ANTH1100 Fall 2019
Observation Assignment Guidelines
You will be asked to select a cultural event or activity to attend and observe. This assignment is designed to
introduce you to anthropological methods through an exercise in naturalistic observation. Your choice of event
must be open to the public and approved by the instructor. You will be observing and taking detailed field notes.
You will then produce a 5 page essay describing your observations and conclusions.
In your paper you will critically reflect on the observation you conducted. You will incorporate your own
observations as well as outside research, applying some of the concepts (such as ‘culture’) and anthropological
perspectives (such as ‘cultural relativism’) we have covered in class to your observations.
1. Proposal (5% overall course grade)
• The proposal provides an opportunity to review your proposed ‘fieldsite’ and discuss potential
directions for the paper.
• Final paper will not be accepted without an instructor-approved proposal.
2.. Final paper (20% overall course grade)
• You are not permitted to conduct interviews or ask questions of those you observe
• Do not record any activity or person
• The event or activity must be accessible to the general public
• You cannot include observations of minors or other vulnerable persons in your project
v Please see me for further clarification
v Failure to follow these guidelines will result in an automatic fail
1. Research proposal: 250-500 words
You will detail your proposed ‘fieldsite’ for your observation assignment. Include what you expect to
observe, including where, when and who you expect to participate in the event or activity. The proposal
is designed to ensure you have chosen an appropriate public event to observe that will both yield
interesting ethnographic data and fall within the ethical guidelines for naturalistic observation. Where
i. Where do you propose to conduct your observations?
ii. Must be a location that is a public place or event.
iii. Should yield interesting ethnographic data.
• Consider choosing a location where you can observe something that you do not
• Or, perhaps, it is somewhere familiar that you can look more deeply at and find
aspects of cultural life you typically take for granted.
i. Who do you expect to observe?
ii. What kinds of activities might be occurring?
i. On what aspect of culture do you want to focus your observations?
ii. Include the bibliographic information for one primary, anthropological source.
iii. Write a brief summary of this source. Include how you might use it to guide your
observations and reflections.
d. Write a preliminary thesis statement that answers the question you posed.
v You cannot proceed with the observation assignment until your proposal has been approved.
2. Term paper: 5 pages
a. In your term paper, you will describe the setting of your chosen ‘fieldsite’ (answering
b. Then, you will discuss the cultural significance (how/why/so what? questions) of what you have
observed using your own insights and relate it to some aspect of the course material.
c. Evaluation criteria
i. Demonstrates cultural relativism (i.e. seeks to understand, avoids stereotyping)
ii. Includes a thesis statement
iii. Includes primary data drawn from observations
v. Incorporates one or more concepts from the course
vi. Incorporates at least one outside, academic, anthropological source
vii. Utilizes proper citation
viii. Conforms to formatting requirements
• reasonable font style (e.g. Times New Roman, Arial)
• 12 point font size
• 2.54cm (1 inch) margins
Citations and bibliography:
• Incorporate course material (i.e. readings and lecture)
• Incorporate outside material:
o Cite at least one scholarly article or book.
§ Sources must be anthropological (access anthropological journals or books from the
o Finding journal articles online:
§ Anthropology research guide: http://libguides.kpu.ca/c.php?g=540520&p=3701894
o You may use additional sources.
• Style: your choice (e.g. APA or MLA); just be consistent throughout the paper.
o APA formatting guide: http://libguides.kpu.ca/apa
o MLA formatting guide: http://libguides.kpu.ca/mla
• Reminders for proper citation:
o Include quotation marks around direct quotes.
o Use in-text citations for both direct quotes and paraphrased information.
o Include a bibliography at the end of the paper.
o Plagiarism guide: http://libguides.kpu.ca/c.php?g=540520&p=3701904
• Important: Academic honesty is the principle that forms the foundation for scholarship and intellectual
ownership. Kwantlen Polytechnic University expects all students to uphold this principle and considers
any act of academic dishonesty, including cheating and plagiarism, as a serious educational offence.
