Make the Familiar Strange

Students write a 1-page description of a common human practice as if they have never seen or heard of it before. Students are told to pretend they are an alien anthropologist encountering human behavior for the first time. This is a creative exercise.

This is done early in the semester in an Intro to Anthropology course after students read introductory material on anthropology, ethnography, ethnocentrism, and ideas of “the other”. After students read parts of Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema”, and after the “big reveal,” the instructor assigns this project. (Instructor noted that they have made “riding the subway” and “the gym” forbidden topics because they come up too often). Students write the short piece and after, the class reads a selection of the top assignments aloud, allowing other students to guess what “familiar” activity the student is describing.

Courses: Intro to Anthropology; Cultural Anthropology

Author: Brenna McCaffrey, Anthropology, The Graduate Center, CUNY