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The ABCs of American Culture

Note to Non-Professional Researchers

This book is written as a model and an encouragement to non-professional cultural researchers. (Professional ones call themselves “ethnographers,” a particular kind of anthropologist). The book demonstrates a method of constructing an elementary profile of a culture by grouping common proverbs and noting what they indicate about the basic components of a culture, especially its core values. American culture was used for the model study because it is so widely familiar and it is the author’s home culture.

As non-professional researchers apply this method to less familiar cultures, they need to be very careful not to slip into stereotypes, distortions and misinterpretations. Two key questions are:

A researcher may start by writing up just five or ten key proverbs from a culture as I have done in the introductory section of this book (“The Ten Commandments of American Culture”). The list may be expanded and refined gradually through discussion with local people, reading any available anthropological studies, and studying the local language.

If at some stage the researcher decides to publish a small booklet, it is wise to collaborate with a local person and have the work checked by several others. Even then, the booklet might state that it is a working document, not an authoritative guide. Readers may be invited to suggest corrections to the author or publisher.

Even professionals doing careful and lengthy studies make many mistakes. The non-professional will make more. Nevertheless the attempt may do some good, especially in raising the visibility of the many small societies and cultures about which little has been published. Half a loaf is better than no bread at all (224).

Click here to read a description of the booklet, The ABCs of American Culture.


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