o See Policy ST2 Plagiarism and Cheating at http://www.kpu.ca/policies
o Other useful sources on plagiarism: http://www.kwantlen.ca/library/guides/plagiarism.h…
• See also Student Rights and Responsibilities
necessary, the Appeal Procedure can be viewed at Policy ST3 on Academic Appeals
v In-class plagiarism workshop posted on Moodle
v If you have any questions about academic honesty and plagiarism, please see me to discuss
strategies to write and submit a paper without committing academic dishonesty.
the research proposal which i done is given below: u have to relate your term paper with this research proposal. please follow all the instructions.
NAME- KOMALPREET KAUR
STUDENT NUMBER- 100360174
SUBJECT- SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY
Fieldsite Where: Real Canadian Superstore
When: Monday, November 4th
Who: People of different ages and culture who are visiting the Real Canadian Superstore for the grocery and other purposes.
My main focus of observation was the study of the different cultures followed by the different communities.
Library research: Aspect of culture: different life patterns and languages according to the cultures.
(Gillian, 2013) Food and Clothing culture: an anthropological guide to food.
Summary: In the article, Gillian Crowther plays an important role to understand the food interests of people according to their culture. Eating culture is highly engaging because of the needs of food in cultures. The study shows the human behaviors, their culture aspects and demands of society. Moreover, it focuses on the interests of people changes due to their culture. The food preferences of all cultures are not same. These are different because of their cultural demands. For
example, most of the Indian communities prefer vegetarian food. This practice also shows the human’s changing relationship with food.
Additional outside source: (Mitchell, 2004 ) Dress and Globalization
This study shows the surveys which focuses on the dress and identity of cultures around the world. This study shows the different communities which are identified by their dressing sense and by their clothes. So they wear clothes according to their culture which gave a different identification to them. Moreover, it draws on the many issues such as gender, ethnicity and many more.
Preliminary thesis statement: In this paper, I will argue that although Real Canadian superstore is the grocery store but it is the place where people of different cultures get chance to connect with the people of other communities and how some aspects of cultures make them different from the others.
In my final observation assignment, I will try to describe that how cultures of some communities are different from the other cultures. Moreover, things that I will observe in the store such as their food and dress preferences.
Gillian, C. (2013). Eating culture: an anthropological guide to food. Toronto: univresity of Toronto Press.
Mitchell, M. .. (2004 ). Dress and Globalisation . New York: Manchester University Press.
Guidlines for assignment:
Step 1) Identify your fieldsite
Pick somewhere where there is lots of social action; people are DOING things. Remember that culture is an active and ongoing social process rather than a static object. Therefore you can watch culture happen, and it’s easier to “see” culture in places that are ethnographically “rich.” Pick somewhere where people are moving (between positions or places), interacting (with each other and the environment), and using symbols. Ex. Festivals, religious spaces, public transit, tourist attractions, shopping malls
Describe this fieldsite in detail in your fieldnotes. What time of day is it? What day of the week? What time of year? Weather? Indoors/outdoors? What is the atmosphere/mood (e.g. fast-paced and high energy, relaxed, formal/informal)? Are there any significant architectural or design features that change or guide how people use the space (remember Ch. 1 in your text and the section about classrooms and power) that guide? How would this fieldsite changed if you conducted your observation at a different time?
Step 2) Position yourself. Find a spot to observe the action. You may station yourself in one place, you may need to move around and participate in the social action. Figure out what works best for your fieldsite, and think critically about how your position (both physical and cultural) influences what your perspective.
Step 3) Watch the action and write down everything, EVERYTHING. The more the better.
