21A.01 | Fall 2019 | Undergraduate

How Culture Works


Ethnographic Projects

Three ethnographic projects constitute 30% of your grade (10% each). These projects’ in-class presentation, workshopping, and critique constitute another 15% (5% each).

This assignment is tailored to each of the class’s first three sections: family, things, and agents and persons. It requires you to gather data about some aspect of our Bostonian life through ethnographic participant-observation and to analyze this data according to the assigned guidelines, drawing on one or more of the texts assigned for that section. You are advised, therefore, to start thinking about the project early on in each section, but to finish writing it after we have covered some of the readings. Because anthropology (and academic work generally) is a social activity, because thought happens in conversation and good ideas are collectively generated, part of this assignment also requires you to present your completed project in class and participate in the workshopping and critique of your classmates’ projects.

Ethnographic Assignment 1: Diagram a Set of Social Relations (Kin-Based or Not)

Ethnographic Assignment 2: Describe a Transaction

Ethnographic Assignment 3: Define Personhood

Reading Response Essays

Four short reading response essays (1–2 pages, one essay per section) constitute 20% of your grade.

This assignment requires you to summarize the main argument of one of the readings assigned for each of the four sections. Critical engagement of the texts’ arguments—by putting them into conversation with other assigned readings or by raising questions about how the argument’s logic does or does not work—are a welcome addition to the summary, but not a requirement. You may choose which of the assigned texts you write about, but response essays are due on the day that that particular reading is discussed.

Final Paper

A final 4–6 page essay, due on the last day of class, constitutes 20% of your grade, and there are two options for writing it:

Option 1:

Put three (3) texts from our syllabus in conversation, reading them against each other to discover their similarities, disagreements, and limitations: how are the social worlds described in these texts differently structured, and how have the authors differently analyzed these differently structured worlds?

Option 2:

Use two (2) texts from our syllabus to explain how culture works.

Student Example

“How Does Culture Work?” (PDF)

Note: All examples in the Assignments section appear courtesy of MIT students and are anonymous by request.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2019
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples