For this week’s assignment, I chose to complete my ethnography at a park called Swan Lake which is located in the same city that I live in. Swan Lake is a park/wildlife refuge for all species of ducks. The reason I choose this location is because today my wife and I will be taking care of our friend’s triplet boys Rory, Kason and Maddox while their parents have a much-needed date night. Since this assignment required us to observe people, I chose three separate areas of the park in which people interact and so based on this I decided that my anthropological concepts would involve gender, sex, race and communication.
I am going to do my very best to portray what I am seeing, at least four anthropological concepts; with clear links to culture, as well as a personal reflection of the observation experience. This project has really given me a completely different view about Swan Lake that I have never really realized how peaceful and quiet this place was.
I have always noticed and found great joy in the sounds of laughter coming from the children on the playground as well as the sounds of dog barking in the distance. However, Once I was able to get away from the boys and just take a step back and listen and watch, I started to notice not only the ducks quacking but I can hear airplanes from what I assume to be Shaw AFB and how they seem to never stop.
I guess with the ten years of living and working near the base I have grown accustomed to their sound. Now, back to the park, As I sit and watch the parents it makes me realize how ready I am to have children now we have been trying for quite some time now but I want to have to same look these parents have on the faces the look of pure enjoyment and excitement as their kids are playing on the playground or it may just be because they are getting a break; we will never know. The triplets are a different breed of children. Everything they do is a competition, I feel the competition enumerating off Rory, Kason and Maddox. I also feel the need to succeed and the want, will, and drive and pure determination to make it up the ladder but I can also see the fear in my wife’s face as she runs to them afraid they are going to fall. Although they do not seem to feel completely stress free because I can somehow sense or feel their stress. Swan Lake is a fairly small park, but as I look around I notice three mothers and only one other male at the park and it really makes me wonder where the other male figures are. My dad has this saying, “Don’t be a mother hen.” He used to always say that to my mom when I would fall or hurt myself and she would instantly freak out and want to go to the doctor. I bring this up because I just had a flash back as I watched a little girl fall and the mother jumped up to check on her and the father sits patiently. I quickly scan the playground for the boys I instantly find Rory and Kason sitting. Maddox, on the other hand, I pretty much know how to find him all you have to do is find the girls. I don’t know what it is about that little man, but he loves the ladies and he is only two. Just as I suspected, there stands Maddox next to the swing set watching two little girls as they play and you can tell he’s just looking for his way into their circle.
Suddenly something grabs my attention, it sounds like the cheering of young boys and girls as I turn around I notice there is a basketball game going on which looks like it could be some type of intermural league game or it could be just a bunch of boys that decided to get together on a Saturday like we did back home in Kentucky. However, some things never change it’s always young boys taking their shirts off as the young girls sit and stare because as males its natural to try and impress the opposite sex. As I continue to look around I notice a young couple having a pic-nic lunch in the distance. I am not even sure they have kids but maybe they are just here to hangout at the park, both seem to be locked into what’s going on in their phones and not communicating. I really don’t know. but this actually infuriates me but why is it because my parents always had a no phones at the table rule, then it hit me, I am a part of this culture, I am trying to detach myself from a culture that I grew up in but I can’t. It is something that has been imbedded in me. We have learned that anthropologists must try to refrain from changing a culture based on our own cultural beliefs, and this tough because all I want to do is go over there and snatch their phones out of their hands and tell them to talk. This is precisely the cultural relativity learned in Chapter one of our text book and as I reflect more on our text I am finding myself inserting my own beliefs and ideas on all the people that I am observing. I am assuming what they are doing or what they are thinking instead of directly reflecting on what they are doing. I am trying to explain why they are doing certain things based on my own cultural perspective as opposed to trying to distinguish differences between my culture and theirs.
With the idea of cultural relativism in mind, I think it is now a good time to relate my observations to the anthropological concepts we have discussed over the last few weeks to the culture in which we live. I actually took a few minutes to research an article from our week four lesson(Park, 2014) “Ideas and behaviors that are learned and transmitted” (Park, 2014). Park says that culture is transmitted by “non genetic means of adaption” (Park, 2014) Basically what he is saying is that most of what we learn or how we live our lives is due to the impact that our parents or popular society has on us. It is this idea of culture that I used when I attempted to distinguish between feminine and masculine activities(with the young girls watching and cheering the boys on as they played basketball). Typically gendered activities are assigned based on the a persons gender so you might see more boys participating in physical activities such as football, basketball, hard labor, or even getting dirty, while girls are more often associated with being soft and caring, basically nurturers. Gender is assigned based on sex, the biological classification given during birth based on biological organs. Having discussed the concept of culture and described three of my four anthropological concepts it is time to relate my observations to the concepts. The mother and father sitting and watching their children play were seemingly using this alone time to decompress and spend some quality time together. However, it is clear to see that the woman was more in tune to her children because in their family she is considered the nurturer. On the other hand neither parent seemed to concerned or worried about the son. It almost appears as though the figured he would be alright because he was a boy. Moreover, the little boy never interacted with the girls at the park, he played by himself in the dirt the whole time. In my opinion it seems as though this was natural for him to do, almost as though it was instilled in him that he did not play with girls because his place was to be an overseer-er or to do manly things. At one point one of the little girls went to play in the dirt with the little boy and her mother quickly scolded her for getting dirty. This in my opinion reinforces that idea that girls are supposed to be cute and quaint and not dirty in our culture.
Communication or language is the final anthropological concept that I will explore. According to our weekly lesson language is best described as from a sociocultural anthropological perspective because language is defined as the human communication system (‘APUS CLE’). I found this to be quite unique an experience because although very minimal vocal language was used it seemed almost as though most of the people communicated through body language. Take for example, the boy and girl at the table across from me. The boy began playing with his phone and seemingly gave off a nonverbal cue that the did not want to be bothered while he was doing what ever he was doing. On the basketball court, I could not really grasp the type of language or the language they were using but based on their body language I could tell who was winning the game and who was loosing. Lastly for the couple at the playground, they did not seem to verbally communicate but based on the fact that the father kept glancing at his watch I could tell he was ready to leave or that he had something else that he wanted to do. In reflecting on this usage of non verbal communication, I wondered exactly how our ancestors communicated with one another. I mean it is evident that before homo sapiens developed vocal abilities they worked together but without a voice box how did they communicate? According to some scholars they used non verbal ques which is probably something that has been handed down and evolved from generation to generation.
In closing I will say that this was both a pleasant and enlightening experience. It gave me the ability to see and research from the eyes of an actual anthropologist. I mean it gave me the understanding of how easy it was to ignore cultural relativism and insert your own ideas and culture into that of the culture you are studying. I will also say that this experience taught me a few things about how easily adaptable our culture is and how certain adaptions of our species are not only handed down biologically through genetics or traits but also through our observations of our parents and the way our parents communicate with us. I think this was very interesting because it really speaks to me on the ideas of learned behaviors and causes me to question certain traits possessed by people. For instance, murderers, or rapists and terrorist. I question if they can commit and live with their crimes because they developed this ability genetically or are these learned behaviors.