Anthropological Pieces To Understand A Culture

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More Than Just Words

If you were asked to define your culture in one sentence, what would you say? Would you mention the food, clothing, or beliefs? Would you feel satisfied with your answer, or feel the need to add more? Describing your culture to someone else is not simple. Not only must you explain what everything is, but you are also expected to help them understand what it all means. Anthropology is meant to relieve this burden. Nonetheless, this can result in misinterpreted information, biases, and an overall skewed understanding of concepts for both the author and reader. Karen Hansen’s article on the second-hand clothing trade establishes what the clothing trade is and proposes an argument supporting it. The piece is effective in presenting the contributions and advances that have been made to destination countries. However, her diction and lack of consumer perspective greatly undermine the piece.

The opportunities created by the trade are supported by both evidence and cultural perspective which makes Hansen’s claims justifiable. She says, “the second-hand clothing trade created more jobs in handling, cleaning, repairing and restyling” and mentions the effect this had on the country’s economy. Her explanation of this goes in depth to explain national income and government revenue. Additionally, Hansen describes the numerous opportunities that have arisen for women. She states, “the second-hand clothing trade is largely in women’s hands…” and further explains how this is viewed within their culture. In order to draw conclusions, it is crucial to understand the effect certain things—such as opportunities for women—will have on cultures. For example, Laura Bush’s interview on women’s rights in Afghanistan includes her ambitions to save women.

However, Lila Abu-Lughod’s article on this explains how Laura Bush wanted to save these women from things she viewed as being wrong, which were completely normal to them. This example illustrates how important it is to understand a culture before assuming something is helpful or harmful. Anthropological pieces should strive to incorporate both evidence and perspective. Hansen’s argument regarding second-hand clothing trade opportunities does just that. [1: Karen Tranberg Hansen, “Helping or Hindering? Controversies around the International Second-Hand Clothing Trade,” in Cultural Anthropology: A Reader for a Global Age, by Kenneth J. Guest (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018), [Page 253].] [2: Tranberg Hansen, “Helping or Hindering?,” [Page 254].] [3: Tranberg Hansen, “Helping or Hindering?,” [Page 254].] [4: C-SPAN. “Laura Bush on Women’s Rights in Afghanistan.” Interview by C-SPAN. First Ladies, C-SPAN, January 30, 2014. Video, 3:19. ] [5: Lila Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” in Cultural Anthropology: A Reader for a Global Age, by Kenneth J. Guest (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018), [Page 51].]

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Although Hansen’s argument was significantly supported, word choice and writing style create a poor understanding of the topic. It is evident that Hansen is in favor of the second-hand clothing trade. When presenting the opposing argument, she does not thoroughly break it down. Instead, she introduces it and immediately jumps to its inaccuracy. On multiple occasions, Hansen uses words and phrases such as “allegations” and “poorly informed” to describe arguments distinct from her own. Anthropology should aim to expose and educate, yet Hansen’s lack of focus and respect for the opposing argument does quite the opposite. It keeps the reader from truly understanding the underlying topic and makes it impossible for them to form a rooted opinion. [6: Tranberg Hansen, “Helping or Hindering?”

Along with improper diction, Hansen fails to include consumer perspective which negatively affects her credibility. According to historian Kenneth J. Guest, anthropology begins with people. The piece “Anthropology in the 21st Century” adds to that by saying that an anthropologist’s goal is to bring out the voices of those who are often ignored. Throughout Hansen’s paper, she includes statistics, cites sources, provides examples yet includes no first-hand point of view. She tells the reader the second-hand clothing trade positively affects consumers lives but does not address anyone in particular. The imbalance between her own observations and those of consumers harms Hansen’s credibility.

The article is primarily her own viewpoint, not the viewpoints of the people. This relates back to Laura Bush’s interview on Muslim women. If Bush had asked them how they felt about their situation, she would have realized they did not need any saving. When coming to conclusions about someone’s life, they must agree. After reading and analyzing this article, it’s clear that consumers were not even asked their opinion. [7: Kenneth J. Guest, “Reading Ethnography,” Introduction to Cultural Anthropology: A Reader for a Global Age (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018), [Page 1].] [8: Kenneth J. Guest, “Anthropology in the 21st Century,” in Cultural Anthropology: A Reader for a Global Age (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018), [Page 3].] [9: Tranberg Hansen, “Helping or Hindering?,” [Page 257].] [10: “Laura Bush,” Interview by C-SPAN. ]

Karen Hansen’s article regarding the second-hand clothing trade provided an in-depth explanation of benefits the clothing-trade established. These benefits were connected to their respective cultures and thoroughly explained. However, certain words and lack of consumer perspective established a disrespectful tone to the piece that inevitably harmed its purpose. Beyond the purpose of Hansen’s paper, there is the purpose of anthropology as a social science. It is intended to explore cultures, ideas, and beliefs unfamiliar to us. This overarching motive should be upheld in all anthropological papers. If we allow it to be forgotten or ignored we risk losing knowledge and empathy—both crucial components of our lives.

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