Science!

I recently discovered some rather wonderful news about my project.

As part of the research process, any researchers proposing to be in contact with human participants must send in an application to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB reviews the application and attached research methods proposal and determines whether the research proposed will have “minimal risk” on the participants. The IRB is mostly for psychology and medical experiments, so most of the questions on the application were geared more toward this type of research. In finishing the application for “exempt” status, I had to fill out seven pages and was a little disconcerted. What if I didn’t explain myself well enough? Would they be able to understand that I wouldn’t pose any risk to the participants? All I want to do is study cheese. If they didn’t approve, I couldn’t do my research. My professors assured me that they would, but I always worry. Lo and behold, I got my approval the other day and was congratulated on a very interesting project.

Anthropology is a very interesting field of study. Though it is a social science like political science, sociology and psychology, it sometimes has a bad rep for being “unscientific.” For this reasons it is sometimes underestimated in its contribution to knowledge. It is sometimes seen this way because of the way that human culture can’t really be quantified. Sure, you can do surveys and collect data that way, but does it truly represent culture? How much can you really know from the numbers? The argument against this is that, in anthropology, everything is up to the individual researcher’s interpretation rather than on hard data.

I add this seemingly pointless rant for a reason, I promise.

Though cultural anthropology is, much of the time, based on observations, this does not discredit the contribution such research can make. I spent last semester in a course entitled “Seminar in Social Research.” In this class we learned about both quantitative and qualitative forms of data-collection and analysis. Though my research primarily focuses on qualitative research, I discovered some very cool ways to quantify some of this research, making it more palatable for some people. It’s still not “hard science”  as some would define it, but I think that anthropology and all social sciences contribute to the world of knowledge in wonderful ways.

With that being said, as a part of this course we had to pick a project to apply our newly-learned methods to. So, of course, I did some initial research on the farm in Idaho. I’ve added a new page to present some of this initial research for people to peruse. It will explain some of my methods and experiences in doing my first big research project. Visit the page here.

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