The Nacirema and Ethnocentrism

As I mentioned a while back, I’m back in school. I’m taking a couple online courses this summer, Sociology and Physical Anthropology. I had my orientation thingy for Sociology on Friday evening, and (since I’ve decided to be an over-achiever this time around, in contrast to my first college experience) I’m finishing up this week’s assignments tonight. (I’m also terrified that the Physical Anthropology class will kick my ass, so I’m getting a jump on the “easy subject” before my orientation class for PA on Monday night. I’m just not a hard sciences kind of girl. Facts? Statistics? Phooey…give me social theory any day of the week. My humanities B.S. will knock your socks right off. Well, maybe not Phil’s.)

Anyway, one of the assignments for Chapter 2: Culture was to read “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,” published by the American Anthropological Association (not to be confused with AAA) and write a short essay about its implications for ethnocentrism. This is SO awesome, people. I didn’t get the joke until I had read nearly to the end.

The best part is, I was entertained and I learned something. (I also felt a bit stupid at how easily I was taken in, but my inflated self-concept probably needed to be taken down a peg or two.) Where was this kind of fun when I was in college the first time?

10 thoughts on “The Nacirema and Ethnocentrism

  1. harmonicminer

    My favorite line:

    “A few women afflicted with almost inhuman hyper-mammary development are so idolized that they make a handsome living by simply going from village to village and permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee.”

    I wonder if anthropologists have ever studied Broadway in San Francisco? THAT will cure anyones ethnocentrism.

  2. aly hawkins Post author

    Yeah, that’s a great bit. I also like:

    “A man, whose own wife has never seen him in an excretory act, suddenly finds himself naked and assisted by a vestal maiden while he performs his natural functions into a sacred vessel. This sort of ceremonial treatment is necessitated by the fact that the excreta are used by a diviner to ascertain the course and nature of the client’s sickness.”

    And all the bits about the holy-mouth-man are priceless.

  3. june

    Aly,
    I’m so bummed…I’ve read only the intro paragraph and had to go and notice what “Nacirema” is. This ruins everything. I wanted to go for the ride! Oh well. I’ll still read it!

  4. harmonicminer

    I’m remembering another anthropological study which concluded that visiting aliens would believe that the automobile is the dominant life form in, uh, AMERICA.

    Or perhaps the dog.

  5. Lynsea

    i read this a few weeks ago in an anthropology class, and had to write a paper like his style about the Nacirema. i was one of the few elites with an A. lol

  6. amber

    i dont understand why this assignment was so easy for you guys, can someone please spill bc I’m doing it right now

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