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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

circumcised?

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?

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