teens"? Note that boys here undero a nose-bleeding ritual said to mimic female menstruation.
• When you read the description of fellatio on pp. 86-87, do you think this is "homosexual" behavior as we generally describe it in our own culture? Does performing an obviously "homoerotic" act make one a "homosexual"? Consider their belief that males do not naturally produce enough semen and must ingest semen in order to mature and eventually marry and have children.
• Why do you think boys are threatened with death if they reveal the secrets of their initiation to women? (p. 90)
• Note the second new paragraph on p. 92: it is a good sum of Herdt's argument about the function of the ritual. No need to comment on this.
• What is the symbolic link between nursing and fellatio, according to the Sambia? (pp. 96-97)
Elliston 1995 on Blackboard
• After reading Herdt's account, we turn to a critique by Deborah Elliston, who argues (p. 849) "To identify the man-boy 'homosexual' practices as 'ritualized
homosexuality' imputes a Western model of sexuality to these Melanesian practices, one that relies on Western ideas bout gender, erotics, and personhood, and that ultimately obscures the meanings that hold for these practices in Melanesia." As you read, note the specific reasons for her critique of Herdt's use of the term "homosexuality" in reference to the Sambian material. Then jot down her major objections are. Try to find at least three reasons she gives.
• Do you think the term "semen practices" makes more sense than simply labeling what the Sambia (and others) do as "homosexuality"? (p. 850)
• Elliston (p. 853 and p. 861) argues that the idea of a lifelong homosexual commitment depends on how identity and personhood are defined culturally. Do you agree with her that our dominant Western view (and there is not just one such view) of "sexual identity" cannot serve as a universal model, since cultures differe quite radically in identity formation?
• What did Sambian women think, disagreeing with Herdt, about the idea that they needed semen in order to produce breast milk? (p. 859)
• Elliston's main point is summed up on p. 862. This is a passage that should be marked. No need to comment on this.
• Do you agree with Elliston that as anthropologists we should challenge the "naturalness" of heterosexual practice itself? (p. 862) What might such an approach mean for examining our own sexual identities and views of sexuality?
3/28 Transsexuality in Brazil: A Third Sex?
READ: Kulick 1997 on Blackboard
• In Latin America why is a man who penetrates another man not considered a "homosexual"? (p. 574)
• Kulick (p. 575) mentions the famous Brazilian travesti Roberta Close: check "her" out here. How does this affect your view of female sexuality?
• Kulick (p.577 ) reports that Brazilian travestis think any travesti who says he is woman trapped in a man's body is mentally disturbed. Why?
• Why do travestis not usually have orgasms when they are "having sex" with their boyfriends? (p. 578)
• What confused Kulick about the transition between male and female pronouns when travestius were talking about male sexual partners? (p. 579)
• Does the fact that Kulick, the authropologist, is a gay male, influence your reading of the article? (see p. 580). Would this question occur to you if you simply assumed he was heterosexual? When reading the work of Lepowsky, did you think about her sexual identity?
• Read the quote by Judith Butler on p. 581. What is your reaction to this? What does it mean to speculate that perhaps "sex" was "always already gender"?
• Having read Kulick's argument, do you agree with the following statement: "Refusal to acknowledge travestis' gender is one readily available way of refusing to acknowledge travestis' right to exist at all." Why or why not?
4/2 Sado-Masochism and the Body as Object
4/5 Porn and Striptease
READ: Middleton (2002:116-119)
• Of the various things Middleton lists (bottom of p. 116 and top of 117) for the range of "erotic and sexually explicit material," which of these would you personally not call "pornographic" and why?
•The Comstock Act was passed by congress in 1873, as noted by Middleton (p. 117). Click here to find out more about this act. Why do you think "sex education" and contraceptions were included in this as sexually explicit materials that Congress could ban?
• Of the three problems that Middleton (p. 119) proposes to refute the idea that pronography leads to sexual violence, which makes the most sense to you (if any do) and why?
"Internet Porn" (http://cyberanthropology.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/internet-porn/)
• Look at Item #3 on this site. Do you think these statistics are acurate? If so, why do you think so many Americans watch "porn"?
