ethnography Dancing Skeletons
Answer the following questions based on the ethnography Dancing Skeletons. It is not necessary to write
an essay, but do engage the questions at a thoughtful level. Be sure to answer the question thoroughly as
each has several parts and use examples from the ethnography.
1. Why is it important for an anthropologist to be able to speak the local language? What
advantages did the author enjoy because of her language ability? What difficulties ensue when a
researcher is not able to speak the local language? If all contact with the population is through an
interpreter, what sorts of bias might arise in the data collection?
2. What was the outcome of the author’s visit to #104’s compound? What had happened to the
child since her last visit several years earlier? Why did the author use numbers to refer to people
in her study, instead of their names? Do you think it was right for Dettwyler to intervene in the
case of child #104, or should anthropologists just study people in other cultures and endeavor to
have as little impact on them as possible? Is it possible to conduct anthropological research
without having some effect on the people you study?
3. How do the medical resources of Magnambougou compare to those available in the United
States? What are the main diseases children in Mali must contend with?
4. Using female circumcision as the focus, discuss the concept of cultural relativism as used by
anthropologists. Even though we may understand the beliefs behind the practice, does cultural
relativism compel us to approve of female circumcision? What are some of the rationales
provided by cultures that practice female circumcision? What was Agnes’s attitude (Chapter 3)
when she found out that neither the author nor her daughter had been, or where intending to be
5. Aminata’s parents could see that she was very skinny even though she ate a lot of food.
“Everyone knows that you can eat a lot and still be skinny” (Dettwyler 1994: 44). How do
observations such as these contribute to the belief among some Malians that food intake and
health are not related?
Essay and Homework Requirements:
• Minimum of 2 typed pages of your writing (not including heading or prompt)
• 12 point font size
• 1 inch margins on all sides
• Double-spaced throughout
• Spell-checked, grammar-checked