October 27, 2006

Errata week: What to do when you can't track down a citation?

Back when I was finishing Creating the Dropout (1996), I had an ethical dilemma.  I knew I wanted to draw on a short reading I had seen in my anthropology of education course (taken at Penn from Michele Foster some years before). The selection I remembered was a wonderful three-page observation of U.S. graduation ceremonies seen through the Nacirema lens (Miner, 1956). (For those who don't know the piece, spell Nacirema backwards.) But the selection in the course packet didn't have the citation information (or maybe I had lost the course packet), and Michele Foster didn't remember it when I contacted her by e-mail. I sent an e-mail out to a few lists, asking for help, but no one had an answer (or at least no one replied other than saying how they were glad others found the Nacirema concept useful).

So what do you do when the academic culture says, "Acknowledge your sources," you know that a particular concept (in this case, the cultural value of rites of passage) came from a source, but you can't find the citation?

I fudged.  I cited Joseph Kett's Rites of Passage (1977) and (I think) another anthropologist who talked about graduation ceremonies.  But there was this debt I hadn't repaid.

Some years later, when I was putting together a satirical piece on high-stakes testing, I searched again and, thanks to the internet, finally found the piece, which had originally appeared in Bock's (1974) cultural anthropology text.  Whew!  Unfortunately, several education journal editors found it entertaining but a bit outside their scope. So I turned it into a photoessay in 2004, Pencil Art of the Nacirema, and cited Bock there.

But that photoessay is tucked away on my personal site, and I haven't called much attention to it. So, while I'm engaged in online errata, it's time to acknowledge the debt here.  Thanks, Professor Bock (professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico).

I've also found two other pieces on Nacirema education, which I've cited below. All are witty and provide a different perspective on modern formal education. (Isn't that what good cultural anthropology does?)


Bock, P. K. (1974). Nacirema initiation ceremonies. In Bock, Modern cultural anthropology: An introduction (2nd ed.) (pp. 83-85). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Available on pp. 97-98 of ERIC Document ED 403140.

Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58, 503-507.

Muller, J. (1971). Nacireman academies dysfunctional? A rejoinder. American Anthropologist, 73, 267.

Walker, W. (1970). The retention of folk linguistic concepts and the ti’yčir caste in contemporary Nacireman culture. American Anthropologist, 72(1), 102-105. Listen to this article
Posted in Random comments on October 27, 2006 1:16 PM |