One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Why do it?

I had a friend ask me about my thesis research topic: what is the benefit of studying characters that are not real? 

My reply was simple: why not? They are fiction, but in their very own definition they are true especially to the characters within the stories. It also proves how anthropology can be applied in various ways. The one thing that I have learned from doing various research projects, it work on something that you are interested in and will stay interested in. And this research combines my love for reading and anthropology.

As I have mentioned in a previous post that I am interested in an ethnographic study of the cultures within fictional fantasy and teasing out the similar characteristics they have in common and comparing them. For those who don’t know what ethnography is, it is literally the study of culture. I emphasize fictional fantasy because there are a lot of fiction out there, but the most popular is fantasy with the uses of some sort of magic and magical creatures. Why? because it is just cool, but there is more to these than just magical creatures and good vs. evil. There are underlining similarities to Judea-Christian theology as well as other Western thought that all these fantasies carry (in the Western world) and with those similarities, is what makes them popular and easy to relate to. I will use Harry Potter for an example – the culture of the Wizarding World isn’t much different than that of Western society, put aside magic. There are struggles for the seat of authority in their government, racism, gender struggles, rites of passage from childhood to adulthood through educational institutions, and so much more of the similar challenges that we have to go through in society. When I say racism – we see this throughout the story with Umbridge and the Ministry against the Centaurus, Ron and the house elves, Malfoy to everyone that isn’t of pure blood, etc. Magic, in many cultures, is very much real. Often we study cultures with the ideas that magic is very much real, loved, and feared in their theologies and ideas of the world. If we can relate and acknowledge that magic is every part real within a culture, why can’t we say the same for the stories?

We still come to the problems that “they are not real.” Well yes and no. Fictional literaturaries are narratives that are imaginary but can have some factual evidence to them, but as a whole it is a work that was made up by the author. But let’s take a moment and look at ethnohistory. Ethnohistory – is the ethnographic study of cultures through historical records that may or may not still exist in the present. Ethnohistorians have to piece together cultures through historical documents, this is most often the case with Native American cultures that do not exist today as they did during the time of colonialism. Amd we all know that these documents by the British, French, Spainish, and Dutch (and even later on with the movement into the Frontier with Americans) that these documents were ethnocentric and one sides, rituals and cultures are interpreted through the eyes the author. Many of these rituals that were performed would be seen as fictional as wizards play Quidditch. Take the Natchez’s mortuary rituals – when a Sun died (their definition of a chief or tribal leader with divine authority), the wives of the Sun and a selected group were to commit a ritual suicide of strangulation during the procession of the death ritual. The Sun would be carried through the village on a stretcher and mothers would through their infants in the paths to be trampled on by the procession.  It all seemed cruel and unholy (most often interpreted that way) but it was seen as an honor within the culture. (that was only the short and clean version of what really happened) But this ritual would seem unfathomable and made up, but it really wasn’t. Like most cultures during that time of colonialism, can only be interpreted by the author itself. Ginzburg does a great job in his work with the Inquisition of witchcraft in Europe, piecing through documents the perspective of the those being accused.

So this brings us back to fictional fantasies and aren’t they just reflection and interpretations of an author’s view of the world just told through a different lens? I think so. Some of who like to write, art, music – aren’t you just interpreting thoughts and feelings of the events going on in your life and/or the world through an alternative means? I find all these similarities within these fantasies. Tolkien for one based LOTR off his experiences of the changing world during the World Wars and the Industrial Revolution and interpreted those events through the use of writing. Again I want and interested in breaking down these fantasies structurally and interpreting their meanings and  how we relate to them as culture/society.

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