• Item #9. Why Utah? Do you think the fact that Mormon has a large Mormon population is relevant here?
• Pick any other item on this website that you find interesting or want to know more about?
Frank (2003) on Blackboard
• What is your reaction to the following statement by Frank (p. 61): "Rather than fulfilling a universal masculine need for domination or a biological male need for sexual release, strip clubs provide a kind of intermediate space (not work and not home. although related to both) in which men can experience their bodies and identities in particular pleasurable ways." What are they getting in the club that they do not get at work or at home?
• According to Joe (as quoted in Frank, p. 64), "a mind fuck can be better than an actual one." What do you think this means? Do you think this is more of a male than a female view or makes sense for both males and females in general?
• Look at the three quotes (Matthew, Roger and Jim) by regulars on p. 65: What is your reaction to these?
• What does this mean: "Because the interactions in a strip club (through the gendered performances of both parties) spoke to a male self-representation that was not involved with family or work responsibilities, the club became an ideal space for some men to access a fantasy of freedom, independence, and idealized masculinity." (p. 66)
• What does this mean: "The clubs provided some customers with a space in which a disjunction between desire and bodily performance could be negotiated." (p. 72)
4/23 Modern Sex in a Modern City
READ: Kelly, Preface, pp. xiii-xxii, Introduction, pp. 31, ch. 1, 32-52.
• What is your understanding of Foucault's "normalizing gaze, a surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, to classify, to punish" and why does Kelly think it applies to her research in a brothel? (p. xv)
• Why did Kelly wear a lab coat at times in the brothel? What were both the positive and negative aspects of this? (p. xvi)
• What is "neoliberalism"? (pp. 3-4) Do you think you live in a neoliberal society (why or why not?)
• According to government statististics, how often is a woman raped in Mexico? (p. 21) Why might this number be under reported? For the U.S., click here.
• What difference does it make, following Kelly's argument on pp. 27-28, whether we use the word "sex worker" or "prostitute"?
• Why are nearly all the food vendors in the Zona Galactica gay men? (p. 45)
• Why is is problematic to refer to "prostitution" as "the world's oldest profession"? p. 46
• What are the benefits to the city of Tuxtla of sponsoring the Zona Galactica? (p. 48)
4/25 Inside the Galactic Zone
READ: Kelly, ch. 3, pp. 76-101; ch. 5, pp. 121-150
• Why are many of the sex workers overweight in Zona Galactica? (pp. 80-81)
• Why is HIV testing for sex workers in the zone not very effective? (pp. 85-87)
• Why would educated women become sex workers and how does it better prepare them for this? (p. 93)
• Why does Kelly disagree with the radical feminist belief that all prostitution is "sexual slavery"? (p. 122)
• What do you learn in the case story of Gabriela about why some women come to work in the Zona Galactica? (pp. 122-123)
• How long did it take Magda to earn the same amount of money as a sex worker that would have taken her a full month of 14-hour days in a restaurant? (p. 131)
• What is an "obligada" and hopw do sex workersbecome these? p. 131)
• How do the foreign sex workers in the Zona view themselves differently from the Mexicans? (p. 144)
4/30 Sellers and Buyers
READ: Kelly, ch. 6, pp. 151-182, ch. 7, pp. 183-186, 200-205, ch. 8, pp. 204-213, epilogue, pp. 214-219.
• About how many sex workers work at a given time in the Zona Galactica? (p. 152)
• Why do potential clients linger around Lydia's open door? (p. 157)
• Why does neoliberalism devalue a public place like the Zona Galactica? (p. 160). Do you think Kelly's point relates to other aspects of sexuality in our own society today?
• Why might a sex worker who says she enjoys sex with her clients be stigmatized by other sex workers? (pp. 168-169)
• Who are the main types of male clients who frequent the Zona Galactica? (pp. 174-175)
• What is your reaction to Kelly's statement on p. 180: "According to both workers and clients, engaging in sexual relations with a prostitute does not constitute infidelity?" Why do you think they both say this?
• What is the "greatest benefit" of working in the Zona? (p. 184) The federal "minimum wage" in the U.S. is $7.25; do you think the same pattern or sex work to minimum wage in Chiapas would hold true on Long Island? To get a possible answer to this, click here.