Take notes either by hand, on a laptop or a cell phone depending on the atmosphere. Don’t be obtrusive, but also you shouldn’t need to hide what you’re doing (if you feel like you do, then you might have to re-evaluate your choice of fieldsite, come speak with me). Some fieldsites may be more participatory than others, and you will play a role in the social action (ex. Attending a Catholic mass you will be expected to stand, sit and sing along with the rest of the congregation vs. at a restaurant where typing on your phone the whole time would be normal). For some fieldsites, it may make more sense to take detailed notes of what you saw afterwards rather than during. These seemingly simple choices on how to place yourself as an observer in your fieldsite will shape your data, and this is something anthropologists often have to consider.
Collect observable data: What are people doing? How are they using the space? What are the unspoken rules of the space? How would you explain the social action/behaviours to an outsider or an alien (remember the Nacimera and the Yekcoh)?
Avoid stereotyping people. It’s hard to guess someone’s deeply held beliefs and values from their outer appearance. Instead, focus on PATTERNS. What do people tend to wear/do in this environment? What do you notice about how people of different ages and genders (which tend to be very observable) tend to behave in this space? Remember: It’s hard to tell someone’s ethnicity, sexuality, ability, religion, or class from looking at them unless they are wearing overt symbols of those things (ex. Rainbow triangle button for LGBTQ+).
Step 4) Review your fieldnotes and add anything you missed the first time round.
I will NOT be grading your fieldnotes. Write down everything and anything that may be of interest, the more the better. Keep an open mind. This is inductive research, so patterns may not seem
obvious right away, and you may observe things that you didn’t expect to see. Remember, in anthropology, we construct our analysis and apply theory AFTER data collection.
observation assignment Example:
How a warehouse store can facilitate much more than a shopping experience.
Costco is a commonly recognized household name, synonymous with bulk purchasing of goods necessary for sustaining the North American industrialized lifestyle. It has gained traction in popular culture as a place where even celebrities shop – and even where some go to shop as merely a hobby. It is this aspect that I would like to explore in this paper. In this assignment I would like to show that Costco is a social milieu, whose architecture affects shoppers in a profound way. In the next few pages, I will show how Costco members shop and behave with each other, as well as how they organize themselves within the social and physical boundaries of the warehouse. I found that the members indulged in far more than just shopping. I would like to call this behavior “Costcoing”: the activity of going to, participating in, and “doing” Costco.
The observation assignment takes place at a specific location: the Costco warehouse located on Willingdon and Still Creek drive. For those unfamiliar, Costco is a large multinational company that first conceptualized the idea of selling large quantities of wholesale goods to shoppers (especially large families) and small businesses (Costco Wholesale Corporation, 2018). The store is known for its bulk goods sold straight off the pallet, as well as for its lack of brand selection – often carrying only one or two brands of the same product. Notably, in order to shop at Costco, one needs to own a Costco membership which costs between $60-120 a year. The company receives the bulk of its earnings through the purchase of this card (Lewis, 2016).
I conducted my observations on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00. I spent two hours walking around the store with a pencil and notebook, watching member’s behaviors and observing my surroundings while taking notes. At some points I sat down on the model furniture to watch people while stationary, and while I may have caught a few weird looks, most shoppers did not seem to
notice me. This location was chosen because I have been a part-time employee here for the past five years. I have observed many of the behaviors I am about to describe before and may have more of an emic perspective than another random observer. However, I must admit that it was a very different experience seeing members as a shopper and not as a worker; I tried to focus my attention on member’s behaviors and not on my coworkers or tasks that I would see through my regular “workers eyes”. Because of the insiders perspective I have though, I can still provide insight into some trends that one would not know as an outsider. For example, Sunday afternoon is normally one of the busiest times of the week, but when I did my research there were much less members than usual.
