Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual Among the
This essay should help you
. Understand the process of the “de-naturalization” of texts
. Question the “neutral” role of the “expert” or the scholarly gaze
. Examine rhetorical strategies evident in satirical essays
Horace Miner’s 1956 anthropological essay, “Body Ritual Among the Nacerima” is has become a kind a “classic” text, not only for students of anthropology, but in cultural studies circles. Miner’s essay, meant to be a kind of tongue-in-cheek satirical look at a highly unusual culture, “denaturalizes”or makes strange the familiar so that we may better perceive the contours of a particular society. His essay, too, exposes the failures of the anthropological gaze of the “expert” and of academic method and language in general, which represents itself as all-knowing and universal--a kind of god which stands outside the culture in questions.
Read the essay once through quickly and see how far long it takes you before you realize what is going on...Once you figure out the “trick,” go back and read the essay again carefully, asking yourself why we are so quick to believe the “expert” voice of the anthropologist.
- According to Miner, what is the central driving “ethos” of the Naceriman culture? What is the basic
“personality structure” of the Nacerima according to Miner?
- How far did you get in the essay before you realized you were being duped? What devices or strategies did Miner employ to lure you into his falsehood? Why are we so ready to believe him?
- Miner’s article was written in 1956. In what ways does the essay seem “dated.” Do Miner’s findings still apply in 2001? Which aspects about Nacerima culture have not changed and which have actually intensified?
- Miner does not perform an overt analysis of gender roles in Nacerima culture circa 1959. On a sheet of paper, make two columns. On one side, list the rolls ascribed to men--the high priests, the anthropologist himself (see the first line). On the other, list the rolls which women play--temple vestigial virgins, witches, mothers and the like. Do you see a pattern? Who hold the most prestigious positions? Characterize the ways in which women and men are defined...by what terms? How are women defined, for instance, by reproductive roles? How are the men defined--only as fathers? Consider the implications?
- Where is race in the article? What particular class or group of people is Miner describing representative of Nacerima culture in general? What clues tell us that he has a specific group in mind, even though he claims to be describing the culture in a broad sense? Are there other groups among the Nacerima who might refute Miner’s claims? What race did you imagine the strange Nacerima belonged to? Did you imagine them as Asian? African? Scandinavian? What kinds of media are we used to which might account for our assumptions about the “subjects” of anthropological fieldwork?
- Apply Miner’s basic analysis to some sub-culture within our society? Be sure to employ Miner’s methods and categories of anthropological inquiry. In other words, look at similar rites and rituals to determine the core ethos of the group. You might want to consider writing about Greek culture and frat life, the pervasive Gator football “religion,” twelve-step groups, shriners, masons etc. Don’t be afraid to get creative, irreverent or down-right acerbic. You may adopt Miner’s satirical tone to critique the culture or you may perform a more serious study in which you simply try to understand the basic driving values behind some sub-culture or perhaps counter-culture group. The group in question should have some sense of collective identity, a set of recognizable ritual behaviors or symbols and the like.