Anthro 287: Feminist Anthropology (Nakamura)

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Book Précis

The majority of the course grade will come from your book précis. For each ethnography that you read, you will be expected to write a 3-5 page précis.

A précis is more than just a book report. This assignment is designed to test your analytical and critical skills as well as have you produce work that you will be able to use in your further studies in anthropology or women's studies.

There are two components to a good précis: Analysis and Critique. Although this is a bit of a false distinction since in any good analysis is a critique and most critiques embody an analysis, in your précis I would like you to separate these two parts and handle them separately.

Analysis (noun):
1 : separation of a whole into its component parts
2 a : the identification or separation of ingredients of a substance b : a statement of the constituents of a mixture
3 a : proof of a mathematical proposition by assuming the result and deducing a valid statement by a series of reversible steps b (1) : a branch of mathematics concerned mainly with functions and limits (2) : CALCULUS 1b
4 a : an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations b : a statement of such an analysis
5 a : a method in philosophy of resolving complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones b : clarification of an expression by an elucidation of its use in discourse

In the analysis section of your précis, you should take apart the ethnography into its component parts and understand how the text comes together. What is the author trying to say? What is her/his key hypothesis and how do each of the chapters contribute (or detract) from the argument. You can approach this linearly, illustrating how each of the chapters worked together. You could approach it thematically, exploring how the various themes or topics in the book came together.

Critique (noun):
: an act of criticizing

Criticize (verb:
1 : to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly : EVALUATE

If in the analysis, you took the ethnography and separated it into its component parts (either thematically, linearly, etc.), in the critique you have the task of evaluating how well the ethnography worked. The dictionary definition here is not that useful. How do you fully consider the positives and negatives of a text? I believe you must engage it at the deepest level -- both your own as well as the author's.

If the analysis is written in the author's voice, your critique is your opportunity to have a deep intellectual conversation with the author. In order to write a good critique, you have to have a good understanding of the author's positionality. What type of theoretical perspective or historical trajectory is the author embedded in? Who is s/he arguing against or for? What is your own perspective, how does what you've learned from other courses integrate (or diverge) from the trajectory here.

One of the goals of this exercise is to give you something that you can literally take out of this class. If you're in another anthropology or women's studies class and need to remember what was going on in the 600 page Death without Weeping, you will already have a summary outline in your analysis section. If you are required to give a short presentation on what you thought about the ideas that Nancy Scheper-Hughes was dealing with, then you can look at your Critique section. This is especially helpful when you're in a class that has a final project, you can use your précis to quickly come up with the data/analysis/critiques/discussion you need for the body of the paper. Remembering all the books you've read at both a factual and theoretical level is difficult -- so use the précis to become your own Cliff's Notes.

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Dictionary definitions from Merriam-Webster. © 2002-04 by Karen Nakamura. All rights reserved.