• Do you agree or not with the quote of Anne McClintock at the bottom of p. 205?
• Why does Kelly think it is a bad idea to criminalize sex workers? (pp. 210-211)
• If the problem, for Kelly, is not "prostitution," what is the problem for her and as you see it? (p. 212)
5/2 The Sexual Body
READ: Middleton (2002:43-66)
• Mary Douglas (quoted on p. 45) suggests, using the human body as a metaphor of human society, that substances which enter and exit the body can be dangerous just as ideas and people that enter or depart a society can be dangerous. What might be potential social correlates, in this scenario, to such natural body acts such as eliminating body wastes, sweating, menstrual flow, and semen emission?
• What is the significance of Amazonian Mehinaku men applying a red pigment to their skins? (p. 48)
• What does Middleton (p. 49) think is the primary reason "modern primitives" apply certain kinds of tattoo or pierce they body the way they do?
• Why do you think a greater percentage (81%) of non-Hispanic "White" (and non-Jewish) males are circumcized, while only 50% of African Americans and just under 40% of Hispanic Americans are circumcized? (p. 52)
• Read the quote on p. 53 by Walley about witnessing female "circumcision." While not justifying the pain caused by this, what is Wally suggesting is the reason for the ceremony on a young girl prior to marriagable age?
• Here is the paradox, as related on p. 54: In Sudan and Somalia it has traditionally been the case that men will not marry women who have not been circumcized or infibulated due to the notion that this would dishonor his family, so what could a female do in this society if she did not agree to be circumcized and did not have the option of leaving the society? What do you think is the ultimate goal that creates such a no-win situation for these women?
• On p. 62 there is reference to a study of college students around the year 2000. What to you agree with personally and what do you disagree with? Do you think any disagreement is with the data gathered at that time or that attitudes may have changed or that there are likely to be differences from campus to campus?
• In the list of seven elements of "love" identified by Harris (pp. 64-65), which do you think is one of the most important and which one of the least important and why?
5/7 Naked World: The Nude Photography of Spencer Tunick
SURF: Spencer Tunick's Official Website (http://www.spencertunick.com/)
Film: Naked World (HBO, 2009)
In class we will see a few excerpts from the HBO film on the photographic work of nudes by Spencer Tunick. Look over his site at how Tunick phorotgraphs the naked human body as an object for art. We will discuss the issue of why nudity remains such a taboo in our own society and the implications for social views of our sexuality and gender.
5/9 The Future of Sex
READ: Middleton (2002:121-131)
• Were you aware that the United States has the "highest incidence of STDs in the developed world" (p. 121). Why do you think this is the case?
• What acounts for the rapid spread of the HIV virus in Africa? (p. 123)
• Why do you think some women believe that condom use sends a negative signal about the state of a relationship? (p. 125)
"Sex Robots and the Future of F...ing" (http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/sex-robots-and-the-future-of-fcking/)
• Have you ever heard of "teledildonics"? Do you think this is just science fiction or will become popular in the future (especially if Apple finds a way to weave it into an IPAD)?
• In the interview Laura Duncan mentions a mechanical sex robot named "Fuckzilla." Do you think creating robots as sex toys is immoral or should not be allowed? If you want to see this toy in action, you can do so by going here: http://www.between-the-sheets.com/?p=383. Please note that this is voluntary, as the videos shown would be considered "pornographic" by many people.
• What does Doncas mean when she says: "You don’t often hear people say 'I want a sex robot to challenge me intellectually' or 'to call me on my shit.' You don’t hear that a lot, because with sex robots, it’s still an issue of ownership, of something you own."
React to the following statement by Duncan: "The future of sexuality can clearly go in a lot of directions, but what excites me is the possibility of an opening up of options. We now see sex robots used in very mainstream, very conventional ways, which is interesting and useful, but what happens when you really start exploring the question of what it means to live in a body, what it means to feel arousal, what it means to feel pleasure, what it means to have sex. I think some really hot stuff can come out of that." Specifically, do you think a sex robot can ever become something more than a toy? Can it replace actual human relationships and would be the problem if it did opn an individual basis?
5/18 Final Exam: Hand in RAG #2 before exam