When entering the location, the first thing that stands out is its large and crowded parking lot – with many cars patrolling the lanes trying to find a place to park. One enters the warehouse through large, garage-like doors wide enough to fit a truck through. Several employees are posted at the entrance checking membership cards and ushering those who produced them inside. This place is not for the general public to enter; one must be willing, and capable, of paying the toll. The interior of the store opens up into a vast airplane hanger-like building. High ceilinged warehouse, white walls, and skylights give a feeling of openness; the aisles are long and wide with considerable space and freedom for a single shopper to position themselves; the warehouse is divided into different sections which are denoted by bright red signs. The physical environment and architecture of Costco seems to create the boundaries for members to perform the act of shopping and participating in Costco activities. Each section possesses its own distinct characteristics; some are busier and some have narrower aisles. The vastness and freedom that Costco provides, combined with the crowdedness of Sunday shopping, means that people must
find some ways of organizing themselves in this space.
Large shopping carts are offered in the store parking lot, providing a method of transporting the many bulky goods members buy when shopping. However, they also serve as symbolic tools which shoppers use to organize themselves within the store. I noticed that when members used their cart they treated it in the same way they would a car, importing the habitus of the ‘car culture’ with them in their shopping experience. When ‘driving’ a cart, members tend to obey the rules of the road: they divide the aisles into imaginary lanes, going on the right and coming on the left; they obey the right of way at aisle intersections; and they go at around the same pace – although sometimes when an aisle is clear a member will “gun it” and speed up to an abnormal pace. The grid-like layout of the store closely resembles blocks in a city and seems to encourage this importation of car habitus.
However, not all members follow the rules and there are frequently deviants to this system. Despite the hegemonic way of organizing themselves in the “aisle-roads”, some members meander through the aisles at a slow pace, or even leave their carts in one aisle while they shop elsewhere. Such acts are often met with disproving looks and the occasional comment from other members. In one instance, one member frustratedly shoved another’s cart out of their way. Furthermore, some deviant members do not take carts. These shoppers seem experienced with the layout of the store and with the items they need to purchase, quickly and decisively maneuvering around carts to get their desired goods.
Interestingly, the same gender roles that are common in North American driving culture were pervasive in member’s use of their carts. There is a distinct gendered division of labour in cart usage and shopping, with men often in charge of steering and controlling the cart while women
gather groceries. This behavior aligns with the (almost historical) hegemonic North American conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Men are seen as the heads of households and in control of the family – a control extending over mobility and transportation. In many social groups, it is considered a sign of weakness and femininity for a man to have a woman drive. Automobiles have frequently been marketed at men – further entrenching this social norm (Hirschman, 2013). These gendered activities extend to shopping techniques, with women often showing men the price and ingredients listed in a product and waiting for his approval of whether or not it can go in the shopping cart. Not only is the treatment of shopping carts as cars useful for organizing shoppers in the store, it also presents a way for gender roles to be performed and perpetuate hegemonic ideals of North American culture.
Within this physical and social environment, the act of Costcoing takes place. Counter to what is commonly believed, there are many more activities that occur within Costco than shopping and the acquisition of necessary household goods. Throughout my fieldwork, I found that Costcoing is an inherently social activity. Shoppers often Costcoed in larger groups composed of friends or family members. From what I observed, member frequently run into friends or other family members in the store and have impromptu ‘family reunions’ in the middle of an “aisle-road”, with laughter, smiles, and conversation (much to the chagrin of the shoppers attempting to pass them). Even members who appeared to be alone frequently took pictures of price tags or ingredient lists on their cell-phones, and awaited a response from someone on the other end of the line – potentially awaiting their significant other’s approval on a purchase. It was rare to see any shopper completely alone for the duration of their trip.
Although an entire group or family unit entered the store, they did not remain together for
the duration of the trip. It became clear that each shopper had their own interests. Older family members and young children rested on sample furniture sets or in carts (some even falling asleep). Older children and teenagers left their parents and congregated in the book aisle or electronics section, entertaining themselves while their parents shopped. More energetic children ran around and played tag in the aisles. Some even played a game in which one brave child would run and turn a set of sample speakers to maximum volume, then they would run away laughing as staff rushed to turn the sound down.
