I got back from Japan on Saturday! Woohoo! This is the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced but I’d like to note that it is still technically Monday in Arizona (where I now am) so this post is totally on time.
While this will be a short post, today’s topic is related to cultural relativism and a few other posts coming up later in the month.
Without further ado…I is for Interpretive Anthropology!
Interpretative anthropology is a perspective developed by Clifford Geertz as a response to the existing methodology behind ethnographic writing at the time. This new perspective seeks to understand a culture through the actors within it (the people of that culture) as opposed to an outsider looking in–the prevailing method before Geertz came on the scene.
One of the key points of interpretative anthropology is deep participation in the culture, a concept first proposed by Franz Boas, the father of anthropology. Participant-observation puts the anthropologist in the culture with the people they are writing about and allows for understanding both from the people of the culture itself and from experiencing that culture.
When I went to Japan, I was intent on being a participant-observer where appropriate (we visited a lot of shrines so I did refrain from participating in some things).
^ That plate is way bigger than it looks, by the way. I shared that sushi with 4 other people!
How does this relate to writing? Isn’t it obvious? Worldbuilding! Writers need to understand the culture they are creating through the lens of the characters experiencing it! A key element in SAAFire’s world is a religious system that is heavily integrated into my characters’ daily lives (with varying degrees of devotion). If I don’t understand how my characters experience this crucial but subtle aspect of their lives from their perspective, I can’t accurately relay it to the reader.
So develop some interpretive anthropology for your own work and get to know your culture through your characters’ eyes. You may find your world, your people, and your writing enriched.