21A.00 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Anthropology

Research Paper 1 - Ritual Ethnography

For the first ethnographic research paper, choose a form of ritual (or expressive culture more broadly) to study anthropologically. You may want to pick a form of expressive culture you know well, or something you don’t know anything about (yet). The challenge is to identify how if creates meaning and enacts identity for people who produce and consume it. How does this form of expressive culture promote social cohesion or create social difference? Are there conflicting understandings or interpretations surrounding it?

You should collect qualitative data using one or more ethnographic methods illustrated in the class. This may involve a participant observation approach of taking part in an activity or event (or visiting a place where an activity routinely occurs) and documenting it with field notes and recordings (if permissible). It could also involve “virtual ethnography” of cultural practices online. Or it could be based on an interview or interviews. Then write a paper of approximately four pages analyzing your data. Analyze your particular case comparatively by employing concepts drawn from at least one of the course readings. You must explicitly cite at least one relevant reading. Presenting your findings in the space of four pages may require you to synthesize some of the primary data for the sake of brevity. 

You may do this project with a partner (no more than 2 people per group) for a shared grade, however the resulting paper should be slightly longer (1–2 pages), and both partners must contribute equally.

For the presentations, you should just plan to tell us—in 3 minutes or less—a bit about your particular case study and how you’re thinking about analyzing it. If you have specific questions about how to analyze your findings, please pose them in the presentation and we will try to give you immediate feedback.

If you need an extension beyond the due date to incorporate any feedback (or if you need to request an extension for any other reason), just let us know.

This paper is due during Session 13.

Student Examples

“Affirming Identity through the Ash Wednesday Ritual.” (PDF)

“Running for a Lifetime.” (PDF)

“Devotional: Anthropological Ritual Analysis.” (PDF)

“Uniforms in the Air Force.” (PDF)

Note: Student examples appear courtesy of MIT students and are anonymous unless otherwise requested.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022
Learning Resource Types
Activity Assignments
Instructor Insights
Written Assignments with Examples