Beyond shopping and playing, there are other activities which the Costco Corporation provides. Along the main aisles, there are stalls for other small business “roadshows” that sell their wares in Costco establishments. Staffed with exuberant employees, these stalls hand out demos and convince shoppers to purchase their products, in some cases giving demonstrations on how their product is used with an accompanying speech performed over loudspeaker. For especially tantalizing products, such as an electric clothes iron that a salesman sprayed clouds of steam into the air with, crowds formed in a semi-circle around the stall – creating traffic jams in the “aisle-roads”.
Eating also plays a prominent role in Costcoing. The food court is conveniently located near the entrance of the building, allowing members to purchase food before or after they have finished their shopping trip. It was not uncommon to see shoppers with different kinds of deep-fried cafeteria food placed in their carts, serving as a snack for either themselves or for children inside the cart. Food samples were also a highly sought after experience for shoppers and constitute one of the key activities associated with Costco in popular culture. However, the use of sampling stalls is complex. Some stalls were heavily visited, while others were not. Whether this is due to
preference for the type of food served or not was unclear; there appeared to be many delicious foods that were not sought after, and the sampling professionals slowly increased the amount of food they handed out as the day progressed – ensuring there was no leftovers at the end of their shift. Stands that were popular had long lines with up to ten people waiting at a time. Shoppers aggregated to stalls even when food was not yet served, but even at the same stall, there were periods of time when there was no line-up. I was not able to deduce what factors brought people to start lining up at a stall that did not have any food, nor any hints that food would be finished cooking. However, it did seem clear that the pursuit of free samples was not just about the food: it was an activity in and of itself.
While doing fieldwork and experiencing Costco as a member would, I could not help but compare it to a “traditional” marketplace. Vendors peddled their wares, families shopped happily, the smell of food was in the air, and there were activities to watch. However, there are many differences. For one, unlike the diversity of sellers in a marketplace, there was little variety in the brands sold at Costco. As I mentioned earlier, Costco saves money by selecting one (or two if you count the home brand, Kirkland) brands for most products. While there may be some selection in the types of products, there is little agency a consumer can exercise in selecting what company they buy from. Furthermore, all the products sold were sold by Costco. No matter what products one purchases, Costco will profit (albeit to greater and lesser extents). The “Costco experience” is undoubtedly a lucrative enterprise for the business. Costco may still be a modern marketplace, but it adopts the same version of corporate capitalism that is endemic to the contemporary world.
This research shows us that a seemingly mundane experience such as shopping is often laden with cultural meaning and (monetary) value. The way that shoppers organize themselves in a
large, open space such as a warehouse stems from other cultural and sociological factors that affect their behavior. Using a shopping cart in the same way as one would use an automobile sheds light into the car-culture of Burnaby. Gender norms prescribed to car usage also transfer over to shopping carts, with men often in charge of ‘driving’ the cart, while women collect the items they need. There are many of different activities to participate in when going to Costco beyond merely shopping: there is food to consume, lines to form, orators to listen to, and games to be played. These activities may seduce a shopper to spend more or return frequently to support the corporation. Thus, going to Costco is often far more than a utilitarian activity to gather necessary goods, but an inherently social experience in which families and friends bond with one another, children play, gender roles are performed, social cohesion is built, and money is made. Hopefully after reading these observations, we can all be more cognizant of the hegemony we fall into when we go shopping – whether or not we choose to act against it is a decision we all need to make.
Costco Wholesale Corporation. (2018). Why Become A Member. Retrieved from: https://www.costco.com/membership-information.html
[Jimmy Kimmel Live]. (2018, January 5). Khloé Kardashian Loves Costco. Retrieved from:
Lewis, R. (2016, February 16). ‘Costcoholics’: Costco’s $113.7 Billion Addicts. Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinlewis/2016/02/16…
Hirschman, E.C. (2013). Men, Dogs, Guns, and Cars–The Semiotics of Rugged Individualism. Journal of Advertising, 32(1). 9-22.