Back to basics… How our personal context changes how we view the world

Back in school, here I am again doing some readings. The one I am currently reading is;

Agar, M. Who are you to do this? The Professional Stranger

This article pretty much discusses how ethnography has been negatively impacted by certain methodologies (or lack of) and how the ethnographers own culture greatly impacts any study. This is something that we never think about in the Western world… In the Western world we are of the mindset that we are the “most” cultured and thusly we compare everyone to our own culture and in turn have the view that our way is the only way.

The author discusses how their own beliefs and ideal effected some of their ethnographic work;

  • eye contact is important in many societies, but the use of changes in various cultures depending on context and status- in the Western world we use eye contact regularly and as a sign of listening and respect, but we may not think that in other cultures eye contact has inappropriate contexts
  • the author entered a rural middle-eastern society where it is rare for a white person to be seen, the author then continued to act “normal” using the technology they had brought including mechanical pens ect, the author then did not understand some of the person space boundaries and social ques that are used in this culture (eg. the men would stare at her and she would just get mad, because their staring was not normal)- but the author did not realize that being white in this community is not seen as normal, and that the people in the community were acting different based off of the changes that the author had brought into the community
  • we also see an example with question asking, in Western society it is seen as pretty normal to ask strangers basic questions (“where is the subway station?”) and it is seen as normal to ask questions to someone you are having a conversation too, as it shows that you are listening and are interested in their conversation- here we do not realize that depending on the context, asking questions can be largely inappropriate, you cannot ask someone personal questions on the street without having a good report with the subject, if the subject does not know you then invasive and personal questions are seen as intimidating because in the public sphere there are various ways that questions can lead to trouble (police officers ect)

All in all, I want to bring notice to this. Because we often assume that our way is the only way, and we never question why we do those things.

Lets take a moment to assess some things about myself that may help explain in this context; I don’t like giving eye contact in situations where I do not know people, and will often go out of my way to avoid eye contact with someone. I do this even at work (as a barista), and have noticed that I will look over someones shoulder or be “cleaning” while talking to them. Why do I do this? Because meeting people makes me uncomfortable, and I strongly believe that eye contact is a super easy seduction method. My experiences have led me to believe these things, and currently as I am in a relationship I do not want to accidentally have a “moment” with someone. I don’t like meeting people, because I find it difficult to acclimate to a group quickly, and it takes me a while to be fully comfortable with people. I avoid eye contact with people when I meet them also, because I am just afraid of people and know that eye contact is something you give to people you trust and simply- if I don’t trust you, you are not getting any eye contact. But I may not take into context that a person may need eye contact to trust me, that potentially if I give eye contact it could build a relationship with that person. I also would assume that other people are like me, and that potentially when going to another country that eye contact is unacceptable initially. This is of course incorrect, and in many cultures eye contact is a large part of interacting with people. And that my lack of eye contact, could negatively effect me in certain situations.

I think that because in the Western world, we believe that we are the best culture. That we negatively impact individuals and other cultures on a daily basis. My personal context has me in belief of one thing, but that thing could be drastically different in another society. I am having problems organizing my thoughts about this. But simply, we assume that our way of things is normal and is correct. We don’t stop to question why we do what we do, or how others do things.


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Ottawa. Canada. Follow my life.

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